Qatar Slow to Act on Human Trafficking

Qatar is in the process of drafting an anti-trafficking law and has been taking measures to address the problem, but there is still room for much to be done to implement its international obligations related to human trafficking, the special rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons at the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Sigma Huda, said yesterday.

Addressing a press conference in Doha, the UN expert lauded the Qatari government for its "recognition of human trafficking as a problem in Qatar and giving her access to all the places she requested to visit".

However, she said that further steps needed to be taken to implement the international obligations related to human trafficking.

"I hope that the Qatari government will take prompt steps to ratify the Palermo Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons," Huda said.

The special rapporteur, on five-day fact finding mission in Qatar, expressed her concern over the number of expatriate workers who become victims of human trafficking.

"I am particularly concerned that a significant number among expatriate workers in Qatar become victims of human trafficking," she said, while observing that domestic helpers are the most disadvantaged as they are excluded form the protection of Qatar’s Labor Laws.

She urged the Qatari authorities as well as embassies and consular offices in the state to pay urgent attention to the plight of the expatriate workers and domestic helpers.

"Though judicial mechanisms and procedures have been adopted to settle labor disputes, access to justice for abused domestic helpers and other expatriate workers remains inadequate," Sigma said, adding that legal proceedings were lengthy and victims felt intimidated to pursue criminal and labor cases.

Commenting on a visit she had paid to the deportation center, the special rapporteur said she had found many female domestic helpers detained there for long periods in congested conditions.

However, she said that officials in the Supreme Council for Family Affairs had assured her that they would take quick action to end the plight of those domestic helpers.

"Dr Mariam al-Malki, the national coordinator of the Qatar-based anti-trafficking office, told me that she would tackle this issue and lodge the abuse cases at the Qatari House for Lodging and Human Care," she added.

The UN official urged the Labour Department officials to conduct checks on labor camps whom, she said, lived in a degrading condition.

"I have visited a labor camp and the living conditions were very bad there."

She congratulated Qatar for its celebration of the National Day of Human Rights, saying that it would have been a wonderful gift if the anti-trafficking law was issued to coincide with the day — November 11.

The expert on human trafficking also hailed the Qatari government for establishing the National Office of Combating Human Trafficking as well as the Qatari House for Lodging and Human Care which receives and accommodates victims of abuse and exploitation.

"I would like to commend the government for trying to control the recruiting agencies by requesting a deposit of $70,000 as a guarantee for complying with the labor standards," she said, pointing out that that the government was making public the blacklisted companies and sponsors who didn’t comply with the Labor Law.

Asked if her report on human trafficking in Qatar was related to the report issued recently by the US State Department, the official said she was on fact finding mission and that she did not rely on the US report.

"There may be some similarities between the two reports as both of them tackle the same issue," the expert said, adding that she had made her own checks and met with government officials, diplomats in embassies, workers and domestic helpers.

Asked about statistics, she said the deportation center, which she had visited yesterday, had 1,168 detainees and that the authority usually deported 1,000 to 1,500 people a month.

About the impressions she had following her visits to Bahrain, Oman and Qatar, Huda said that GCC countries depended heavily on the expatriate labor who are lured by the petrodollar.

"The current image of human trafficking in GCC countries, or any other place in the world is an image of plight," she said, blaming the sponsorship system for this plight.

She said that her report would be submitted to the government and wait for its comments and then she would submit them to the Human Rights Council.

In response to a question if her mission is related to any foreign political pressures, she said the UN felt it necessary to address the issue of human trafficking and that Qatar had invited her to come.

"I am on a fact finding tour and I report to the Human Rights Council," she said, adding that her mandate covered the whole world.

Source: Gulf Times