Opportunity for Qatar to step up its game in torture prevention

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Will the host country of the World Cup 2022, Qatar, follow this year’s host country Brazil and join the international system to prevention torture and ill-treatment? The Gulf State will have an opportunity in September, at the UN Human Rights Council, to clarify whether or not it intends to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). 

APT’s Secretary General Mark Thomson hopes that Qatar will have become a champion of torture prevention well before 2022:

“Qatar has the opportunity to take the first step in September, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This would send a strong signal to the rest of the world.”

Qatar’s adherence to the torture prevention treaty would improve human rights in places of detention, and in particular offer better protection to the 1.2 million migrant workers who sometimes end up in the country’s deportation centres after conflicts with their employers.  

As Qatar prepares for 2022, its human rights record will be under increased international scrutiny. International NGOs and the International Labor Organization recently harshly criticised its policy towards overseas construction workers. However, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, French law professor François Crépeau, sees the preparations for the World Cup as an opportunity.

“I hope the 2022 World Cup will be used as an opportunity for Qatar to enhance the effective respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of migrant workers,” he said at the end of his first official visit to the country in November 2013.

Improving labour conditions was also a priority during the Universal Periodic Review of Qatar, 7 May 2014 in Geneva. The Danish representative expressed serious concerns about the lack of rights for and legal protection of immigrant workers, particularly the many reports of exploitation and abuse of domestic and construction workers. But he and others also congratulated the Emirate for recent reforms, for criminalising torture and for providing the independent experts of the Human Rights Council free access to the country. Brazil, for example, appreciated that Qatar had taken steps to withdraw reservations to the Convention against Torture and had amended its Criminal Code with the definition of torture outlined in the Convention. The diplomat from the Maldives called this reform a “crucial step to eliminate all forms of torture”.

Denmark, the Maldives and five other States from all continents (France, Maldives, Uruguay, Ghana, Costa Rica, Denmark and Tunisia) recommended Qatar to ratify the OPCAT. The request is not new. Qatar’s own National Human Rights Committee, who already visits deportation centers and prisons, has repeatedly asked its government to join the torture prevention system. François Crépeau has added his voice to the call. Qatar has now replied to the Human Rights Council that it would consider ratification and inform about its decision in September 2014.

The OPCAT establishes a system of independent visits to all places of detention to protect against torture and ill-treatment. 72 States from all regions of the world participate in the system, but the Gulf States have hesitated so far. Bahrain told the Human Rights Council in 2012 that it might ratify the treaty, and the United Arab Emirates promised in 2013 it would look into the question.