Amnesty International report critical of Qatar

Qatar's Commercial Bank in Doha.
Qatar's Commercial Bank in Doha.
A new Amnesty International report is shedding light on the status of the Gulf state of Qatar, a small country that’s been under fire because of various human rights issues within its borders.

The new Amnesty report out this year talks a great deal about certain fundamental problems in Qatar, legal and political problems that affect both individuals and large populations of people.

Under headings such as “justice system," “migrant worker’s rights," and “freedom of expression," the report details some of the biggest problems in the region.

Many of these worry advocates of human rights promotion around the world.

William Palumbo of Stop Qatar Now follows some of the most egregious items in the Amnesty report.
One is the nation's participation in recent military efforts in Yemen

“The basic divide over there used to be between Israel and the Gulf states.” Palumbo said. “What’s rapidly happening is that the Gulf states are now deadly afraid of Iran, which has been ‘legitimized’ by the nuclear deal.”

Palumbo cited tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and power plays by Iran that have led to military responses by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, among others. Citing “lingering tensions” in Yemen, Palumbo said Soviet-Iranian sponsorship of the Houthi rebels and other political factors have led to a war charge relationship between Iran and between the other countries in the region.

“It's pretty ugly," Palumbo said. "It’s about survival. These nations are not going to back down, regardless of what the West thinks or wants.”

Another major point in the Amnesty report has to do with the plight of migrant workers within the Qatar.  With wide-ranging reports of passport confiscation, there are concerns over the policy of acquiring an exit permit or exit visa for foreigners who want to leave the country. This long-standing practice within Qatar has led to a lot of nervousness on the part of various foreign nationals who think that they are likely to be trapped inside the country for one reason or another.

Palumbo said this is an integral part of the way that migrant workers are abused in the country.

“Your rights are basically denied.” Palumbo said. “Your ability to leave is suspended… . In a free country, you’d have the right to leave. Not in Qatar”

Palumbo talked about the example of airlines hiring foreign stewardesses, and suspending their rights or denying them contracted concessions if they do something to anger the company.

He also talked about efforts to crack down on Qatar’s abusive labor practices. One problem, Palumbo said, is that even though the country may set up electronic wage protection programs to try to formalize wages, it doesn't always give employees what they are promised before they come over from countries such as  Bangladesh, Nepal or the Philippines.

"They (the companies) advertise a wage, but when (the workers) get there, the contract is torn up," Palumbo said. "They’re treated and live like slaves.”

Responding to areas of the report talking about individual dissidents in the region, Palumbo said while Qatar might be quick to imprison or otherwise act against some foreigners, Americans in Qatar don't have much to worry about. He pointed to good bilateral relations between the Qatari and American governments, and large military bases in the country.

“The country is basically protected by the U.S. military.” he said, noting that other countries will not invade because of the American presence. That, he says, makes Qatar to a certain extent dependent on the U.S. and unlikely to abuse its citizens the way they might abuse others.