JEDDAH: Qatar’s regime is inhumanely targeting the Al-Ghufran clan, a member of the larger Al-Murra tribe, for its failure to support a coup staged by the current ruler’s father more than two decades ago, a leading human rights and civil liberties lawyer has told Arab News. UK-based lawyer Amjad Salfiti said that serious breaches of human rights are taking place in Qatar despite promises that things would change under the new ruler.
“The state of Qatar is not run by the new ruler but by an old guard, representatives of the father, which is still keen on punishing people using decisions that do not comply with the constitution of Qatar,” he said.
Human rights violations carried out by the former emir include unfairly depriving thousands of people of citizenship rights.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, father of current Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, “decided that they should be deprived of their nationality, and he tried to kick them out and exclude them from their home on the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” Salfiti said. More than 10,000 people have been targeted by the regime.
“The first round of expulsions or deprivations was reported to be 5,000. But that is a conservative estimate,” he said.
“If you are referring just to this part of the tribe, to the Al-Ghufran clan, it is probable that the numbers are just over 10,000. They have all been subjected to draconian measures,” he said.
Asked whether there were legal grounds to justify revoking the citizenship of women and children and deporting them without any crime having been committed, Salfiti said that all citizens — young, elderly, male and female — are covered by international law, and their rights to citizenship should be protected.
“As soon as a state takes any action to deprive a person of his nationality, whether as a group or individually, that would be a contravention of international human rights and international rights in general,” Salfiti said.
In the case of Qatar, a collective form of deprivation that attracts what is commonly referred to as collective punishment is also prohibited under international law.
“An offense has been committed by the state against its own citizens. There would be some sort of recourse by these citizens to judicial forums, whether international, regional or local,” he said. Salfiti said that depriving a person of their nationality and leaving them stateless runs contrary to international conventions.
“States ought not to create states of statelessness, they ought to reduce any state of statelessness,” he said. “So Qatar claiming to be a reformist and proactive regarding international law is contradicting itself in committing a serious crime. “It is not only denying people access to education, hospitalization and medical care, but also uprooting people and declaring them stateless, which is a fundamental crime that the international community is working extremely hard to stop.”
Salfiti told Arab News that he had worked to help free a prominent Qatari prisoner jailed for seven years by the former emir.
“That prisoner took issue with certain electoral matters, which he believed were in breach of the constitution. He was imprisoned for seven years without trial,” Salfiti said.
The lawyer managed to win the prisoner’s release by lobbying on his behalf and preparing a summons to the Qatari government seeking his freedom.
Drewery Dyke, chairman of the UK-based Rights Realization Center (RRC) and a senior researcher specializing in international advocacy relating to human rights in GCC countries, Iran and Afghanistan, told Arab News that the Al-Murra tribe is one of the principal clans of Qatar. Members of the tribe also live in other Gulf countries.
“The Al-Murra tribe is found mainly in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There is a small number in the UAE and some members also are found in Kuwait,” he said. “So they are found throughout the Gulf. A subset of the tribe, the Al-Ghufran clan is found principally in Qatar.
“Some Al-Ghufran activists have claimed that their clan numbers up to 10,000. Certainly, when the deprivation of citizenship process started in October, 2004, the numbers were precise — it was 927 heads of households. Therefore, all the dependants of those heads of households were also made stateless.”
Numbers at the time ranged up to 5,000. So, with the passage of time and given the natural growth of those communities, today’s figure could be as high as 10,000, Dyke said.
“The Qatar government has told the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that there are 1,500 stateless people in Qatar now,” he said.
“Whether that includes this community is unknown. It’s difficult to gain a reliable figure on the numbers of the Al-Ghufran clan who have been left stateless to this day.”
Human Rights Watch has accused the Qatari regime of depriving individuals of their basic human rights. Dyke said that the “arbitrary” deprivation of citizenship was a contravention of accepted human rights practice. “It happened at a time, 2004, when knowledge about this particular issue and about Qatar was relatively poor. In recent years, members of the community, many based in Saudi Arabia, have started campaigning for their rights,” he said.
“In 2004, there was an arbitrary deprivation of citizenship by decree and, shortly afterwards, the authorities began removing people from their jobs. They were deprived of education, people were taken out of schools, they were no longer able to access medical services, had their bank accounts closed and were no longer allowed to own property,” Dyke recalls.
Dyke said that a special UN meeting held in Geneva on Oct. 7, 2019, was intended to investigate measures to end statelessness.
“The RRC, other human rights groups and members of Al-Ghufran community are calling on Qatar to allow all those people who were arbitrarily and unfairly denationalized to be allowed back into the country and renationalized. We also want some kind of restitution and recognition of what they have been through,” he said.
“Members of the tribe have petitioned leading authorities and government figures in the Gulf, including the government of Saudi Arabia.”
However, Dyke said that “unfortunately, the trajectory seems to be pretty negative at the moment.” Doha has signed up to a number of human rights covenants and international human rights treaties, “so it is a good time for Qatar to take action and acknowledge the wrongs that have been committed,” he said.
Dyke highlighted some of the human-rights violations by the Qatari regime.
“A travel ban was imposed on Najeeb Al-Nuami, the longstanding human rights lawyer who used to be attorney general. He is still facing restrictions, an arbitrarily imposed travel ban.
“A Qatari poet was imprisoned a few years ago. He was subsequently released and then left the country. “There is a considerable range of human rights challenges that Qatar needs to face.” Dyke said that the head of the Al-Murra tribe, Sheikh Talib bin Mohammed bin Lahoum bin Sherim Al-Murra, is now based in Saudi Arabia following his expulsion from Qatar last year. Al-Murra and 54 members of his family fled to the Kingdom after being stripped of their citizenship.
“I was struck by a statement that he made at the time. He said that his citizenship will return for him, his family and that of the Al-Ghufran members, whether the emir of Qatar likes it or not. It was a clear desire to be restored with his nation,” Dyke said.