Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

Qatar, a small, wealthy Persian Gulf state ruled by an amir
from the Al Thani family, is governed by a 1970 Basic Law,
which institutionalizes the customs and social mores of Qatar's
conservative Wahhabi Muslim heritage. These include respect
for the sanctity of private property, freedom from arbitrary
arrest and imprisonment, and protection against transgressions
of Islamic law (the Shari'a). Thus, although the Amir holds
nearly absolute power, he must exercise authority with care.
While he may, for example, suspend any secular law or
countermand any civil court decisions, he is unlikely to do so,
especially without consulting his Council of Ministers and the
Advisory Council of Notables that assist him in making policy
decisions. The Amir is also unlikely to reach any major
decision without achieving a consensus within his family.
Qatar's economy continues to expand at a slower rate than it
did during the 1970 's and early 1980 's. The economy is mixed,
with the state owning and operating most basic industries and
services while retail trade and the construction industry
remain in private hands. Its fast developing industrial
infrastructure has led to the creation of an expatriate
community which outnumbers the native population by almost four
to one. Limiting the influence and controlling the activities
of expatriates are for most Qataris major national goals.
Qatari resentment against expatriates makes them more likely
than natives to be the victims of arbitrary police action. It
is also difficult for an alien to take legal action against a
citizen. The economic slowdown of 1983-1985 has encouraged the
Government to continue its policy of reducing the number of
expatriates. This policy, however, has been carried out with
some compassion. Palestinians, for example, have on the whole
not been forced to leave unless able to make arrangements to
settle elsewhere. Expatriates from South Asia have not been so
lucky, and their numbers have dropped noticeably.
The human rights situation in Qatar did not change appreciably
in 1985. There are many factors against change — not the least
being the absence of any credible internal pressure on the
regime. So long as the Government feels secure, major
innovation is likely to occur only as the result of a consensus
within the ruling and other leading families.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
There were no known political killings in 1985.
b. Disappearance
There were no reports of disappearances in 1985.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Torture is not condoned by the authorities and, although the
Government does administer most of the corporal punishments
prescribed by the Shari'a, it no longer allows amputation.
Although non-European expatriates routinely complain of
maltreatment after their arrest by Qatari authorities, the
practice does not seem to have official sanction. Executions
rarely occur. Prison conditions are uncomfortable but
adequate. Family members and friends may bring food to
supplement the monotonous prison fare as well as small luxuries
and mail. There have been allegations of overcrowded and
unsanitary conditions in the women's prison.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
As a general rule, the authorities must charge suspects before
a competent court within 48 hours. In most cases involving
expatriates, the police have promptly notified the appropriate
consular representative. Suspects detained in security cases
are generally not afforded their rights. An expatriate
arrested in 1983 in a security case was never formally charged
and was held under house arrest for over a year.
Involuntary exile has not been practiced in over a decade.
Expatriate offenders are normally deported upon completion of
their sentences. There is no forced labor.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Except for security cases, most disputes are judged before
either a civil or Shari'a court. The civil courts adjudicate
most commercial cases involving expatriates. The Shari'a
courts administer criminal and family law and may, if one party
requests, take jurisdiction in business cases. Although the
judiciary is nominally independent, most judges are expatriates
holding residence permits granted by the civil authorities and
thus hold their positions at the Government's pleasure.
Many expatriates find proceedings in the Shari'a courts
bewildering. Only the disputing parties, their relatives and
associates, and witnesses are allowed in the courtroom.
Lawyers may not play any formal role save that of preparing
litigants for their cases. Although non-Arabic speakers are
provided with translators, foreigners report being at a
considerable disadvantage, especially in cases involving the
nonperformance of contracts. Shari'a trials are normally
brief. After both parties have stated their cases, and
examined witnesses, the judge is likely to deliver a verdict
with only a Fhort delay. Criminal cases are normally tried 2
to 3 months after suspects are detained.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Traditional attitudes regarding the sanctity of the home
provide a great deal of protection against arbitrary
intrusions. Except in security cases or emergencies, the
police must normally obtain a warrant before searching a
residence or business.
Police routinely monitor the communications of criminal and
security suspects. Mail thought to contain either pornography
or drugs is also opened as a matter of course.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a . Freedom of Speech and Press
Although both expatriates and Qatar is are free to say what they
wish privately, public criticism of the ruling family and its
policies is not tolerated. The Government strongly discourages
attacks on other Arab governments as well. This policy applies
to the electronic media, which are government-owned and
controlled, and to the press. The journalists, particularly
expatriates, generally avoid pressing against these
restrictions because of the risk of having residence permits
The authorities routinely screen all video cassettes, audio
tapes, books, and periodicials for objectionable political
sentiments and pornography.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government allows private social, sports, trade,
professional, and artistic societies to operate. The
activities of these organizations, which must register with the
Government, are closely watched.
Government policy does not allow political parties or
demonstrations .
While there is no law forbidding the formation of labor unions
or strikes, the Government in practice allows neither. There
is no collective bargaining by workers.
c. Freedom of Religion
Qatar's state religion is Islam, the Koran is its basic
constitution, and the Shari'a its legal code. Muslims enjoy
certain advantages such as preferential employment. All other
faiths are prohibited public worship, and they may not
proselytize. Apostasy from Islam remains a capital crime,
although no one has been executed for it in recent memory. The
Government does tolerate the private practice of non-Muslim
religions, both by allowing parents to raise children in
non-Muslim faiths and by allowing private gatherings in private
homes for worship.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no restrictions on internal travel. Male Qataris
travel abroad at will. Females, both Qatar i and foreign,
usually require the permission of a male guardian or relative
to leave the country. All Qatari citizens have the right to
return. Foreigners are subject to immigration restrictions
designed to control the local labor pool. They require a local
sponsor to enter and their sponsor's permission to depart.
The Government has no formal policy on refugees. Those
attempting to enter illegally, including defectors from nearby
countries, are denied entry. Often refugees who can get local
sponsorship or employment may enter. If they lose their jobs,
however, they are expected to leave. The Government has
apparently been willing to relax its rules in order to help
Palestinians unable to find refuge elsewhere.
Section 3 Respect For Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
To Change Their Government
Qatar's political institutions blend the characteristics of a
traditional Bedouin tribal state and of a modern bureaucracy.
There are no political parties, elections, or organized
opposition to the Government, and the Amir exercises all
executive and legislative powers. His autocratic rule,
however, is checked to some extent by entrenched local
customs. Interlocking family networks and the recognized right
of citizens to submit appeals or petitions personally to their
Amir provide effective, if informal, avenues for redress of
grievances and also serve to limit abuses. The custom of rule
by consensus leads to extensive consultations between the Amir,
leading merchants, religious leaders, and other notables on
important policies. Women for the most part play no role in
public life.
Under Qatar's Basic Law of 1970, the Amir must be chosen from
among and by the adult males of the Al Thani family. The
current Amir has designated his oldest son as heir apparent.
This took place with the consent of the notables and religious
leaders according to established custom. There are no serious
challenges to this arrangement, and in the foreseeable future
effective political power will remain in the hands of the Amir,
his family, and the local notables.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
No major international or nongovernmental organization
monitoring human rights abuses has asked to investigate
conditions in Qatar. Amnesty International's 1985 Report did
not include Qatar among the countries surveyed. Freedom House
calls Qatar "partly free." Qatar has expressed concern over
the plight of Palestinian, Lebanese, and Afghan refugees.
Qatar's population is estimated to be 292,000 and to be growing
at an annual rate of about 4.2 percent. The per capita gross
national product is approximately $22,000 (1982).
Life expectancy at birth is 72 years, and the infant mortality
rate is 42 per 1,000. Education is free for citizens through
graduate school; most of the large expatriate communities have
their own schools. The adult literacy rate in 1981 was just
over 50 for men and women.
Oil revenues have enabled the Government to develop an
extensive network of social services. Health care is provided
free to all residents. Staple foods such as flour, milk, and
rice are subsidized; prices of other items are regulated.
Citizens receive subsidized housing and scholarships for higher
study abroad. Most Qatari males, and all heads of families,
are guaranteed a reasonable income either through government
employment or social security payments.
The minimum working age is 18 years, but expatriate children
frequently work at younger ages in small businesses and shops.
Some regulations concerning worker safety and health exist, but
enforcement is spotty. There is no minimum wage in Qatar and
most workers spend less than 48 hours per week on the job.
In this conservative society, women remain in a subordinate
position, largely relegated to roles as mothers and homemakers,
although some are now finding jobs in education, medicine, and
the news media. Their activities are still bound by a number
of social customs and quasi-legal restrictions, such as veiling
and prohibitions against the issuance of driver's licenses, and
they continue to face widespread discrimination. For example,
women do not regularly receive the overseas university
scholarships available for males, and their employment, while
tolerated, is discouraged beyond such fields as nursing,
teaching, and home economics. Public life is a male sphere.
Expatriate women find it easier to get jobs or to own and
manage a business than their Qatari counterparts. On the other
hand, mandatory schooling for girls and the opening of
employment opportunities for women in medicine and education
represent a shift in attitude, as does the slowly expanding
number of women allowed to go abroad for university studies.
There are signs that as more Qatari women receive education,
they will press for a relaxation of some of the restrictions
from their country's tribal past.