AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S secretary general Irene Khan has urged Qatar to act upon its prime minister’s statement that “the sponsorship law and exit permit system are internationally unacceptable and close to slavery.”
“I would hope this statement leads towards liberalising the regime and ensuring that non-nationals have access to rights,” she told Gulf Times in an interview yesterday.
Prime Minister HE Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani had made the observation on Sunday, while addressing a consultative meeting hosted by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
In town for the final Doha Debate of the current series, held yesterday, Khan stated that it was only in the interest of the Gulf countries to treat the migrant labour well as they were heavily dependent on them.
The first woman to guide the world’s largest human rights organisation, she observed though there had been some progressive improvements (regarding human rights) in the Gulf countries, the issue of migrant workers remained very difficult.
“There have been many complaints of ill treatment and we feel it is not just the issue of restrictions on coming in or changing jobs, but also of migrant workers not having access to justice, or being subject to unfair trials and detention,” Khan recalled.
Some of these people are doing menial jobs, that too in very vulnerable situations. “Women, who are in the domestic sector, for example, are subjected to violence and sexual abuse,” she said.
Maintaining that Amnesty International had been at the forefront of exposing the problems faced by migrant workers, the secretary general asserted that it has been pressing governments to make some change.
“We see some signs of change coming and we hope these would spread more widely and also incorporate Qatar,” she said. Khan, who assumed her post in August 2001, felt that the Gulf countries should join the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers, set up standards and make sure they were applied.
Given that there is much more movement of labour with economic globalisation, the rights of non-citizens are becoming as important an issue as the rights of citizens.
There are some obligations that reside with governments to protect the rights of foreigners residing in their countries.
“But this is not an issue that has received a lot of attention in the past. And that is why we are increasing our work in this area, and we see this becoming a major part of our work in the coming years,” Khan said.
The official was of the view that Gulf countries could make a positive contribution to the migrant workers’ rights, given the initiative they have taken in areas such as women’s rights, and in better approach to freedom.
Khan recalled that in its 2006 annual report of 153 countries published last week, Amnesty International had discussed about Qatar’s problems with political prisoners, torture and ill treatment, abuses that have taken place in the context of war and terror, and that of a few detainees by security forces, some of whom are being held for several years.
“One of the issues we have picked up has been that of deprival of nationality, and though some 4,000 cases have been resolved last year, there are several thousand others that are left,” she pointed out.
Rating that there has been slow improvement over a period of time in Qatar with regard to human rights, Khan hoped that the government would show its openness addressing the issues that still remain, in the same way that it has shown in making progress until now.
Source: Gulf Times