JANUARY 2012 COUNTRY SUMMARY
Qatar has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world, with only 225,000 citizens
in a population of 1.7 million. Yet the country has some of the most restrictive sponsorship
laws in the Persian Gulf region, leaving migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation and
abuse. Forced labor and human trafficking remain serious problems.
While the constitution protects freedom of expression “in accordance with the conditions
and circumstances set forth in the law,” in practice Qatar restricts freedom of speech and
the press. Local media tend to self-censor, and the law permits criminal penalties,
including jail terms, for defamation.
Qatar currently holds a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, winning an
election to its second consecutive term in May 2010. In June the government voted to
adopt the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Decent Work for Domestic
Workers, which establishes the first global labor standards on domestic work.
More than 1.2 million migrant workers—mostly from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the
Philippines, Nepal, and Bangladesh—live and work in Qatar. The largest sector,
construction, employs 506,000 migrants.
Law 14 of 2004—governing labor in the private sector—limits working hours, requires paid
annual leave, sets requirements on health and safety, and requires on-time wages each
month. Neither the law nor supporting legislation set a minimum wage. The law allows
Qatari workers to form unions, and permits strikes with prior government approval. Migrant
workers have no right to unionize or strike, though they make up 99 percent of the private
The labor law excludes approximately 132,000 migrant domestic workers. While the
Advisory Council, a 35-member appointed legislative body, approved a separate law
covering domestic work in 2010, at this writing the law awaited the approval of Emir Sheikh
Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Migrant workers reported extensive labor law violations. Common complaints included late
or unpaid wages and employers’ failure to procure work permits that proved workers’ legal
residence in the country. Many workers said they received false information about their
jobs and salaries before arriving and signed contracts in Qatar under coercive
circumstances. Some lived in overcrowded and unsanitary labor camps, and lacked access
to potable water.
Qatar employs only 150 labor inspectors to monitor compliance with the labor law, and
inspections do not include worker interviews.
A major barrier to redressing labor abuses is the
kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties
a migrant worker’s legal residence to his or her employer, or “sponsor.” Migrant workers
cannot change jobs without their sponsoring employer’s consent, except in exceptional
cases with permission from the Interior Ministry. If a worker leaves his or her sponsoring
employer, even if fleeing abuse, the employer can report the worker as “absconding,”
leading to detention and deportation. In order to leave Qatar, migrants must obtain an
exit visa from their sponsor, and some said sponsors denied them these visas. Workers
widely reported that sponsors confiscated their passports, in violation of the
In October 2011 Qatar passed new legislation to combat human trafficking, using the
definition of trafficking provided in the UN Trafficking Protocol. Those who commit offenses
specified in the law could face up to fifteen years in prison.
Between 1,200 and 1,500 stateless Bidun, who claim they have a right to Qatari citizenship,
live in Qatar. The 2005 Nationality Law allows individuals to apply for citizenship after
living in Qatar for 25 years, but limits naturalization to only 50 people per year. Bidun
cannot register for education or health benefits, or legally hold employment. The
government does not register the birth of Bidun children.
In 2004 and 2005 the government stripped more than 5,000 Qataris from the al-Murra tribe
of citizenship as delayed punishment for some members’ participation in a 1996 coup
attempt against the current emir. In 2006 the Qatari government officially reinstated the
citizenship of most of this group, but an estimated 200 remain stateless. They cannot
legally work in the country and report economic hardship.
Both women and men vote in municipal elections, though representatives have limited
power. Qatari women do not have the same rights as Qatari men to obtain nationality for
their spouses and children. In 2010 Qatar appointed its first female judge.
Qatar has no law specifically criminalizing domestic violence, and the government
currently publishes no data on incidents of domestic violence. Representatives of the
Qatar Foundation for the Protection of Women and Children, a government-funded
charitable institution, told local media that domestic violence continued to be a problem,
based on their work with women and children who sought assistance.
Qatar adjudicates family law and personal status matters in religious courts in which
judges base rulings on their interpretations of Islamic law. People have no option to seek
adjudication pursuant to a civil code. Family law as generally interpreted discriminates
against women in matters of divorce, inheritance, and child custody, granting men
privileged status in these matters.
Freedom of Expression
On March 2, plainclothes individuals believed to be state security agents took into custody
Sultan al-Khalaifi, a Qatari blogger and former secretary general of Alkarama, a Geneva-
based NGO monitoring human rights in the Arab world. They searched his home for two
hours and confiscated possessions, including al-Khalaifi’s laptop. Authorities released
him a month later without charge.
In June Qatar’s Advisory Council approved a new media law that allows for criminal
penalties against journalists who write critically on “friendly countries” or matters
pertaining to national security, but arrests require a court order. The emir had not
approved the law at this writing. Under the media law still in effect, journalists may be
arrested without a court order. In April police arrested two Swiss sports journalists for
Radio Television Suisse (RTS) and interrogated them for several hours. The journalists had
been filming a segment on soccer (football) in Qatar after the country won its bid to host
the 2022 soccer World Cup. An RTS statement said a judge ordered them to pay a fine, and
that authorities prevented them from leaving the country for 13 days.
Al Jazeera, the international news agency broadcasting in both Arabic and English, is
headquartered in Doha, the capital, and funded by the Qatari government. While the
station covers regional and international news, and played an important role in reporting
the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements, few stories report on Qatar.
Key International Actors
On December 2, 2010, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association selected Qatar
to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar’s winning bid included commitments to build nine new
stadiums, a new airport, metro and rail systems, a bridge to Bahrain, 54 team base camps,
and significant new hotel stock, at a total estimated cost of US$80 to 100 billion. Local
media estimated that these projects would require recruitment of hundreds of thousands
of new workers from abroad.
In March Qatar was among the first countries to recognize Libya’s National Transitional
Council, and was the first Arab country to contribute to NATO’s enforcement of a no-fly
zone over Libya. On June 2 the Qatari government forcibly returned to eastern Libya Eman
al-’Obeidi, a refugee recognized by UN high commissioner for refugees, who said that
forces loyal to the government headed by Muammar Gaddafi gang-raped her in Tripoli.