At the invitation of the Government, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) conducted an official visit to Qatar from 3 to 14 November 2019. The WGAD was represented by Ms. Leigh Toomey (Australia, Vice-Chair), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Latvia, Vice-Chair) and Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi (Benin) and accompanied by staff from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Working Group thanks the OHCHR Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region for the logistical support provided prior to and during the visit.
The Working Group extends its appreciation to the Government of Qatar for inviting it to undertake this country visit and to the different authorities who have received it, including: the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the National Security Advisor to His Highness the Emir, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as representatives from different departments of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, the State Security Service, the Public Prosecution, the Supreme Judicial Council and the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC). The Working Group also met with other stakeholders who shared their perspectives on arbitrary deprivation of liberty in Qatar. The Working Group thanks all of them for the information and assistance they provided. It emphasizes that no one should be subjected to reprisals for cooperating with United Nations institutions, and that this includes persons who engage with the Working Group. The Government is required, under paragraph 27 of the Working Group's Methods of Work and the Terms of reference for country visits, to guarantee that no such reprisals occur.
The observations presented today constitute the preliminary findings of the Working Group. They will serve as a basis for future deliberations between the five members of the Working Group at its forthcoming sessions in Geneva. The Working Group will then produce and officially adopt a report about its visit that will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council at its 45nd session in September 2020.
The Working Group visited 12 places of deprivation of liberty in and outside the capital, including police stations; pre-trial detention facilities; the Doha central prison; the Doha deportation centre; the Doha psychiatric hospital, and a social care centre for children in conflict with the law. It was able to confidentially interview over 200 persons deprived of their liberty.
The Working Group also visited the Naufar center providing voluntary residential care and treatment for drug dependency and addiction. The Working Group appreciated being able to visit the facility and to speak with both those in charge of it and the residents, which allowed it to conclude that it was not a place of deprivation of liberty.
In determining whether the deprivation of liberty is arbitrary, the Working Group refers to the five categories outlined in its Methods of Work, namely: 1) when it is impossible to invoke any legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty; 2) when the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of certain rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; 3) when the right to a fair trial has been seriously violated; 4) when asylum-seekers, immigrants or refugees are subjected to prolonged administrative detention without the possibility of an administrative or judicial review or remedy; and 5) when the deprivation of liberty constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination of any kind.
Cooperation during the visit
The Government's invitation to the WGAD to undertake its visit sets an important example to other countries of the region. The Working Group has not received a positive response to its numerous requests to visit other countries of the region in nearly two decades. The Government's prompt acceptance is a tangible expression of Qatar's commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, which the Working Group commends.
The Working Group appreciates the cooperation it received during the visit and thanks the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its efforts in facilitating it. The Working Group recalls that when the Government invited it to visit the country, it undertook to respect fully the Working Group's freedom of inquiry by allowing unfettered access to all information which the delegation deems relevant, facilitating meetings with its officials and providing it with unimpeded access to all places of deprivation of liberty in the country, which includes access without prior notification or authorization.
The Working Group regrets that, in spite that it requested to meet the Ministry of Defense and the State Security Bureau prior to its arrival in Doha, the State Security Bureau was only able to meet with the delegation on the last day of the mission while the Ministry of Defense remained unavailable. During other meetings, the officials responsible for areas of interest to the Working Group were not present, adversely impacting the ability of the Working Group to enquire about these areas and leading to the rescheduling of meetings. Moreover, when the Working Group decided to visit one of the State Security detention facilities, in relation to which the Group had received credible allegations of prolonged detention without judicial control and of ill-treatment, it was prevented from doing so. Equally, when the Working Group visited some other places of deprivation of liberty, it found these facilities nearly empty and received credible reports that detainees had been transferred to other facilities prior to the Working Group's arrival.
These are unwarranted interferences with the freedom of inquiry of the Working Group which have no place in any democratic country governed by the rule of law. The Working Group recalls that it is possible for any State that has been visited by the Working Group to invite it for a follow-up visit, usually within two years of the original visit, as stipulated in paragraph 32 of its Methods of Work. The Working Group calls upon the Government of Qatar to give the possibility of a further visit serious consideration and looks forward to an invitation to carry out a follow-up visit in 2022 that would fully respect the Terms of Reference for Country Visits.
I. Good practices and positive developments
Accession to the ICCPR
The Working Group welcomes Qatar's accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in May 2018. This represents a major step forward for Qatar in acknowledging civil and political rights, including the right to liberty under article 9 of the ICCPR as well as the right to fair trial guaranteed by article 14. However, reservations and statements made at the time of Qatar's accession to the ICCPR limit the scope of the protection under that treaty. For example, Qatar stated that it would apply its own interpretation of the provisions concerning inhuman treatment and punishment under article 7, the freedom of conscience under article 18(2), the freedom of association under article 22, and the right of religious minorities to practice their religion under article 27. The enforcement of these reservations could result in the detention of individuals for peacefully exercising their rights. It is worth noting that these rights are equally provided in international customary law, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Working Group urges the Government to withdraw all reservations and interpretative declarations to the ICCPR and other international instruments to which Qatar is a party and to fully embrace the international human rights commitments set out in these instruments.
National Human Rights Committee
The establishment of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) in 2002 has been a significant step in the promotion and protection of human rights in Qatar. The Committee has received A status accreditation for two consecutive periods by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in 2010 and 2015 and the Working Group commends its work as an important interlocutor between the State and individuals or groups. As is evident from these preliminary findings, the Working Group associates itself with many recommendations issued by the NHRC. The Working Group calls upon the Government of Qatar to engage with the NHRC proactively, especially on the implementation of the recommendations issued by this body. It also calls upon the NHRC and the Government to engage on the implementation of the recommendations issued by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the National Human Rights Institutions in 2015 on ways to further strengthen the actual and perceived independence of the institution.
Oversight over the places of deprivation of liberty
The Working Group was informed that several State entities have the right to inspect places of detention in Qatar. Under article 395 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Public Prosecution has the right to enter places of imprisonment to ensure that there are no illegally imprisoned persons, including examining the registers and the arrest and imprisonment orders, and hearing complaints from detained persons. In addition, the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Interior is authorized to conduct unannounced visits to penal and correctional institutions to ascertain the conditions in which detainees are being held. Also, under article 4 of the Act establishing it (Decree Law No. 17 of 2010), the NHRC is mandated to conduct its activities independently, and its tasks under article 3(10) include visiting places of detention. The NHRC has formed a specific visiting committee which carries out such visits and in 2018 reported having carried out 94 visits. However, it is not clear whether, and if so how, the visits by these bodies are having an impact. Moreover, according to testimony received during the Working Group's visit, most detainees have not had an opportunity to meet with the NHRC, the public prosecutor or the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Interior, when these bodies carry out their respective monitoring visits.
In principle the legal provisions for these bodies to carry out visits are positive, as regular oversight over all places of deprivation of liberty has a significant role in reducing the instances of arbitrary detention. The Working Group calls upon the Government of Qatar to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) and establish its own National Preventive Mechanism in accordance with the OPCAT. This would provide an essential independent regular oversight into the circumstances surrounding the deprivation of liberty currently lacking in Qatar.
Detention prior to sentence
According to article 350 of Qatar's Criminal Procedure Code (Law No. 23 of 2004), any term of imprisonment starts from the day of arrest of a convicted person and previous periods of detention for the same offence will be deducted from the sentence to be served. Stakeholders confirmed to the Working Group that this provision is consistently applied in practice, with the period of arrest and time spent in pre-trial detention being taken into account in determining the length of criminal sentences. The Working Group commends the approach of relevant actors of the criminal justice systems, including the Public Prosecution as the body responsible for the enforcement of sentences, in ensuring that time previously served in detention is taken into account, in compliance with Qatar's obligations under international human rights law.
Approach to psychosocial care
The approach of the Hamad psychiatric hospital has been, as far as possible, to conduct community-based outreach and to encourage the provision of care in the community. This means that the psychiatric hospital is reserved only for those whose care cannot be provided in the community. The Working Group highly commends this approach as it prioritises the personal liberty of individuals who require psychosocial care in compliance with article 9 of the ICCPR and article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, rather than institutional care, and seeks to reduce the stigma surrounding psychosocial disability. The Working Group encourages the Government to increase its efforts in the provision of appropriate and adequate professional medical care in the community to the persons affected by psychosocial disabilities. In addition, the Government should ensure that the personnel and resources available at the psychosocial care facility in Doha remain sufficient to meet the needs of the community effectively, consistent with its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Working Group was also informed of the initiative undertaken by the Hamad Medical Corporation in providing the requisite psychosocial care to those who are detained and serve sentences in the places of detention in Qatar through Memoranda of Understanding with the Ministry of Interior. While it is not clear that this agreement has been fully implemented as yet in practice, this is an exemplary initiative which the Working Group welcomes and urges the Government of Qatar to lend its full support to further strengthening the cooperation between the Hamad Medical Corporation and places of deprivation of liberty in Qatar.
II. Deprivation of liberty in the context of the criminal justice system
Criminalisation of certain acts
The Working Group is seriously concerned over the range of non-violent acts that are currently criminalised in Qatar. These include adultery, intimate relations outside wedlock, debt, absconding from the employer, sorcery, disobedience to parents, begging, consumption of alcohol and substance abuse. The Working Group observed numerous detainees who are currently detained under provisions of the Penal Code criminalising these acts and reminds the Government of Qatar that detention should be an exceptional measure in accordance with article 9(3) of the ICCPR.
Prompt presentation before the judicial authority
According to article 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a person who has been arrested must be transferred to the Public Prosecution within 24 hours. Under article 117 of the Criminal Procedure Code, if the Public Prosecution decides to detain the accused person, it can do so for a period of four days, which is renewable for a further four days before the person must be presented to the judge: the Working Group generally noted that this appears to be respected in practice. However, the Working Group considers that this process, which may result in the accused person being detained for up to nine days before being presented to a judicial authority, is contrary to article 9(3) of the ICCPR. This article requires that accused persons are brought "promptly" before a judge. The requirement of being "promptly" brought before a judge means that the accused must be presented to a judicial authority within 48 hours of arrest, and any longer delay must remain absolutely exceptional and be justified in the circumstances. In addition, while the Public Prosecution has been referred to as a judicial body, the Working Group considers that it is not an independent court or other judicial body authorised to exercise judicial power within the meaning of article 9(3) of the ICCPR. The Working Group further notes that the Public Prosecutor is both the investigating body as well as the detaining authority which is a conflict of interest.
Arrest procedures and the right to legal assistance
The Working Group was informed that, unless an offence is committed in flagrante delicto, the Public Prosecution is obliged to issue an arrest warrant which confirms the legal basis for the detention of an individual. According to article 113 of the Criminal Procedure Code, any arrested person shall be informed immediately of the reasons for the arrest and shall be entitled to communicate with any person and to seek the assistance of a lawyer. However, it appears that, in practice, a person is only able to communicate with his or her lawyer by requesting to do so, which may present significant barriers to due process for people who are not aware of this right. The Working Group also received various accounts suggesting that the legal assistance is not always meaningful.
The Working Group also received information suggesting that the right to a lawyer does not apply during the initial 24-hour period in police custody, and that a person will only have the right to his or her own lawyer or to a government-appointed lawyer following referral to the Public Prosecution. The Working Group recalls that all persons deprived of their liberty have the right to legal assistance by counsel of their choice, at any time during their detention, including immediately after apprehension. It recommends further to ensure that no statement is delivered by the detainee without prior access to effective and meaningful legal assistance.
Detainee registers in police stations
During the initial arrest, the detainees may be held by the police for up to 24 hours before being presented to the Public Prosecutor. While the majority of stakeholders were aware of this requirement, it is not clear whether all police stations are complying with it. Although all places of detention in Qatar share a unified, computerised register system, which is commendable, the present system does not allow supervisors and officers to ascertain the number and status of detainees presently held in any given institution. Rather, it is only upon entry of identifying information, such as the case or ID number of the person concerned, that it is possible to locate information concerning a particular individual. During its visits to detention facilities, the Working Group noted with concern a general lack of knowledge of the officers of the current number of detainees held, and was presented with details of detainees which included those who have already been released or transferred.
Moreover, at some police stations, the register of persons detained in police custody does not clearly state the date and time at which individuals were taken into police custody and transferred to the Public Prosecution. This makes it practically impossible to ascertain whether the requirements of article 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code are respected in practice. The Working Group views detention registers as crucial tools in preventing arbitrary detention as the obligation to duly maintain these registers minimizes the risk that the authorities would not comply with the safeguards. The Working Group invites the Qatari authorities to address the shortcomings of the current detainee registers as a matter of priority.
According to article 117 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the maximum period of those awaiting trial is six months, and the Working Group was informed that this period is respected in practice. However, this provision also provides an exception to the six-month limit "unless the suspect was announced to be referred to a criminal court having jurisdiction before the expiry of this period." Further, this provision allows for the possibility of extension of pre-trial detention for renewable periods of 45 days if the charge involves a felony. The accused person must be released if he or she spends in pre-trial detention a period equal to half of the maximum penalty for the crime for which he or she has been remanded. The Working Group is concerned that these provisions may result, and in some instances are resulting, in periods of prolonged pre-trial detention contrary to article 9(3) of the ICCPR, which requires pre-trial detention to be the exception rather than the rule and as short as possible. According to testimony received, although the current pre-trial detention periods in Qatar do not appear excessive, many detainees are being held for lengthy periods of time, in some cases for years, prior to trial. The NHRC has also drawn attention to this issue in its recent annual reporting, noting in 2018 that the circumstances in which pre-trial detention can be used should be limited and the use of alternative measures to detention expanded.
According to article 134 of the Penal Code (Law No. 11 of 2004), a person who "challenges by any public means the exercising by the Emir of his rights or authorities, or criticizes his person" is liable to imprisonment for up to five years. The same penalty applies to any person who commits these offences in relation to the Deputy Emir or the Crown Prince. Article 134 of the Penal Code was considered by the Working Group in its Opinion No. 48/2016, in which it found that detention pursuant to this lèse-majesté provision was arbitrary because it involved the criminalisation of the right to freedom of expression.
The Working Group was informed that article 134 of the Penal Code is rarely applied in practice. However, while this provision remains in the Penal Code, there is a real risk that it will stifle free speech or be used to prosecute persons who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the ICCPR. Under international human rights law, the mere fact that peaceful forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties. The Working Group considers that a claim in a civil case, rather than prosecution under the criminal law, is sufficient to remedy any statement deemed defamatory directed at any individual, including members of Qatar's royal family. The Working Group calls upon the Government to repeal article 134 of the Penal Code and any other provisions that criminalise the peaceful exercise of human rights.
According to the Qatari authorities, the penalties for committing certain sexual offences, including adultery, are the same for both men and women. For example, under article 281 of the Penal Code, it is a crime for a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman over 16 outside of marriage, the penalty for which is imprisonment up to seven years. The woman who consents to that act is liable to the same penalty. Moreover, under article 298 of the Penal Code, a sentence of up to 10 years' imprisonment is imposed on "anyone who performs adultery … as a profession or for a living".
However, while the definitions of adultery are ostensibly gender neutral, the Working Group received information suggesting that the enforcement of such laws results primarily in the detention of women. During its visit to the Central Prison, the Working Group was informed that the 26 individuals who were being detained for adultery were all women, many of them non-Qatari nationals who were serving lengthy prison sentences accompanied in detention by very young children. While the Working Group learned that some of the male partners of these women had also been detained, it did not observe as many specific cases of males detained for having committed adultery.
In addition, sodomy (or same-sex relations between men) is an offence punishable with imprisonment under Qatari law. According to article 296 of the Penal Code, "leading, instigating or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy or dissipation" and "inducing or seducing a male or a female in any way to commit illegal or immoral actions" is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. It is unclear whether this law is intended to prohibit all same-sex acts. According to official records provided by the Central Prison, five people were detained for sodomy at the time of the Working Group's visit.
The Working Group recalls that the detention of individuals based on discriminatory grounds, such as gender or sexual orientation, is arbitrary under international law. In the view of the Working Group, the criminalisation of consensual sexual relations between adults is also an interference with the privacy of the individuals concerned. The Working Group calls upon the Government to comprehensively review the Penal Code and to repeal all provisions that may discriminate against, or have a discriminatory impact on any individuals or groups, including women and the LGBTI community.
Imprisonment for debt
During its visit, the Working Group met a large number of individuals who are detained due to the inability to repay a debt, which was often not a large sum of money. The delegation was informed that it is common in Qatar, when taking out a loan or renting a property, to request that, in addition to agreeing to a schedule of repayments or regular rent payments, the person gives a cheque for the total amount of owed money as a guarantee. This practice in itself means that the individuals are forced to breach articles 357 and 358 of the Penal Code (No. 11 of 2004), which make the writing of a cheque without sufficient funds to cover its value punishable by three months of imprisonment and a large fine. Moreover, once defaulting on a single payment, the guarantee cheque would be cashed and, as there would be no sufficient funds to cover the entirety of the loan or yearly rent, the individual may face criminal proceedings under articles 357 and 358 of the Penal Code. The individuals charged and sentenced under these crimes represent a large proportion of the current detainee population of Qatar and contributes significantly to overcrowding.
International human rights law prohibits the deprivation of liberty due to debt as stipulated in article 11 of the ICCPR. This prohibition is non-derogable and in fact constitutes part of customary international law. The Working Group considers that detention due to inability to pay debt is in itself arbitrary deprivation of liberty. It is also arbitrary as it discriminates against individuals on the basis of their economic status. The Working Group urges the Government of Qatar to urgently review the current system and to ensure that individuals are not imprisoned due to the inability to repay a debt.
Juvenile justice and the minimum age of criminal responsibility
The Working Group was informed that the detention of minors occurs in a very small percentage of cases, and is often for a short period of time for incidents that are not serious, such as fighting at school, disobedience to parents and substance abuse. Individuals aged between 17-18 are considered adults and will be sentenced as adults.
According to the Qatari authorities, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 16 years of age. A child below the age of seven is not considered able to discern his or her actions and is therefore exempt from criminal responsibility. The Working Group was informed that, under the Juvenile Law (No. 1 of 1994), a person between 7 and 16 years of age at the time of commission of a criminal offence is considered to be a minor. If a minor commits a criminal offence, he or she will be held in the Social Protection Department in Doha. The Working Group considers that, in effect, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is actually 7 years of age because children between 7-16 years of age can be detained for criminal offences, rather than diverted. Other international human rights mechanisms, such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, have reached the same conclusion.
The Working Group considers that the current minimum age of criminal responsibility of 7 years of age is too low and may result in children who do not have the maturity to understand the consequence of their actions being deprived of their liberty at the Social Protection Department. It recommends that the Qatari Government, as a matter of urgency, raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age, consistent with international standards. Moreover, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a person is considered a child until he or she reaches the age of 18. In order to ensure that its laws are in compliance with the Convention, Qatar must ensure that all persons under 18 are not punished as adults.
III. Observance of fair trial rights
Independence of lawyers
The Act of Lawyers (Act No. (1) of 2018 amending some provisions of the Act of Lawyers enacted by Act No. (23) of 2006) sets out various guarantees to ensure the independence of lawyers. The Working Group received numerous accounts that the lawyers in Qatar are independent and able to practice freely. However, there is no Bar Association in Qatar, as the current associations that unite members of the legal profession are loose associations aimed at awareness-raising and improvement of professional qualifications. The regulatory oversight over the legal profession in Qatar is carried out by the Department of Attorney Affairs under the Ministry of Justice. This body handles both the registration of lawyers in the country, as well as any complaints against lawyers, including disciplinary proceedings. However, as a part of the Ministry of Justice and therefore the executive power of the State, the Department of Attorney Affairs cannot be considered independent and indeed may exert undue influence on legal professionals. The Working Group is mindful of the 2018 recommendations issued by the NHRC in this regard which make it clear that the current system poses a serious threat to the independence of the legal profession in Qatar. The Working Group wishes to associate itself with these recommendations as well as the 2015 recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and calls upon the Government of Qatar to implement these without delay.
Interpretation during the legal proceedings
According to the testimony received, many non-Qatari detainees who do not speak Arabic were not afforded adequate interpretation either during their interrogation or trial. Moreover, many defendants were reportedly unable to communicate effectively with court-appointed lawyers who provided advice primarily in Arabic. Under article 14(3)(f) of the ICCPR, all defendants charged with a criminal offence have the right to the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak the language used in court. A similar guarantee is provided in article 72 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Qatar, which states that the investigation shall be conducted in Arabic, but that the Public Prosecution shall hear the statements of parties or witnesses who do not speak the language through an interpreter. The Working Group considers that all stages of criminal proceedings must be conducted in a language understood by the defendant and the failure to do so renders the proceedings fundamentally unfair. In addition, according to article 14(3)(b) of the ICCPR, anyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing. This guarantee is not met when a defendant is unable to understand and be understood by his or her lawyer. The Working Group urges Qatar to ensure that Article 72 of its Criminal Procedure Code is observed in practice by providing interpretation when needed, and to review all cases thus far in which interpretation was not provided with a view to releasing persons held without being afforded due process.
Meaningful trial proceedings
Many detainees described their hearings before the court as extraordinarily brief and of a summary nature, lasting only a few minutes. According to testimonies received, defendants were generally not permitted to address the court, even in cases involving serious offences for which the maximum penalty was a lengthy term of imprisonment; they were not allowed either to present evidence. Some detainees described their proceedings as a mere formality, with the conviction and sentence appearing to have been predetermined by the judge. The Working Group recalls that, in its jurisprudence, it has found that an unduly short trial or appellate proceeding suggests that a criminal defendant was not provided his or her right to a fair hearing under article 14(1) of the ICCPR, and was not afforded the presumption of innocence under article 14(2). The Working Group calls upon Qatar to undertake the necessary training and supervision of prosecutors and judges to ensure that they are aware of the applicable fair trial guarantees under international and national law, and to ensure that they are applied in practice through meaningful court proceedings.
Trials in absentia
The Working Group was informed of numerous instances when judgments had been handed down without the knowledge of the defendant as a result of proceedings which had been initiated and carried out without a proper attempt to summon the individual concerned to attend the hearing. While the Working Group appreciates the challenge the authorities may face when an individual is unwilling to participate in the proceedings, the number of accounts involving individuals being sentenced to months in prison in absentia was significant. The Working Group also received accounts of those detained who have not been allowed to attend hearings by the detaining authority. Trials in absentia are only compatible with article 14, paragraph 3 (d) of the ICCPR if the necessary steps are taken to inform the accused person of the charges, to summon such persons in a timely manner, to inform them in advance about the date and place of their trial and to request their attendance. The Working Group calls upon the Qatari authorities to ensure the right of all accused persons to be present during their trial and that trials in absentia become a true exception.
The Working Group was informed that while many non-Qatari detainees had been visited at least once by their embassies, the assistance rendered through that process was generally ineffective in the context of criminal proceedings. Stakeholders noted that the authorities in detention centres do not always notify the relevant embassies that their nationals are being detained in criminal matters, and the embassies are often informed of the detention by the detainee's relatives or co-workers. According to article 36(b) of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which Qatar is a State party, if the detainee requests it, the authorities of the receiving State shall, without delay, inform the consular post of the sending State if a national of that State is arrested or detained.
In addition, given the large number of non-Qatari residents in Qatar, most embassies do not have sufficient staff to conduct visits in all cases, with several embassies reportedly prioritising certain types of serious offences in rendering consular assistance. The Working Group considers that consular assistance contributes to a fair trial by providing detainees with effective access to a lawyer and to any relevant exculpatory evidence (e.g. that the detainee was not involved in a particular criminal offence). Consular assistance also facilitates the independent monitoring of trials by consular officials and the provision by such officials of evidence on the good character of the defendant during sentencing. The Working Group urges Qatar to ensure that it meets its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
IV. Other forms of deprivation of liberty
Several laws in Qatar allow for detention outside the scope of the Criminal Procedure Code. These include the Protection of the Community Law (No. 17 of 2002), the State Security Service Law (No. 5 of 2003) and the Law on Combatting Terrorism (Law No. 3 of 2004).
Protection of the Community Law
Article 1 of the Protection of the Community Law, No. 17 of 2002, allows the Minister of Interior to order the provisional detention of a defendant for vaguely worded crimes involving "state security, honour, decency or public morals" on the basis of a report submitted by the Director of Public Security. The Minister of Interior may only do so if there are well-founded reasons to believe that the defendant may have committed the crime(s) with which he or she is accused of. Such detention is permissible for a period of two weeks, at which time it must be reviewed, and can be renewed for further periods up to a maximum of six months. However, under Article 2, it is possible for such detention to last up to a year, if the offence relates to state security. According to Article 3, it is possible to appeal the decision to detain or extend the detention to the Prime Minister.
During its visit, the Working Group observed serious inconsistencies between the provisions of the Protection of the Community Law, how the Group was told the Law operates, and how the Group observed it actually operating in practice. The Protection of the Community Law sets out a parallel process to that stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Code and it is unclear why that would be required. The Working Group was informed that, in practice, resorting to the provisions of this Law is exceptional as it is used to calm disturbances between families so as to avoid further escalation of an argument or to save embarrassment, and is not aimed at circumventing the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code. However, this is not what the Working Group observed in practice during its visit. The Working Group came across cases in which an individual would be released from detention by the Public Prosecution when the criminal proceedings were discontinued or the defendant has been acquitted by the court, only to be detained immediately after under the Protection of the Community Law for the same alleged conduct, in violation of the provisions of article 14 (7) of the ICCPR. The Working Group came across instances of this Law being utilised by parents who would bring their 'unruly' children to be detained as a form of managing challenging behaviour, and was informed of transgender persons being detained 'until they change their behaviour'. Equally, the Law was used as a tool by those from powerful families to detain others for purely personal reasons of revenge. There were even cases of persons with psychosocial disability being detained under the provisions of this Law as the health condition of the person deteriorated and the family struggled to manage the individual.
The Working Group notes that the provisions of this Law are used to circumvent the requirements of the Criminal Procedure Code and to avoid the safeguards the Code puts in place to prevent instances of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The individuals detained under the provisions of this Law do not, for example, have the right to legal assistance and do not appear before a court or another judicial authority, which would independently review the legality or the duration of their detention They also do not benefit from monitoring visits conducted by the Public Prosecution under article 395 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The Working Group spoke with numerous detainees held under the provisions of this Law, none of whom knew how long they would be detained and none were able to challenge their detention. The Working Group came across instances where such detention would last over a year, clearly longer than it was explained the Law permits. The Working Group was informed that this could be longer and even de facto unlimited as it is possible that such detention would be prescribed 'until further notice'. Although the Law provides for the possibility to appeal the decision to detain taken by the Minister of Interior to the Prime Minister, the Law does not set out any procedure as to how this might take place in practice. Moreover, such appeal does not satisfy the criteria for independent review of the legality and proportionality of the decision to detain as encapsulated in articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR as both the Minister of Interior and the Prime Minister are part of the executive power of the State and, moreover, currently both posts are held by the same person.
State Security Service Law and Law on the Combatting Terrorism
Article 7 of the State Security Service Law (No. 5 of 2003) allows detention for a maximum period of 30 days for such vague offences as "activities which are harmful to the security and stability of the state and its relationships with other countries", before the person is to be presented to the Public Prosecutor. This period can be extended up to 6 months, as well as a travel ban on individuals can be imposed as an exception to the process provided for in the Criminal Procedure Code. The Law does not provide for any judicial oversight over such detention and the Working Group was informed that, in practice, such detention leads to very lengthy detention periods in violation of the international human rights norms.
Similarly, according to Article 18 of the Law on the Combatting Terrorism (Law No. 3 of 2004), the Public Prosecutor may keep a suspect in detention for 15 days without presenting the person before a judicial authority if he/she is accused of having committed any crime with the "purpose of terrorism". Such detention can be extended and the detention may last up to six months before the person is presented before a judge. The Working Group was informed that a new law on terrorism is to be issued in the coming weeks, and it will be important for the authorities to carefully consider whether its provisions meet international standards.
The existing practices of administrative detention in accordance with these three laws in Qatar are a serious affront to the commitment the State has undertaken under articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR, as the safeguards that would prevent arbitrary deprivation of liberty are removed and such detention is effectively placed outside the independent oversight of the judiciary. However, without effective and independent oversight by the judiciary, detention is always arbitrary per se. The Working Group recalls the 2018 recommendation of the NHRC to abolish these laws and urges the Government to do so with utmost urgency.
De facto deprivation of liberty by private actors
The Working Group received a number of reports of de facto deprivation of liberty by private actors in Qatar.
The Working Group was informed that the guardianship requirements currently in place in Qatar mean that women under the age of 25 must obtain the permission of their legal guardians not only to engage in many regular daily activities, including the signing of contracts, but also to leave the country. The Working Group received credible reports that this prohibition to leave extended to private residences, meaning that women are prevented from leaving their family homes without the permission of their legal guardians, resulting in de facto deprivation of liberty by their families. This is a breach of both articles 12 and 26 of the ICCPR, and amounts to discrimination on the basis of gender.
Similar reports were received from the migrant worker community, as the workers were reportedly prevented from leaving the residences where they were employed as domestic workers, or having curfews imposed by their employers which prohibit leaving their residences after a certain time of the evening. The Working Group received credible reports of employers withholding employees' documents and salary as leverage to ensure that they would not leave. Reports were also received of employers resorting to false accusations of absconding as a way to exert control over their workers. Such accusations would automatically trigger arrest by the police, which in turn would result into the worker being detained for the time of the investigation.
These situations lead to the de facto deprivation of liberty by private actors that are neither stipulated in the national legislation of Qatar nor permissible under international law. Article 9 of the ICCPR bestows the right to personal liberty upon everyone and protects everyone against arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Every State party to the ICCPR, including Qatar, not only has a duty to ensure that anyone acting on its behalf, such as State authorities and its agents, do not infringe this right, but also has a positive obligation to protect everyone in its territory or under its jurisdiction from violations of this right by private parties. The Working Group wishes to underline that this legal and positive duty of Qatar to protect everyone in its territory or under its jurisdiction against any human rights violation extends to an obligation to provide effective remedies whenever a violation occurs. The Working Group calls upon the Government of Qatar to abolish the system of guardianship immediately and ensure that all women in Qatar are free to leave the homes of their families and others if they choose to do so.
The Working Group urges the Government of Qatar to ensure that the right to personal liberty of all individuals in Qatar is respected in both the public and private sectors. The Working Group welcomes the steps taken by the Government to abolish the system of sponsorship of migrant workers as a significant step in this direction and acknowledges the significant work in this area by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs. The Working Group invites the Government to double its efforts to equalise the relationship between employers and employees by, for example, enabling employees to renew IDs themselves and actively pursuing those employers who withhold the documents and salaries of their employees. The practice of imposing curfews in the domestic residences of workers should be abolished and all workers should be free to utilise their time off work as they choose. The workers must be allowed to leave their employers without the fear of being arrested for the so-called crime of absconding and the police must ensure that their investigations into allegations by the employers against workers are objective, respect the presumption of innocence and do not lead to automatic detention of the workers for the time of investigation.
V. General observations on the deprivation of liberty in Qatar
Independence of civil society
The Working Group was informed that both private and government-established civil society organisations (CSOs) operate in Qatar. However, stakeholders consider that there is a need for significant strengthening of the independence of civil society. At present, approval to register and establish a CSO must be obtained from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs under article 6 of the Law No. 12 of 2004 on Private Associations and Foundations. According to article 7, the Ministry may reject the application to establish a CSO "if so required by the public interest". In addition, according to article 35(3), the Ministry may dissolve an association if it engages in "political matters". Under article 43(2), engaging in activities of an unregistered organisation is a criminal offence punishable by between one month and one year of imprisonment and a fine between 15,000 and 50,000 riyals. The Working Group considers that these provisions severely restrict the establishment and operation of independent human rights organisations in Qatar.
Several UN human rights mechanisms have expressed concern at the lack of independent CSOs and the absence of government consultation with CSOs in the implementation of human rights treaties, and have recommended that Law No. 12 of 2004 be amended to create a more enabling environment. Qatar's NHRC has also called for the need to "allow more space" for civil society in its most recent 2018 annual report. CSOs play a vital role in reducing the incidence of arbitrary deprivation of liberty through their monitoring of places of detention, advocacy for change in relevant laws and practices, provision of advice on the implementation of human rights standards, and awareness-raising of the right to liberty. The Working Group urges the Government to amend all laws that restrict the ability of CSOs to carry out these functions, including Law No. 12 of 2004.
VI. Opinions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
The Working Group requests the Government to give full effect to its Opinions adopted involving Qatar.
These are the preliminary findings of the Working Group. The Working Group looks forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with the Government of Qatar in the coming months, while determining its final conclusions in relation to this country visit. The Working Group acknowledges with gratitude the willingness of the Government to invite it to Qatar and notes that this is an opportunity for introducing reforms to address situations that may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.