An annual report by the U.S. State Department for 2016 shows the Qatari government has a long way to go in securing broader human rights assurances by ending human trafficking within the nation’s borders.
The Trafficking in Persons or TIP Report is put out by the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which was created in 2001 as part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. It lists status updates and human rights details for nation states around the world, categorizing governments according to their responses to human trafficking problems and compliance with certain international human rights standards.
The 2016 report reveals that Qatar, for the third consecutive year, remains on a tier two watch list for countries which are seen as making efforts toward compliance. In 2008, the U.S. Congress mandated an automatic downgrade from the tier two watch list to tier three for countries that have appeared on the tier two watch list for two consecutive years unless granted a waiver by the U.S. secretary of state. Qatar has received a waiver for the downgrade.
“The government of Qatar does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” the U.S. State Department’s 2016 report said. “However, it is making a significant effort to do so.”
Regarding the waiver, the department report said the Qatari government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet minimum standards.
The report also shows that Qatar prosecuted 24 suspected traffickers throughout the year, including two employers, while the State Department admits that existing labor laws remain weak and leave domestic workers vulnerable to abuse.
It is this abuse that concerns Martina Vandenberg, president of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center. In an interview with the Gulf News Journal, Vandenberg expressed disappointment and frustration with a system that, in her view, is not hard enough on the Qatar government.
“Qatar is one of the worst offenders.” Vandenberg said, describing situations in which Qatar diplomats are alleged to have abused domestic workers brought with them to the United States.
Vandenberg said her office is calling for the U.S. State Department to drop Qatar to tier three, in which case the diplomats would no longer be allowed to bring in their domestic workers.
“There was a political decision, thwarting an automatic downgrade to tier three.” Vandenberg said of the waiver for 2016.
As evidence of the scope of alleged human rights abuses by Qatar’s employers, Vandenberg cited a case litigated in a court in Virginia, that appears in the 2016 TIP report, in which a federal district court in 2014 found in favor of a former domestic worker employed by a Qatari diplomat who said she was subjected to forced labor. The diplomat, the report states, never paid the judgment after leaving the U.S.
A re-classification to tier three would hurt Qatar, Vandenberg said.
“It makes a difference.” Vandenberg said. “Countries fight to stay off of tier three – there are, at least in theory, real consequences."
The U.S. State Department will continue to monitor human trafficking status through annual reports.
In regard to Qatar’s waiver, U.S. State Department personnel contacted by the Gulf News Journal declined to return calls.