Qatar – UN Report Proof That Saudi-Led Blockade Illegal

An Al Jazeera news report quoted Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, the head of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), as calling the blockade of its country by neigbouring states an act of “economic warfare.” A new United Nations (UN) report on the blockade’s effects has demonstrated as well that the negative impact of the blockade has been significant enough to warrant this phrasing. The blockade is just one of the cluster of actions taken against Qatar by Bahrain, Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (together called the Quartet), who cut diplomatic ties with the country on 5 June 2017 in reaction to a Qatari press outlet’s negative comments about the President of the United States’ speech on Iran. The blockade has persisted since that date and, as the investigation carried out from March to November 2017, demonstrates that it has had a negative impact on both Qatari and neighboring citizens’ ability to exercise their human rights.

The investigation identifies four different categories of people affected by the blockade and travel restrictions: Qatari residents of the blockading countries; residents of Qatar hailing from one of the countries of the Quartet; migrant workers residing in Qatar and their dependents; and the general populations of all five implicated countries – this last group due to the wide-ranging effect that the Quartet’s actions have had on citizens’ ability to travel and exercise other civil liberties. In addition, the investigators identified six different areas of citizens’ lives affected by the crisis: freedom of expression, freedom of movement and communications, separation of families and other problems related to nationality and residence, economic rights, health, and education.

The report includes numerous examples of these effects, some of them created by demonstrably illegal actions on behalf of Qatar’s neigbours. For instance, citizens of the KSA, the UAE and Bahrain have experienced restrictions in the area of freedom of expression ever since their governments “announced, via their respective news agencies, that any individuals within their jurisdiction expressing empathy vis à vis Qatar would be subjected to criminal sanctions in the form of hefty fines and/or detention.” The ability of people both within and outside of Qatar to enter or exit the country has also been restricted, without legal basis, which has in turn affected families with members living on either side of the border, as well as those in the region who own businesses and properties outside of the country in which they reside. Qatar’s Ministry of Health has, in addition, noted 130 instances of health-related complaints caused by the crisis, mainly by citizens of members of the Quartet who had been receiving treatment in Qatar. And Qatari students studying in Quartet universities have been forced to abandon their studies and return home, not all of them being able to take up these studies again within Qatar (due to issues like class capacities and some students following specialized programs of study only available at specific institutions. Thus, it is clear from this report that the Gulf Crisis has had a significant negative impact on crucial human rights both within Qatar and in the countries of the Quartet.

The UN report further notes that “the crisis has been characterized by lack of dialogue among the States concerned,” despite Kuwait’s attempts at mediation. One hopes that this report will encourage these states to follow the UN’s High Commissioner’s earlier advice to “solve this dispute as quickly as possible through dialogue, to refrain from any actions that could affect the well-being, health, employment and integrity of their inhabitants, and to respect their obligations under international human rights law,” rather than fighting via means that affect their citizens’ quality of life.

Rose Fitzpatrick
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