Qatar blockade 'unlawful, unjustified and disproportionate', new report says

Qatar blockade 'unlawful, unjustified and disproportionate', new report says
The Qatar blockade has had significant impact on the human rights of persons both within Qatar and in the four states of the Quartet, a new report has said.
7 min read
04 June, 2018
Millions of migrant workers, as well as nationals, have been affected by the blockade [Getty]
The year-long blockade on Qatar, imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, has had significant impact on the human rights of persons both within Qatar and in the four states of the Quartet, a new report has concluded.

Titled "The Qatar Blockade One Year On; Human Rights Violations and Coercive Measures" and published by renowned international human rights lawyers and experts, Professors William Schabas and John Dugard, the report said coercive measures imposed on the tiny Gulf state has infringed the rights of people across the mentioned countries, including international residents and migrant labour workers.

On June 5, 2017, the Quartet severed diplomatic and economic ties with gas-rich Qatar, accusing it of links to extremist groups.

Qatar has consistently denied the allegations and repeatedly called for dialogue to end the crisis.

But the Saudi-led bloc has refused to negotiate before Qatar heeds to a list of demands, including shutting down the flagship Al Jazeera news network and London-based The New Arab

Shortly after the crisis erupted, Saudi Arabia sealed its land border with Qatar and barred Qatari flights from using Saudi and Emirati airspace.

Meanwhile, Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has called for a negotiated settlement to the damaging dispute, but insisted any solution should not come at the expense of "Doha's sovereignty and dignity".

The four nations have demanded Doha accepts a list of 13 conditions to open a dialogue. Mediation efforts to resolve the rift, mainly led by the emir of fellow Gulf state Kuwait, have so far failed to break the deadlock.

But while the crisis has shaken the politics of the region, it has also had serious impact on the lives of ordinary civilians on the ground, many of which have been highlighted in the report, which was published on the eve of first-year anniversary of the blockade.

Among its many effects is the infringement on freedom of movement, which has impacted residents and nationals "within their own borders as well as in and out of Qatar".

"Limitations on freedom of movement between Qatar and the other countries is sanctioning Qataris and residents of Qatar, as well as residents of the other three Gulf States in the Quartet," the report said.

The blockade has also forced the separation of family members, many of whom have inter-married and or are residents in Qatar or the Quartet nations.

Measures taken by the Quartet against Qatar have had terrible consequences for family life

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "[t]he family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State". 

Article 33(2) of the Arab Charter on Human Rights meanwhile affirms: "The State and society shall ensure the protection of the family, the strengthening of family ties, the protection of its members."

But the report said measures taken by the Quartet against Qatar have had terrible consequences for family life, causing temporary and possibly permanent disruption to families across all the effected nations.

The shock of the decision to impose sanctions on Qatar and the immediate and serious effect of unilateral coercive measures on many individuals has had "a major psychological impact on the overall population," the report suggested.

"These have created huge strains on families in their efforts to cope with displacement and financial loss," the report noted.

In January, the UN's human rights office accused the four countries of orchestrating a hate campaign against Qatar, which included threats to kill the country's emir.

In a devastating report, the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) set out how between June and October 2017 there were 1,120 press articles and 600 anti-Qatar caricatures published in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The OHCHR report said: "Such material included… calls for a regime change or a coup d'etat, attacks against leading figures and symbols of Qatar, as well as attacks on and murder of Qataris.

Opening of new hospitals was delayed because shipment of construction materials was blocked

"For instance, a Saudi tweeter with five million followers has been issuing 'religious opinions' calling for the killing of the emir of Qatar. Another Saudi tweeter warned he could send one million Yemeni suicide bombers to Qatar," the OHCHR report said in January.

While abusive use of media is "not per se a human rights violation, but if it amounts to incitement to violence it loses any protection under international human rights law," the report said.

While ensuing a media campaign on Qatar, the Quartet has itself demanded Doha shuts down its most affective media platforms, including Al Jazeera and Arab 21, The New Arab, Sharq and the Middle East Eye.

But the report said "such demands are quite unprecedented and constitute an extraordinary interference with freedom of the press as well as with the right of everyone to seek and receive information".

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression of the United Nations Human Rights Council, David Kaye reaffirmed the sentiments.

"This demand represents a serious threat to media freedom if States, under the pretext of a diplomatic crisis, take measures to force the dismantling of Al-Jazeera," Kaye said.

"This has been exacerbated by a hostile media campaign that flared up from early June and is ongoing," it said. 

Rights to health and education have also been seriously violated by the Quartets' blockade, the report adds, noting the expulsion of Qatari students who were studying in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

"Qatari students were prevented from either pursuing their studies or passing their exams. Many students in these countries were ordered to immediately return to Qatar, often by the administration of universities," it said.

Qatari students were prevented from either pursuing their studies or passing their exams. Many students in these countries were ordered to immediately return to Qatar, often by the administration of universities

Medical supplies

In regards to Qatar's pharmaceuticals, 50 to 60 percent of which was stocked by suppliers in the Gulf region prior to the blockade, the disruption of trade has had consequences for access to medicines and medical supplies.

"Obtaining supplies from outside the region has increased the costs of products and has led to delays," the report said, noting the "opening of new hospitals was delayed because shipment of construction materials was blocked".

In January, Qatar's foreign ministry spokesperson Lulwa al-Khater accused the Saudi-led blockade on Doha of being a form of "economic warfare".

This accusation was supported by the new report which said: "Qatari nationals working in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, as well as Qataris with business interests in those countries were denied access to their companies and other sources of activity and income."

"Financial transactions between Qatar and the other States were suspended, and that this prevented people from receiving salaries, pensions, and rents, paying bills, and supporting relatives."


But beyond the many affects of the sanctions, the report questioned the legality of the coercive measures, which it said were not authorised by "a competent international organ" as is expected under international law.

"The only international organ explicitly authorised to impose sanctions by the Charter of the United Nations is the Security Council," the report said.

"In the present case it is clear that the Quartet has not been authorised by the Security Council, the General Assembly or even the Gulf Co-operation Council to take action against Qatar," it said, reaffirming that "Qatar has committed no internationally wrongful act".

Infringements on rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of the press, family rights, the right to education and to health, and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one's property must not be based upon discriminatory grounds, such as nationality, which has been the case in Qatar.

But the majority of the measures were broad and non-targeted, making no distinction between the government of Qatar and its population.

Therefore, the imposed sanctions are "impermissible", the report said.

"It is often, perhaps even generally, the case that sanctions are in fact directed at the people of a country rather than at the state or the government as such,"it said.

"Measures adopted by members of the Quartet directed at the expulsion of persons on the grounds that they have Qatari nationality are plainly discriminatory and thereby violate the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination,"  it added.

"The measures taken by the Quartet have been widely condemned as being unlawful, unjustified and disproportionate."

Despite the serious violations against human rights and the innumerable infringements of law, Qatar has managed to utilise its wealth and human potential to withstand the sanctions and absorb the shock.