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Qatar: UN racism expert commends reforms but urges more action to end persistent discrimination


GENEVA / DOHA (3 December 2019) – E. Tendayi Achiume, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance conducted an official visit to Qatar from 23 November to 1 December 2019, at the invitation of the government.

“Qatar’s past is vital for understanding its present,” she said. “The inequality and discrimination confronting certain racial, ethnic and national groups that I observed during my mission, is in part influenced by Qatar’s history of slavery, and the contemporary legacies of this history.

“This is a common challenge faced by many nations. However, my visit inspired confidence that Qatar is committed to taking the action necessary to fully break from this past, and to ensure fulfilment of its international human rights obligations to combat discrimination and inequality.”

In her preliminary statement, she noted that Qatar had made remarkable and commendable progress in its efforts to end discrimination based on race and country of origin, but needed to maintain and step up this work to eradicate the problem.
Achiume commended existing labour and immigration reforms aimed at improving conditions for low-income migrant workers – who make up 71% of the national population – and welcomed further reforms planned for early 2020.

“The nature and extent of positive reforms is truly significant,” she said. “However, immense power imbalances persist between employers and migrant workers, imbalances rooted in the kafala (sponsorship) system that historically structured labour relations and conditions of residency for low-income workers in Qatar.

“The result is that, both because of the content of the law, and the power it confers on employers over employees, many low-income workers are too afraid to seek justice for labour violations, and reasonably so.”

Domestic workers, most of whom are women, are especially at risk of abuse and exploitation, the Special Rapporteur said.

“I received reports that it is not uncommon for domestic workers to be confined to the private homes in which they work,” she said. “Many are subjected to harsh working conditions: excessively long hours with no rest and no days off, passport and mobile phone confiscation, physical and social isolation and, in some cases, long-term physical, verbal or sexual assault by employers.”

She commended vital reforms to improve conditions for domestic workers but urged further action.

Achiume said more action was also needed to protect Qatar’s hundreds of thousands of low-income workers from discrimination.

“By hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar has signalled that it is investing greatly in a national vision with global ambition. This vision entails responsibilities and obligations of equality and non-discrimination, and it needs to do more in this regard,” she said.

“Many people’s enjoyment of human rights is greatly affected by their national origin and nationality. Other factors such as class, gender, and disability status are also salient, but I have serious concerns of structural racial discrimination against non-nationals in Qatar.

“My concern is that in effect, even if not as a matter of intent, nationality and national origin entrench de facto castes among non-nationals according to which European, North American, Australian and Arab nationalities systematically enjoy greater human rights protections than South Asian and sub-Saharan African nationalities.

“Racial and ethnic profiling by police, traffic authorities and even private security forces is of concern. South Asian and sub-Saharan Africans have reported being denied access to parks and shopping malls on account of their appearance.”

During her mission the Special Rapporteur met government officials, academics, representatives of racial, ethnic and religious minority communities, and international organisations.


Ms E. Tendayi Achiume (Zambia) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in September 2017. Ms Achiume is currently a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, and a research associate of the African Center for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Qatar

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