Qatar hosted the 2022 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup between November and December 2022. Qatari authorities and FIFA failed to provide compensation to migrant workers for widespread abuses, including wage theft and the unexplained deaths of workers who prepared and delivered the tournament. Migrant workers faced new forms of exploitation, highlighting the inadequacies of Qatar’s labor reforms and the shameful human rights legacy of the 2022 World Cup. Qatari laws also continue to discriminate against women due to abusive male guardianship policies and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup failed to achieve significant migrant labor reforms in Qatar, with workers who built tournament infrastructure and their families uncompensated for widespread wage theft, illegal recruitment fees, and unexplained deaths. The post-tournament economic slowdown created new vulnerabilities for the migrant workforce, with some workers being unpaid for months or paid far less than their contracts stipulated. Workers still struggle to change jobs easily. Many workers were compelled to wait in Qatar despite unpaid wages or end-of-service benefits, because they risked losing their wages if they left the country.
Qatar announced in 2020 that it allowed migrant workers to change jobs or exit the country without employer permission, initiated wage protection measures such as the Wage Protection System and the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund, and set a higher minimum wage for all workers. Yet, Human Rights Watch found that the benefits of these initiatives were limited due to their late introduction, narrow scope, or weak enforcement. Public scrutiny in the lead-up to the World Cup also highlighted the thousands of unexplained migrant worker deaths in Qatar. But Qatar failed to make public any data on these deaths or investigate their causes. A majority of deaths are attributed to “natural causes,” and under Qatari labor law, only deaths considered work-related are compensated. Just a few companies adopted good practices, like life insurance for migrant workers that covers injuries and deaths and recruitment cost reimbursement schemes.
Qatari authorities deflected widespread calls for remedy for these widespread abuses—including by 14 national football associations, political representatives, and current and former players—claiming the criticism was racist and falsely insisting that existing compensation mechanisms to address the longstanding abuses were adequate, claims repeated by FIFA.
Human Rights Watch documented how the discriminatory male guardianship system, which is incorporated into Qatari law, regulations, and practices, puts extensive restrictions on women’s abilities to make autonomous decisions about their lives.
Women in Qatar must obtain permission from their male guardians to marry, study abroad on government scholarships, work in many government jobs, travel abroad until certain ages, and receive some forms of reproductive health care.
Single Qatari women below 25 require their guardian’s permission to travel outside Qatar. Married women at any age can travel without permission, but men can petition a court to prohibit their wives’ travel. Qatari women are prohibited from being at events and bars serving alcohol, and unmarried Qatari women under 30 cannot check into hotels without a male guardian. Women face discrimination in practice while trying to rent apartments without a male guardian’s permission.
Guardian permission is required to work for government institutions, and women attending Qatar University face restrictions on their movements. Male guardians and other family members can report women to the police for being “absent” from their homes, which can lead to their arrest and forcible return home or to administrative detention.
Qatar’s Family Law also discriminates against women in marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Women require a male guardian’s permission to marry, and married women are required to obey their husbands and can lose their husband’s financial support if they work or travel against their husband’s wishes. Men have a unilateral right to divorce, while women must apply to the courts for divorce on limited grounds. Under inheritance provisions, female siblings receive half the amount their brothers get.
The Family Law forbids husbands from hurting their wives, but Qatar does not have a law on domestic violence or measures to protect survivors and prosecute their abusers.
Women are denied the authority to act as their children’s primary guardian, even when they are divorced and have legal custody. While Qatari men can pass citizenship to their spouses and children, children of Qatari women and non-citizen men can only do so under narrow, discriminatory conditions. Qatar passed a permanent residency law permitting children of Qatari women married to non-Qatari men, among others, to apply for permanent residency, own real estate, and receive government health and education services.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Human Rights Watch documented cases of LGBT people in Qatar who were arbitrarily arrested and treated poorly in detention, including cases of severe and repeated beatings, verbal abuse, 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. Security forces mandated that transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored “behavioral support” center.
Qatar’s penal code, under article 285, criminalizes extramarital sex, including consensual same-sex relations, with up to seven years in prison. It provides penalties between one and three years (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 16, 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 and/or a fine of 500,000 Qatari riyal (about US$137,325) for anyone convicted of spreading “false news” (an undefined term) on the internet or for posting online content that “violates social values or principles” or “insults or slanders others.” In January 2020, Qatar amended its penal code to impose up to five years in prison for spreading rumors or false news (undefined terms) with ill-intent and/or a fine of 100,000 Qatari riyal (about $27,465).
Former Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy media and communications director Abdul Ibhais, who was arrested in November 2019, is serving a three-year jail sentence for bribery. He claims being subjected to a malicious prosecution in retaliation for his criticism of the handling of a 2019 migrant workers’ strike in Qatar. His trial, based on coerced confessions, was unfair.
Qatar’s decision to arbitrarily strip families from the Ghufran clan of their citizenship since 1996 has left some members stateless and deprived them of basic human rights. Stateless members of the Ghufran clan are deprived of their rights to work, education, healthcare, marriage and starting a family, own property, 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 the government benefits provided to Qatari citizens, including state jobs, food and energy subsidies, and free basic healthcare.
Climate Change Policy and Actions
Qatar is contributing significantly to the global climate crisis. It has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita globally. It has the world’s third largest reserves of natural gas and until recently was the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG).
In its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a Paris Agreement-mandated five-year national climate change action plan, Qatar set a target of reducing emissions by 25 percent from the baseline scenario, without specifying what the baseline scenario is. Qatar has taken few steps to move away from the production and use of fossil fuels; instead, it is doubling down on producing LNG for export.
Qatar is itself vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 97 percent of Qatar’s population lives along an exposed coastline, making them particularly vulnerable to both sea level rise and extreme weather events. Migrant workers, especially in outdoor sectors like construction, are disproportionately exposed to Qatar’s extreme heat and already face severe health risks.
Human Rights Watch documented the inadequacies of current heat protection measures like midday bans. While Qatar expanded heat protection measures, including the prohibition of work when the wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT) exceeds 32.1 degrees Celsius (about 90 degrees Fahrenheit), the threshold temperature is set too high to effectively protect workers and serious enforcement gaps remain.
Key International Actors
Qatar’s geopolitical standing has strengthened due to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, especially in Europe, where Qatar’s LNG serves as an alternate to Russian energy. Qatar is an increasingly important LNG exporter.
Members of the International Labour Organization elected Qatar as president of the 111th session (June 5-16) of the International Labour Conference, despite Qatari authorities’ patent failures to protect labor rights, including migrant workers’ right to unionize.
Qatar’s selection for the 2022 World Cup came amid investigations by Belgian authorities into allegations of corruption of European Parliament members, a scandal known as “Qatargate” that has highlighted the country’s alleged role, along with that of other states, to bribe European parliamentarians to launder its image. The scandal led to consideration of stronger transparency and integrity rules for EU institutions, but it was also instrumentalized by some political groups to attack NGOs.
In September, the EU held a human rights dialogue with Qatar. No tangible deliverables were disclosed.