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FOCUS March 2007 Volume 47

The Qatari National Human Rights Committee: A Search for Evaluation

Mohamed Saeed M. Eltayeb*

* Dr. Eltayeb is a human rights lawyer, scholar and consultant and holds a Ph.D. in international human rights law from Utrecht University (The Netherlands). He has published several works on human rights in Muslim countries. He is currently working as a legal expert for the Bureau of Human Rights of the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The views expressed in this article are a strictly of personal nature and are not necessarily shared by the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The author wishes to thank the Secretary-General and the Head of Legal Department of the Qatari National Human Rights Committee for their valuable information and materials and Abdullatif A.O. Elhag and Mekki Abbass Medani for their valuable comments on earlier drafts.

The World Conference on Human Rights encourages the establishment and strengthening of national institutions, having regard to the "Principles relating to the status of national institution" and recognizing that it is the right of each State to choose the framework which is best suited to its particular needs at the national level.
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Part 1, para. 36)

The formation of the Qatari National Human Rights Committee (QNHRC) should be considered in light of the comprehensive reform policy including constitutional, political, economic, educational, social and cultural reforms, which the State of Qatar has embarked upon under the leadership of His Highness the Emir Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa Al-Thani as well as in light of the gradual approach that characterizes this reform process. The question of the promotion and protection of human rights is very central to the policy of the comprehensive reform. Thus, unlike national human rights institutions in the Arab world which have been established in the last two decades either in response to internal human rights crises or in response to external pressures,[1] the establishment of the QNHRC in 2002 came mainly as an integral part of a national comprehensive reform policy adopted in the country since 1995. Consequently the establishment of the QNHRC paved the way for further developments both at the legislative and institutional levels, which in turn contributed to the strengthening of the human rights infrastructure in the country.[2]

Law establishing the QNHRC

The QNHRC was established in 2002 by the Amiri Decree Law No. 38,[3] which provides for its role and objectives. Thus, in accordance with the Paris Principles,[4] the law established the QNHRC as a permanent body with a separate legal personality and an independent budget.[5] Under Article 2 of Law No. 38, the QNHRC aims to:

  • Achieve the objectives embodied in international conventions and treaties on human rights to which the State of Qatar is party.
  • Advise concerned bodies in the State on matters related to human rights and freedoms.
  • Investigate violations of human rights and freedoms, if any, and suggest suitable means to deal with such violations and avoid their occurrence.
  • Monitor reports by international organizations and NGOs on human rights situation in the State, and coordinate with concerned bodies to address them.
  • Take part in the preparation of reports submitted by the State on human rights and freedoms.
  • Cooperate with international and regional organizations concerned with human rights and freedoms.
  • Raise awareness and enrich education on human rights and freedoms.

Article 2 of Law No. 38 provides also for the broad mandate and responsibility of the QNHRC to promote and protect human rights that comprise, inter alia, of advisory, investigative and promotional powers. These powers generally subscribe to the Paris Principles, which provides that a national human rights institution should have as broad a mandate as possible and its statement of functions provides a rather specific list that could be incorporated as a whole in legislation.[6]

While Article 2 empowers the QNHRC to take part in the preparation of the State reports to treaty bodies, it does not elaborate on how it can contribute to the reporting process.[7] The most noticeable omissions in Article 2 include:

  • The power to examine and report on the legislation and administrative provisions in force, draft laws and proposals and make such recommendations as it deems appropriate to ensure that these provisions conform to the fundamental principles of human rights;
  • The power to recommend the adoption of new legislation, the amendment of legislation in force and the adoption or amendment of administrative measures;
  • The power to promote and ensure harmonization of national legislation, regulations and practices with international human rights instruments to which the State is a party, and their effective implementation;
  • The mandate to encourage ratification of international human rights instruments or accession to those instruments, and to ensure their effective implementation;
  • The power to prepare reports on the national situation with regard to human rights in general, and on more specific matters.

However, the QNHRC addressed most of these shortcomings through its work and institutional development.

Article 3 of Law No. 38 concerning the composition of QNHRC manifests the most obvious deviation from the Paris Principles. Article 3 provides that the composition of QNHRC includes five members representing the civil society and seven members representing seven governmental entities, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Civil Service Affairs and Housing, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Wakfs and Islamic Affairs, and the Supreme Council for Family Affairs. Following the Paris Principles provision that "appointment shall be effected by an official act which shall establish the specific duration of the mandate", the Amiri Decree No. 15 of 2003 named the members of QNHRC.[8] Article 4 of Law No. 38 provides for a renewable three-year appointment for QNHRC members.

This composition of the QNHRC clearly indicates the dominance of the government representatives. The Paris Principles provides that the composition of the members of a human rights institution should "ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the promotion and protection of human rights". Moreover, the Paris Principles expressly provides that representatives of government departments if they are included in the composition of the QNHRC should participate in the deliberations only in an advisory capacity. While recognizing the deviation from Paris Principles, the founders of QNHRC thought that it would be more practical and viable to have such composition considering the fact that the country at that time was lacking the basic human rights infrastructure and had no strong and organized civil society because it was only beginning to emerge. Moreover, it was thought that a gradual approach would suit the political, social and cultural contexts existing at the time of the establishment of the QNHRC. In light of this gradual approach, which in fact characterizes the comprehensive reform process that the State of Qatar has embarked on since 1995, the Law No. 25 of 2006 amended Article 3 of Law No. 38 of 2002 and the new article provides that the QNHRC "is to be formed with at least seven members representing the civil society to be selected from among human rights activists, and a representative from the following bodies - Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Civil Service Affairs and Housing, Ministry of Justice, and the Supreme Council for Family Affairs".[9] The impact of the new composition on the QNHRC's work and activities is still to be seen, since the Royal Decree stating the names of the members of the QNHRC with its new composition has not yet been issued. It must be noted, however, that the article is silent with regard to the procedures for appointment and dismissal. The article only indicates that an Amiri Decree should determine the composition of the QNHRC.

According to Article 10 of Law No. 38, the QNHRC's resources include subsidies, donations, grants and wills. It seems, however, that the government provides most of the QNHRC's funding. Article 10 is silent with regard to the source and nature of funding and does not specify the role of the QNHRC and its responsibility for drafting its own annual budget, which should be submitted to the Shura Council and the Council of Ministers for approval. Although it seems that the QNHRC has adequate funding, the inclusion of such provision would indeed secure the financial autonomy of the QNHRC in conformity with the Paris Principles.[10]

In addition to the explicit powers of the QNHRC and its Members under Law No. 38, its Article 11 obligates ministries, governmental bodies, institutions, and public corporations to co-ordinate with the QNHRC and to provide it with information and data necessary to perform its task. It has rightly been pointed out that:

The powers that a human rights commission has to undertake its work is a critical part of the mandate in facilitating its ability to pursue protection activities. This does not mean that a human rights commission must be endowed with legislative, law enforcement, or judicial functions. The role of a human rights commission is not to replace or duplicate other state institutions with enforcement powers, such as the legislature, police, or the judiciary. Its role, rather, is to push other state bodies to uphold their responsibilities with regard to human rights promotion and protection. In terms of enforcement capacity, it is important to consider the relationship of the human rights commission to other government agencies or commissions and to the justice system. As part of the government's overall institutional framework, human rights commissions should ideally work in conjunction with other government bodies. Other government agencies should not be permitted to disregard the recommendations of the human rights commission".[11]

With regard to the question of transparency in the work of QNHRC, Article 6 of Law No. 38 mandates it to submit every three months or whenever required to the Council of Ministers a report on its activities together with its suggestions. As will be indicated below, the QNHRC has interpreted this mandate in broad terms and made its annual reports public, including its recommendations.

QNHRC at work

Since its establishment, the QNHRC has published the 2005 and 2006 annual reports respectively covering the situation of human rights in Qatar, the activities and findings undertaken by it during the years 2004 and 2005, together with proposals and recommendations deemed appropriate by it for enhancing human rights in the country. These reports offer appropriate materials for evaluating the QNHRC on the basis of its performance and impact.

The two annual reports were divided into four parts. The first part deals with the latest developments in law and legislation. The second part concerns human rights and freedoms in Qatar. The third part specifies the QNHRC's activities. The fourth part contains recommendations and proposals made by the QNHRC to improve the human rights conditions in Qatar. The 2005 report,[12] after stating the positive developments achieved by the government to improve and strengthen the human rights situation in the country, noted however that several laws that were not in conformity with Shari'a and international human rights standards. These laws include: Law No. 17 of 2002 on the Protection of the Community, Law No. 3 of 2004 on Combating Terrorism, Law No. 14 of 2004 on Labour Law, Law No. 21 of 1989 for the Regulation of Marriage to Foreigners, Law No. 3 of 1963 on the Entry and Residence of Foreigners and Law No. 3 of 1984 on Sponsorship of Foreign Workers. Furthermore, the report enumerated several violations, including, inter alia, revocation of nationality (citizenship), violation of workers' rights (this include the continuation of the sponsorship system for foreign workers and mandatory exit permit to depart the country or to change sponsorship, and restriction on the right to choose or change a job), large number of detainees both men and women at the deportation center, long delay in the investigation of some cases by local authorities, and preventive custody.

In fact, the major part of the activities of the QNHRC has been devoted to complaints handling. During the year 2005, the QNHRC received five hundred eighty-five complaints/referrals. The table below classifies these complaints as follows:

Number of
Complaints
Subject of the Complaint
84Deportation orders/decisions
162Transfer of sponsorship
116Disputes between sponsors and laborers
10Arrest
29Residence permit (issuance, renewal and change of visit visa to a resident permit)
6Right to housing
21Right to work
2Torture
4Detention at State Security Facility
3Right to education
2Right to health
3Lengthy periods of investigation
3Delay in the execution of courts' judgments
14Conditional release and release for medical reasons
2Visitation rights for prisoners
13Women's rights
2Right to marry
2Rights of persons with disability
2Violence against children

Additionally, the QNHRC has received many complaints regarding revocation of nationality (citizenship), which it has documented separately. The actions undertaken by the QNHRC ranged from seeking amicable settlements, to addressing/referring complaints to the competent authorities, and to providing legal advice. It should be noted in this regard that the QNHRC has developed its own strategy on complaints handling, which is basically derived from the United Nations Handbook on National Human Rights Institutions.[13]

At the promotional level, the QNHRC organized several conferences, seminars, lectures and training courses throughout the year 2005 addressing different human rights themes such as spreading human rights culture, incorporation of human rights norms in school curriculum, norms and mechanisms of international human rights law, and its mandate and responsibilities. These lectures and training courses covered different segments of the society including members of law enforcement agencies, teachers, journalists, medical personnel and students. Moreover, QNHRC made several visits to the Deportation Centre, the Qatari House for Shelter and Human Care, Capital Police and Central Prison.

In the final part of the 2005 report, the QNHRC provides its recommendations and proposals for improving the human rights situation in the State of Qatar. These recommendations and proposals include, inter alia, ratification of principal human rights treaties to which the State is not a party, review of the general reservations made by the State to human rights conventions, review of the laws identified by QNHRC as not in conformity with international human rights standards, improvement in the condition of State prisons, encouragement on the establishment of civil society human rights organizations, and encouragement on the adoption of a national comprehensive plan for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Assessing the effectiveness of the QNHRC

The question of assessing the effectiveness of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) is a complex one. NHRIs tend to undertake and perform a variety of objectives and activities as well as cover a great number of issues, and each of these activities may require specific evaluation methods.[14] Moreover, NHRIs are just one of many actors that influence the human rights situation. The effectiveness of a national human rights commission is crucially dependent on and determined by a conjuncture of interrelated factors that should be analyzed against the background of the specific political and cultural context of each country. These factors include benchmarks and indicators. [15] The list of benchmarks includes those that concern (i) the character of the institution, (ii) its mandate, and (iii) its accountability. [16] Indicators include both quantitative and qualitative indicators.[17]

Having said that and taking into account the formative phase that the QNHRC has gone through, one might indicate the following points that bear on the assessment of its effectiveness:

  • There exists a conducive environment for the QNHRC to effectively carry out its broad mandate regarding the promotion and protection of human rights. This is manifested in the overall commitment of the Government to the question of the promotion and protection of human rights; the Government's moral and financial support to the QNHRC; and the co-ordination of different governmental bodies with the QNHRC.
  • Despite the progressive and broad interpretation by the QNHRC of its mandate during the formative phase, the necessity for making the QNHRC's mandate conform to the Paris Principles is recognized.
  • For the purpose of strengthening the institutional structure of the QNHRC, there is utmost importance for it to adopt its own internal rules and regulations.
  • The best practices adopted by QNHRC during its formative phase including, inter alia, reinforcing the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, public outreach through media, enrooting and strengthening the human rights culture, and incorporation of human rights norms into school curriculum, should be continued.
  • The QNHRC recognizes the need to develop performance and impact indicators that can clarify planning processes and help set targets for future work.

Concluding remarks

Considering the experience of QNHRC, there are two lessons that should be considered. First, the formal structure of a national human rights commission does not necessarily determine its performance on the ground. [18] It has rightly been pointed out that "many national human rights institutions (NHRIs) that formally respected the Paris Principles were not particularly effective in guaranteeing human rights. Others, less numerous, failed to comply with the Paris Principles but still achieved reasonable results".[19] Secondly, the creation of a national human rights commission does not automatically lead to a greater respect for human rights. Whether the national human rights commission is the most effective means to promote human rights should be considered and analyzed against the background of the specific political and cultural contexts of each country.[20]

For further information please contact: National Human Rights Committee of Qatar, Salwa Road, Souor Al-Rawda Doha, QATAR. Postal Address: PO Box 24104 Doha, QATAR. Ph (974) 444 4012 / 431 6542; fax: (974) 444 4013 / 431 6687: e-mail: nhrc@qatar.org.qa; www.nhrc-qa.org

Endnotes

1. See Muhsin Awad and Abdalla Khalil (eds.), The Development of National Human Rights Institutions in the Arab World (in Arabic), Egyptian National Human Rights Council and UNDP, 2005.

2. These developments both at the legislative and institutional levels include, inter alia, the adoption of the new Constitution, which was approved by a popular referendum in 2003 and ratified by His Highness the Emir in 2004, and entered into force in June 2005. The new Constitution puts a great emphasis on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and hence Part Three (Articles 34 - 58) of the new Constitution guarantees most of the internationally acknowledged fundamental rights and freedoms. The new Constitution endorses the principle of indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights and hence secures the three generations of rights, including economic, social, cultural, civil, political and collective rights. The constitutional protection of human rights has been strengthened and consolidated by the adoption of a number of laws, including, inter alia, the Penal Code, Labour Law and Law on Societies and Private Institutions. Furthermore, this legal framework has been re-strengthened and re-enforced by the adoption of new laws enhancing the independence of the judiciary and public prosecutors as well as by establishing the Cassation Court. At the institutional level, a number of institutions that are entrusted with human rights mandates at both governmental and civil society levels have been established. In this regard, reference can be made, by way of example, to the establishment of the Bureau of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Interior, and the Supreme Council for Family Affairs. The last years also witnessed an increase in the establishment of civil society organizations working on the promotion and protection of human rights as well as on development issues.

3. For the text of the law, see The State of Qatar Official Gazette, issue No. 2 (30th January 2003), pages 305-307.

4. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 48/134 (20 December 1993). For a general discussion of the Paris Principles see Anna-Elina Pohjolainen, The Evolution of National Human Rights Institutions: The Role of the United Nations (Danish Centre for Human Rights, 2006) and Brigit Lindsnaes, Lone Lindholt and Kristine Yigen, editors, National Human Rights Institutions: Articles and Working Papers (Danish Centre for Human Rights, 2000).

5. See Article 1 of Law No. 38.

6. See the Paris Principles, Supra note 4.

7. According to the Handbook on the Establishment and Strengthening of National Institutions the contribution of a national human rights commission to the reporting process may take any of the following:

  • Providing information to the government department charged with preparing the report.
  • Review draft reports to ensure that they are accurate, detailed and properly drafted.
  • Preparing the draft country report.
(See National Human Rights Institutions: A Handbook on the Establishment and Strengthening of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Centre for Human Rights, Geneva, 1995, pages 26-27).
It has to be noted that in light of the human rights treaty bodies' general comments/recommendations on national human rights institutions, it is advisable that a National Human Rights Commission is not directly involved in the preparation of the State' reports to treaty bodies, nor included in the government delegation discussing the reports before treaty bodies. However, the committee entrusted with the task of preparing the report can seek the assistance of the Commission either by requesting the Commission to provide information or to review the draft report to ensure that it is accurate, detailed and properly drafted. Moreover, the drafted report should include detailed information on the legislative basis and mandate, as well as the principal relevant activities of the National Human Rights Commission in the area of the elimination of racial discrimination (See General Recommendations No. 17 on the Establishment of National Institutions to Facilitate Implementation of the Convention, adopted by CERD [contained in document A/48/18/25 March 1993], General Comment No. 10 on the role of national human rights institutions in the protection of economic, social and cultural rights [E/C.12/1998/25, CESCR General comment 10, 14 December 1998], General Comment No. 2 on the role of independent national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, [CRC/GC/2002/2/15 November 2002], and Report on the Implementation of Recommendations of the Fifteenth Meeting of Chairpersons and of the Second Inter-Committee Meeting [HRI/MC/2004/2/4 June 2004, para. 29, page 9].

8. In accordance with Article 3 of Law No. 38, Decree No. 15 (2003) was issued by the Emir on 5 May 2005 constituting the QNHRC and stating the names of its members, which includes ten men and three women.

9. For the amendment of Article 3, see Law No. 25 (2006), The State of Qatar Official Gazette, issue No. 9 (October 10th, 2006), pages 38-39.

10. See The Handbook on National Human Rights Institutions, Supra note no. 6, pages 11 and 15.

11. See Human Rights Watch, Protectors or Pretenders? Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa (New York, 2001).

12. For the text of the 2005 Report, see the WebPages of the Qatari National Human Rights Committee at: www.nhrc-qa.org

13. See The Handbook on National Human Rights Institutions Supra note no. 6, pages 28-35.

14. See Assessing the Effectiveness of National Human Rights Institutions, The International Council on Human Rights Policy and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Geneva, 2005), page 39.

15. Benchmarks set out minimum conditions that need to be in place if a national institution is to achieve its objective, whereas indicators provide information about progress, i.e., whether a national institution is making ground towards its objectives or continues to respect its benchmarks. In other words, benchmarks have a normative content; they identify minimum standards that should be achieved. Indicators, by contrast, are precisely what the word implies: they signal changes in direction or illuminate trends. It follows that indicators can be used to help national human rights institutions judge whether their objectives and benchmarks are being achieved (see Ibid., pages 9-10).

16. Ibid., page 11.

17. Ibid., pages 25-26.

18. Ibid., page 7.

19. Ibid.

20. See Human Rights Watch, supra note no. 11.


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