Qatar hosted the 2022 FIFA World Cup between November and December 2022. The tournament brought a new level of global scrutiny to the serious abuses that migrant workers face in the country. Authorities have introduced several labor reforms, especially since 2018, yet the benefits of these reforms were limited by their narrow scope, late introduction, and poor enforcement. Qatari laws continue to discriminate against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Migrant workers in Qatar who helped to make the 2022 World Cup possible continued to face serious abuses, including unexplained deaths, injuries, unpaid wages, and exorbitant recruitment fees, despite labor reforms.
The benefits of these reforms and related initiatives have been limited. The Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund became operational only in 2020, and based on data from Qatar’s Ministry of Labour, the fund had compensated over 36,000 workers a total of 597,591,986 QAR (US$164 million) as of July 2022. Widespread wage abuses have persisted, and migrant workers have resorted to protests and strikes against wage delays, which are prohibited in Qatar, and for which authorities arrested and deported some workers.
Workers still struggled to change jobs easily. Several initiatives by the Supreme Committee, such as the Universal Reimbursement Scheme, in which workers are reimbursed recruitment fees, are promising, but as of July 2022, they applied to fewer than 50,000 workers of Qatar’s migrant worker population of over 2 million.
Abusive elements of the kafala (sponsorship) system remained intact. In particular, “absconding,” or leaving an employer without permission, remains a crime. Passport confiscations, high recruitment fees, and deceptive recruitment practices remain widespread and largely unpunished.
The World Cup highlighted unexplained migrant worker deaths in Qatar, but authorities have failed to make public any detailed or meaningful data about the number of deaths or their causes. Qatari authorities have also failed to investigate the causes of deaths of thousands of migrant workers, many of which are attributed to “natural causes” or “cardiac arrest,” which are not deemed work-related. Under Qatar’s labor law, only deaths considered work-related are compensated. In 2021, Qatar introduced new measures to increase protection from heat stress, including the prohibition of work when the wet-bulb globe temperature exceeds 32.1 degrees Celsius (89.7 degrees Fahrenheit), but does not go far enough to sufficiently protect workers.
Human Rights Watch, alongside other human rights groups and unions, launched the #PayUpFIFA campaign in May calling on FIFA and Qatar to fulfill their human rights responsibilities and obligations by providing remedy, including financial compensation, for abuses since 2010 such as deaths, injuries, unpaid wages, and exorbitant recruitment fees.
Human Rights Watch documented how Qatari laws, regulations, and practices impose discriminatory male guardianship rules on women and harm women’s abilities to make autonomous decisions about their lives and their rights. Women in Qatar must obtain permission from their male guardians to marry, pursue higher education on government scholarships, work in many government jobs, travel abroad until certain ages, and receive some forms of reproductive health care.
Unmarried Qatari women below 25 require their guardian’s permission to travel outside Qatar, and men can petition a court to prohibit their wives and other female relatives’ travel. Qatari women are also prohibited from events and bars serving alcohol, while unmarried Qatari women under 30 cannot check into some hotels.
Unmarried women who report sexual violence can be prosecuted for non-marital sex if authorities do not believe them with a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment, as well as floggings if they are Muslim. Moreover, unmarried women who are pregnant or subjected to rape or other sexual violence are unable to receive necessary sexual and reproductive healthcare, as authorities require a marriage certificate for such access.
Qatar’s Family Law also discriminates against women in marriage, divorce, legal responsibility for children, and inheritance. Women are required to obey their husbands and can lose their husband’s financial support if they work or travel against their wishes. Men have a unilateral right to divorce; women must apply to the courts for divorce on limited grounds. Women are also denied the authority to act as their children’s guardians, even when they are divorced and have primary legal responsibility for the children’s residence and care.
Qatar’s Family Law forbids husbands from hurting their wives physically or morally, and there are general criminal code provisions on assault. But there is no law on domestic violence or measures to protect survivors and prosecute their abusers. Qatar does not explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment of children by law.
In 2021 and 2022, Qatari women told Human Rights Watch that they were forced to return home or forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital after the authorities refused to support their wishes to live independently from their abusive families. Families can report women to the police for “absence” if they leave the home to reside elsewhere. The 2016 Mental Health Law allows for involuntary hospitalization, that is detention, including by male guardians or other Qatari authorities for three months, which is renewable, with no role given to the judiciary to review such detention.
While children and non-citizen spouses of Qatari men can obtain citizenship, children and non-citizen spouses of Qatari women can only obtain citizenship under narrow conditions, which is discriminatory.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Preventive Security Department Forces in Qatar arbitrarily arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and subject them to ill-treatment in detention. Security forces pick people off the streets and in public places based solely on their gender expression, and unlawfully search their phones in detention.
Human Rights Watch documented recent cases of severe and repeated beatings and sexual harassment in police custody. Security officers also inflicted verbal abuse, extracted forced confessions, forced detainees to sign pledges that they would “cease immoral activity,” and denied detainees access to legal counsel, family, and medical care. As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored “behavioral support” center.
Qatar’s penal code punishes consensual sexual relations between males above sixteen with up to seven years imprisonment (Article 285). It provides penalties between one- and three-years’ imprisonment (Article 296) for any male who “instigates” or “entices” another male to “commit an act of sodomy or immorality.” A penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment (Article 288) is imposed on anyone who engages in consensual sexual relations with a person above sixteen, outside marriage, which could apply to consensual same-sex relations between women, men, or heterosexual partners.
Freedom of Expression
Qatar’s penal code criminalizes criticizing the emir, insulting Qatar’s flag, defaming religion, including blasphemy, and inciting “to overthrow the regime.” Qatar’s 2014 cybercrimes law provided for a maximum of three years in prison or a fine of 500,000 Qatari riyal (around US$137,325) for anyone convicted of spreading “false news” on the internet or for posting online content that “violates social values or principles,” or “insults or slanders others,” or both punishments. In January 2020, Qatar amended its penal code to impose up to five years in prison for spreading “rumors” or “false news” with ill intent or a fine of 100,000 Qatari riyal (around $27,465), or both.
Abdullah Ibhais, a former media and communications director for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, was first arrested in November 2019. He is currently serving a three-year jail sentence after being convicted of bribery in April 2021. Ibhais claims he was subjected to a malicious prosecution in retaliation for his criticism of the handling of a migrant workers’ strike in Qatar in August 2019.
Qatar’s decision to arbitrarily strip families from the Ghufran clan of their citizenship since 1996 has left some members stateless and deprived of their rights to work, education, healthcare, marriage and starting a family, property ownership, and freedom of movement. Without valid identity documents, they face restrictions in accessing basic services and risk arbitrary detention. Those living in Qatar are denied government benefits afforded to Qatari citizens, including state jobs, food and energy subsidies, and free basic healthcare.
Climate Change Policy and Actions
As a significant greenhouse gas emitter, Qatar is contributing to the climate crisis, which is taking a growing toll on human rights around the globe. The country has the sixth-highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita globally, a considerable portion from air conditioning. Qatar has taken few steps to move away from the production and use of fossil fuels and is instead doubling down on producing liquified natural gas (LNG) for export. It has the world's third-largest reserves of fossil gas and is the second-largest exporter of fossil gas. Qatar updated its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in August 2021, a Paris Agreement-mandated, five-year national climate change action plan, announcing an emissions reduction target of 25 percent by 2030.
As one of the world's hottest countries, Qatar is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Ninety-seven percent of Qatar's population lives along an exposed coastline, making them particularly vulnerable to both sea level rise and extreme weather events. Doha faced flash floods in July.
Key International Actors
Pressure on Qatar to expand liquefied natural gas has grown due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially from Europe, which has looked to Qatar’s LNG as an alternative to Russian energy. Qatar is holding talks with Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, among others, to boost gas supplies.