Qatar continued to face a diplomatic crisis with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The crisis restricted population movement between the countries involved.
Several UN Special Procedures visited Qatar following invitations from the government.
As part of the country’s three-year technical co-operation agreement with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the authorities announced several new reforms to improve protection for migrant workers, who make up 90% of Qatar’s workforce. However, the weak implementation of prior reforms meant that, in practice, migrants generally remained unprotected from labour abuse and exploitation.
On 16 October, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) promised to abolish the kafala (sponsorship) system, under which migrant workers depend on their employer for almost every aspect of their presence in Qatar. Without providing details, it announced reforms to end the exit permit requirements for all workers, except military personnel; allow workers to change their employer without their sponsor’s permission, following a probationary period; and establish a non-discriminatory minimum wage.
The same month the MADLSA released a study with the ILO and Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy that found that individuals working outdoors were “potentially performing their job under significant occupational heat stress conditions for at least four months of the year”. This followed a study by a group of climatologists and cardiologists, published in July in Cardiology Today, which concluded that the increase in the number of migrant workers dying of cardiovascular problems was most likely due to severe heat stress, especially during summertime. The government subsequently said it had closed down more than 300 work sites for violating regulations on outdoor work between 11.30am and 3pm from mid-June to the end of August.
The Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes, judge-led mechanisms that were introduced in 2018 to resolve labour disputes within six weeks, overcame some barriers faced by migrant workers when seeking justice, but generally failed to provide remedies for abuses. Workers continued to wait months for their cases to be processed. While the government awarded some workers compensation for unpaid wages, , it generally failed to do so. In three cases documented by Amnesty International, hundreds of workers waited for several months for their claims regarding unpaid wages and compensation to be processed. Most of them returned home without their wages, while some continued to wait for them in Qatar.
In August, hundreds of migrant workers went on strike to protest about unpaid and delayed wages and poor working conditions. Subsequently, the government said it had arrested the employers responsible and blamed a “negative cash flow” at the companies concerned for causing salary delays, which were then resolved. Hundreds of other migrant workers continued to face salary delays at the end of the year.
The MADLSA took some measures to combat systemic abuse during the recruitment of migrant workers. However, enforcement remained weak. Migrant workers reported paying substantial recruitment fees, leaving them indebted and at high risk of labour abuse, including forced labour.
Domestic workers, mostly women, remained at particular risk of exploitation and abuse, despite the domestic workers’ law passed in 2017. The law failed to protect domestic workers adequately as it fell short of international standards and was poorly enforced. A number of domestic workers told Amnesty International about the abuse they faced at the hands of their employers and dire working conditions, including excessively long working hours, denial of rest days and passport confiscation. All feared repercussions if they reported their employers to the authorities.
In September, the called on Qatar to “expand recently enacted protection to all foreign workers, including to migrant domestic workers and others not currently covered”. In November, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged Qatar to ensure that workers could leave their employers without fear of being arrested and that allegations by employers against workers do not lead to the automatic detention of workers during investigations. In December, the highlighted “the severe human rights violations that still persist, including on the basis of national origin, and the existence of racial, ethnic and national stereotypes and discriminatory structures”, and called on the government to do more to end discrimination based on race and country of origin.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression remained restricted in law and practice. The authorities retained broad surveillance powers over citizens. For instance, Article 19 of Law No. 3 of 2004 on Combating Terrorism grants the authorities extensive powers to conduct surveillance by any means for 90 days prior to any judicial review and to seize any forms of communication whenever this is useful in “uncovering the truth” regarding “terrorist crimes”. The cybercrime law includes similarly broad and vague provisions that allow, for example, the imprisonment of anyone founding or managing an internet site that spreads “incorrect news, with the intention of subjecting the safety of the state or its public order or internal or external security to danger”.
Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice. Family law discriminates against women, including by making it much more difficult for women than men to seek a divorce, and placing women at a severe economic disadvantage if they seek a divorce or if their husband leaves them. Women also remained inadequately protected against violence, including within the family.
Several hundred members of the al-Ghufran clan of the al-Murra tribe, one of the largest tribes in Qatar, remained stateless. As a result, they are deprived of their rights to work, access health care and education, own property and move freely, among other things. Some stateless members of the al-Ghufran clan who spoke out on social media about their situation were arbitrarily detained, but later released without charge.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
Qatari laws continued to discriminate against LGBTI individuals. Article 296(3) of the Penal Code, which punishes with imprisonment anyone who “leads or induces or tempts a male, by any means, into committing an act of sodomy or debauchery”, criminalizes a range of same-sex consensual sexual acts. Article 296(4) criminalizes anyone who “induces or tempts a male or female, by any means, into committing acts contrary to morals or that are unlawful”.
Courts continued to issue death sentences. No executions were reported.
 Amnesty International, All work, no pay: The struggle of Qatar’s migrant workers for justice (Index: MDE 22/0793/2019).