Qatar’s Global Advocacy for Peace and Humanity, But Ignores Domestic Concerns

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Qatar has pledged 3 million dollars to the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights to promote “welfare and safety” in the conflict-affected nation.

The announcement from Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the 24th of April highlights the nation’s commitment to supporting initiatives geared towards enhancing the lives of children, civilians impacted by armed conflicts, and the broader populace in Ukraine. More than 20 families from Ukraine and Russia are being provided with healthcare and psycho-social support in Doha.

The Minister of State for International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs HE Lolwah bint Rashid Al Khater highlighted the reinforcement of Qatar’s role as a global mediator in the past years, “advocating for peace, placing humanity at the forefront”. She also underlined that this partnership embodies their shared determination to support and promote values of security, child education, and economic empowerment, particularly for women and youth.

This partnership and Qatar’s overall efforts of global diplomacy and conflict mediation, particularly in the current Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as the Sudanese civil war, presents the country as the region’s primary advocate of dialogue and peace, promoting human rights.

Furthermore, as the United States and its European allies seek to reduce reliance on Russian gas, they have turned to Qatar as an alternative energy source – the country is investing heavily to expand production significantly by 2027.

However, Qatar’s actions in this field divert the international community’s attention from Qatar’s own domestic human rights record and the severe abuses that have occured over the years. According to the Freedom House 2023 Country Report, Qatar scores just 25/100 for Global Freedom; in fact, the country’s hereditary Emir holds executive, legislative, and judiciary power, with no political parties allowed. Despite Qatari citizens being amongst the wealthiest in the world, most of the population comprises noncitizens with no political rights, limited civil liberties, and restricted economic opportunities.

Furthermore, Qatar has been under scrutiny since it was awarded the hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup: migrant workers were severely exploited, and a devastating death toll of 6,500 people was reported. The Kafala law (labour law) gives employers sponsorship permits to bring in foreign workers, which binds workers to their employers and allows exploitation. A 2020 survey revealed that Bangladeshi workers bound for Qatar faced recruitment costs averaging $3,863, equivalent to 18 months’ earnings. To cover these fees, workers often resort to high-interest informal loans. Research by Human Rights Watch implicates Qatar-based companies in driving up these recruitment fees.

As Qatar continues to navigate its role as a mediator and energy provider on the world stage, its restrictions on political rights, civil liberties, and labour reforms cast a shadow over its international image, presenting a dilemma in balancing its global commitments while addressing domestic human rights issues.