When one thinks of the Gulf state of Qatar, sky-high skyscrapers, double-decker airplanes and sprawling shopping malls come to mind. Ever since the discovery of oil in the region in 1939, the Qatari economy has seen rapid growth. In 2018, the CIA World Factbook ranked Qatar as second highest for GDP per capita, making it one of the wealthiest nations in the world. But this also makes it important for people to learn about the state of migrant workers in Qatar.
Migrant Workers in Qatar
The progress in Qatar has its drawbacks. When FIFA selected Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar was brought to the spotlight. A research brief from the UK Parliament found that Qatar has 1.5 million migrant workers or 90 percent of its total labor force comprises migrant workers.
While foreign workers continue to report incidents of exploitation and segregation, Qatar has made substantial improvements to its labor laws and is cooperating with organizations like Amnesty International and the International Labor Organization in the process.
The Kafala System
Gulf states—including Qatar—use the kafala (Arabic for sponsorship) system as an employment framework to recruit migrant laborers from abroad to work in low-paying jobs.
Under the kafala system in Qatar, migrant workers have documented a range of abuses, among them, are delayed and unpaid wages, excessive working hours, confiscation of passports, inaccessibility to healthcare and justice, sexual violence as well as deception in the recruitment process. In short, the kafala system binds a migrant worker into an exploitative employer-employee relationship.
By giving an employer control over a migrant worker’s job and residential status, the kafala system encourages workplace abuses. With over 95 percent of Qatari families employing at least one housemaid, some migrants choose to become domestic workers in the homes of Qatari nationals, where they are often subjected to sexual violence.
Furthermore, The Guardian reported in October 2013 that many Nepalese workers have died since the beginning of construction projects for future World Cup sites. These Nepalese workers live in segregated labor camps outside Doha where they endure unsanitary conditions and scant water supplies.
Labor Laws in Qatar
Under pressure from international nonprofits, Qatar has implemented a series of labor laws to improve working conditions for workers. In December 2016, a new law allowed migrant workers to return to Qatar within two years if they had previously left without their employer’s permission. It also increased the penalty for employers found guilty of confiscating their employees’ passports and created a committee to review workers’ requests to leave Qatar.
While this made no reference to the kafala system, the law fell short of addressing kafala’s main shortcoming, i.e. workers still need permission from their employers to switch jobs.
In order to help domestic workers who are often victims of forced prostitution, Qatar introduced a domestic workers law in August 2017. Instating legal protections for over 173,000 migrant domestic workers, the law sets a limit of 10 hours for a workday and mandates 24 consecutive hours off every week, as well as three weeks of annual paid leave. Though in its early stages, the law promises to alleviate the alienation and abuse of domestic workers, some of whom work up to 100 hours per week.
The Qatari government is gradually repealing the kafala system. In October 2017, the government expanded the Wage Protection System and mandated payment of wages by electronic transfer.
On September 5, 2018, an Amnesty International press release reported that the Emir of Qatar issued Law No. 13, which bans employers from preventing migrant workers from leaving the country.
Qatar’s World Cup bid may have been a blessing in disguise. Qatar started its stadium projects using slave-like labor, and now it has slowly opened up to the critiques and suggestions from external nonprofit organizations. As an example, the International Labor Organization has forged a technical cooperation agreement with Qatar and together they have worked to unravel the kafala system. These changes will turn this wealthy country into a more equitable one.
– Mark Blekherman
Human rights in Turkmenistan have a long-held reputation as among the harshest in the world, a reputation still held today. The current president, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, and his close advisers control nearly every facet of public life.
In September 2016, the Turkmen parliament enacted a new constitution, removing the 70-year-old age limit for the office of the presidency and also eliminating presidential term limits.
According to the Turkmenistan Human Rights Watch report of 2017 and the U.S. State Department’s 2012 Turkmenistan Human Rights Report, three primary liberties appear to be at the forefront of persecution. Listed below are these freedoms and details describing the severity of these particular human rights in Turkmenistan.
1. Social Activism
Those who publicly and even sometimes privately advocate for a civil or free society in Turkmenistan take a great risk. They live in constant fear of governmental retribution, and not only endanger themselves but often their families too.
In October 2016 three activists were arrested. Two were sentenced to supervised, forced labor. While one was released after ten days, the other was sentenced to three years in prison based on fabricated fraud charges. The third, Galina Vertryakova, while in police custody awaiting trial, managed to post dissenting comments about the Turkmen government on Russian media channels. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested on unfounded extortion charges.
In August 2016, Akmukhammet Baikhanov, a Turkmen exile, was in Moscow when two men in masks attempted to abduct him. This took place one month following his publication of a book that revealed specific abuses of human rights in Turkmenistan prison “Ovadan-Tepe,” a facility known for torture and terrible conditions. In April 2016, the Turkmen government detained Baikhanov’s brother, stating that they did so because of Baikhanov’s book.
However, the case of Geldy Kyarizov best depicts the lengths to which the Turkmen government will go to silence activists. In the early 2000s, Kyarizov sustained a six-year prison sentence, convicted on fabricated criminal charges. But, the government finally granted him permission to leave the country in 2015. In November of 2015, Kyarizov interviewed publicly for the first time and described his experience at the prison. Following this interview, Turkmen government officials cut off all communication between him and his family, threatened his siblings and briefly jailed one of them after alleging drug charges.
2. Press and the media
Freedom of the press does not exist in Turkmenistan. Instead, the state oversees all media, whether print or digital, and almost never allows foreign media outlets access to Turkmen media. Also, if someone catches a Turkmen citizen providing media content to foreign media agencies, that citizen will face retaliation from the government. The government also has eradicated most private satellite dishes, and the internet remains heavily restricted and monitored. In fact, the internet in Turkmenistan is among the most expensive in the world.
Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a journalist for RFE/RL and Alternative News of Turkmenistan, an exile-run news outlet, received a three-year prison sentence in August of 2015 for unfounded drug charges.
In the early 2000s, former dissident and journalist, Chary Annamuradov, fled persecution from Turkmenistan. He gained asylum and citizenship in Sweden in 2003. When going on vacation to Belarus in 2016, Belarusian authorities arrested Annamuradov upon arrival for having an outstanding international arrest warrant for leaving Turkmenistan illegally. However, shortly after Belarus denied a Turkmen extradition request for Annamuradov in September, unknown individuals kidnapped Annamuradov’s brother from his home in Turkmenistan, holding him for four days. During that time the kidnappers severely beat and interrogated him about his brother. Altymurad Annamuradov died shortly after his return home by his kidnappers.
3. Political imprisonment and enforced disappearances
Abuses of human rights in Turkmenistan society is arguably seen most ostensibly in their treatment of political dissidents. The number of individuals jailed for political reasons remains unknown, due to the lack of transparency within the justice system. Trials often close off the public; independent monitoring of criminal cases can result in imprisonment or other forms of punitive action.
Due to this lack of transparency, the whereabouts of political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniazov, arrested in 2008, was not known publically until 2015. Annaniazov continues to serve an 11-year sentence. Estimatedly, the fate of at least dozens of other political dissidents remains unknown. Despite its membership in the U.N., the Turkmen government ignored all requests to release certain victims of these enforced disappearances.
According to the “Prove They Are Alive,” campaign, three government officials died of unknown causes within the last two years. This includes Yolly Gurbanmuradov, a former deputy minister in charge of the gas industry, who died in December 2015; Annadurdy Annasakhedov, the former head of the department of counterintelligence, who died in February 2016; and Vekil Durdyev, a former state security officer, who died in August 2016.
In addition to this, both the U.S. State Department’s report, as well as the Amnesty International’s report, details the treatment of many inmates in Turkmen prisons. Torture appears as a commonality, and carried out in various ways including electric shocks, asphyxiation with a plastic bag, rape, forcing inmates to stay outside in extremely hot or cold temperatures for long periods of time and to even forcibly administering hallucinogenic or psychotropic drugs.
Unfortunately, despite its constitution declaring the country as a presidential republic and secular democracy, an authoritarian regime runs the nation; ensuring that the citizen’s ability to change the government is futile. In order to reform the abusive human rights in Turkmenistan, a reform in government is mandatory.
– Hunter Mcferrin
On May 4, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Shalil Shetty met with the President and Prime Minister of the Kurdistani Regional Government, or KRG, to discuss the humanitarian crisis in the region and collaborate to prevent human rights abuses by all parties.
This meeting, taking place in Kurdish Iraq, came just months after Amnesty International published a report in January accusing the KRG of rights abuses. Amnesty International’s report earlier in the year accused Kurdish allied forces of demolishing Iraqi homes and preventing Arab Iraqis from returning to their communities after they were recaptured from the Islamic State.
The report argued that displacements without military justification could be considered a war crime, but also acknowledged that many of the territories had been disputed prior to the Islamic State, with many ethnically cleansed of Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Amnesty International also acknowledged that the alleged abuses were occurring in the context of an unprecedented security, humanitarian and financial crisis for the Kurdistani Regional Government. Still, they asserted that the government cannot allow that to justify turning a blind eye to abuses within its territories.
More than a million foreign refugees and internally displaced persons are currently seeking shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The KRG immediately responded to Amnesty International’s report, contending that it is the policy of its armed forces not to allow immediate return to recently recaptured territories for civilians of any ethnicity, due to proximity to continued conflict and due to the Islamic State’s tendency to leave IEDs behind when it withdraws.
In a further expression of concern for human rights, the KRG promised to conduct a full investigation into the reports compiled by Amnesty International. They granted AI and other rights groups full access to its territories in order to conduct their own independent investigations to ensure the protection of human rights.
Shetty thanked the KRG for its commitment to preventing abuses in the face of tremendous adversity, and acknowledged the long history of Kurdish cooperation with AI and other rights groups.
– Hayden Smith
Advocacy is a concept with a short definition but an extensive explanation. In a very broad sense, advocacy is simply supporting a cause. The cause could be anything from human rights to animal rights and anything in between and beyond. An advocate works on behalf of another person or a group of people (or animals) who are voiceless or too vulnerable to promote their own causes and obtain help.
Advocates can work on the behalf of individuals, such as a parent for a child. Other examples include a teacher for a student, a doctor for a patient and a lawyer for a client. Relatives can also hire individual advocates who are trained and specialize in specific causes. Advocating for the disabled is one example.
Advocates can also work for groups that support individuals or larger numbers of people. Nonprofit organizations, such as charities or public arts organizations, are one type. An example is The Borgen Project. Another type are nongovernmental organizations that include Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International.
Depending on the context of the situation, whether it be social, legal, medical or political, advocates use different skills and types of activities to benefit the people they support. Most advocacy involves at least researching, educating and organizing. The following list of activities, while not comprehensive, includes the most common advocacy activities.
- Research to gather the necessary information that reflects the reality as well as expose the myths of a cause or a person’s situation. Research also includes discovering relevant, beneficial resources.
- Educate legislators, school administrators, the public or other parties who change the laws, make the decisions or can in any other way provide what is necessary. The education may include composing fact sheets, writing letters or speaking at meetings or with individuals.
- Organize meetings, conferences and rallies in order to build a foundation of support and power within a community.
- Collaborate with other advocates or groups of the same philosophy to fortify resources and staff. You’ll be better prepared to campaign for shared goals.
- Attend conferences in order to network and share information with others of similar needs. This is one way to both research and collaborate.
- Act as a watchdog to ensure that government agencies comply with existing laws and regulations.
- Litigate to win in court for a person or cause.
- Lobby for or against specific legislation in order to benefit a person or cause.
These activities help form the backbone of advocacy. They enable advocates to support, defend and safeguard the children, families, communities and causes they represent. In these small and large ways, advocacy efforts effectively empower the vulnerable and give voice to the voiceless.
– Janet Quinn
More than 400 human rights advocates, including actors, directors, fashion designers and many more, signed an open letter to Amnesty International asking the organization to vote against the decriminalization of the sex industry.
The proposed policy that these advocates are referring to backs the legalization of brothels and pimping. The policy asks for the support of all acts of selling sex to be lawful, but for sex buying to remain illegal.
After learning about Amnesty International’s intention, hundreds of noticeable individuals joined an international public campaign. The campaigners urged the organization to re-evaluate their plans and to stand with those who are oppressed in the sex trade.
The letter declares that advocates agree that those who are prostituted must not be outlawed by law enforcement and that the legalization of selling sex contributes to poverty, homelessness, sexual abuse and discrimination.
Many young children who are forced into the sex trade will not earn an education and will likely contract sexually transmitted diseases. Without healthy and educated citizens, a developing area cannot improve economically.
The cycle of poverty continues because poverty contributes to the sex trade. According to Medical News Today, many families in impoverished areas sell their children into the trade. Sometimes, children and young adults will seek out the trade to earn wages for food and shelter.
Former Irish prostitute Mia de Faoite said that the policy proposal advocating these means of earnings is absolutely unacceptable.
“I can find no justification for those crimes, and I believe that no one is able to justify such human wickedness,” de Faoite said.
She also said this policy move contradicts the organization’s ideals for human rights.
“Amnesty would agree with me, I am sure, and would fight alongside me to find justice, if I asked,” de Faoite said. “This is confusing to me, and it makes no sense because, on the other hand, they are prepared to sanction the behavior that led to this crime.”
A Change.org petition that petitions a “non-profit industrial complex” by Amnesty International agrees with de Faoite. The petition states that with this new policy, the organization will ultimately be harming those who Amnesty International claims to help.
“With this proposal, Amnesty International is moving away from human rights advocacy,” the petition said.
About 500 members of the international human rights organization will meet in Ireland for Amnesty’s 32nd International Council Meeting, where they are projected to approve the decriminalization of sex work. The vicious cycle of poverty will be promoted by Amnesty International’s proposal if there is not a change similar to the one proposed in the open letter.
The letter was signed by celebrities such as author Hannah Pakula, poet Rose Styron, actress Meryl Streep, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Anna Quindlen, chef Alice Waters and 2008 Amnesty International Human Rights Award-winner, Lydia Cacho. Other celebrity signers include Emily Blunt, Lena Dunham, Anne Hathaway, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson.
This level of support for the change has helped achieve such a grand presence in human rights that there is now a campaign on Change.org for the modification. The letter is still open for more signatures.
To sign the letter and learn more about Amnesty International’s policy, click here.
– Fallon Lineberger
Qatar has an estimated budget of 62 billion pounds for the hotels, infrastructure, stadiums and other buildings that it needs for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar has relied on migrant workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to complete these building projects. However, the work for migrant workers is extremely difficult and many are dying, most likely as a consequence of the harsh conditions that they are forced to live and work in.
Since 2013, Qatar has been under investigations by groups such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch, who are worried that Qatar’s migrant workforce is being treated as modern-day slaves. According to a 2013 report from the Guardian, over 4,000 workers will die as a result of the conditions that they are subjected to while they prepare for the World Cup. From June 4 to August 8 in the same year, 44 Nepalese workers died, and half of those deaths were related to heart failure or workplace accidents.
Heart failure and heat strokes are common, since many workers are forced to slave away in extremely hot temperatures—up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit—and are sometimes not given access to free drinking water. This has led to many complaints from workers. More than 80 workers from India died from January to May 2013, and 1,460 complained to the embassy about problems related to labor conditions.
While it may seem like the best solution is for workers to go home, unfortunately, it is not that simple. Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, have instituted the kafala system—a system of sponsorship in which migrant workers are not allowed to change jobs or leave the country without a sponsor’s permission. Many sponsors hold the passports of migrant workers, making it impossible for them to leave. Workers are also often jilted out of the money that they were promised, and contracts are sometimes in English or other languages foreign to migrant workers, meaning that workers are forced to sign contracts that they do not understand.
Qatar promised that they would reform the kafala system after the deaths of migrant workers were bought to light. However, as The Guardian states, the system that Qatar plans to replace the kafala with will still ensure that employees are tied to their employers for the length of their contract, which can last for as long as five years.
An estimated 1,200 workers have died since Qatar began to construct its stadiums for the World Cup. However, this week, Qatar’s state news agency has issued a statement claiming that no workers have died during construction for the World Cup. They claim that no workers died while at work, and therefore argue that the assumption that the deaths of migrant workers are work related, is incorrect.
While it is most likely true that not all the deaths of migrant workers are work related, the fact remains that many of the deaths probably are a result of the poor living and working conditions that migrants are forced to face. Qatar is also hesitant to let reporters research the conditions of migrant workers in the country. In May of 2015, they arrested a group of BBC reporters who attempted to do so.
The problems with workers for the FIFA World Cup are representative of larger socioeconomic problems in Qatar. Qatar is the world’s richest country by income per capita. Its growing industry and infrastructure attract migrant workers determined to improve their living conditions by moving to such a rich country. However, migrant workers are treated extremely poorly. They are crammed into overcrowded living conditions of six to eight men in a room, and up to 40 men have to share a kitchen. The living conditions are unhygienic and bathrooms and washers are so dirty that some men are forced to use buckets of water to wash instead.
There are over 1.2 million migrant workers making up the workforce in Qatar. These workers are subjected to physical, verbal and sexual abuse. It is especially difficult for migrant workers who work in domestic situations. As the Human Rights Watch states, these workers are normally women, and they are especially vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse, as they are sometimes locked in the homes where they work and are not given protection under Qatari Labor Law.
The poor treatment of migrant workers might be an attempt by Qatar to keep its population under control. After all, over 80 percent of the Qatari population is now composed of migrant workers, meaning that 20 percent of the population actually benefits from the riches of Qatar, while the rest are forced to suffer. As one Nepalese migrant worker states, “No one respects our feelings, we are just labor, all people hate us.” Unless Qatar changes its laws and issues drastic reforms, it risks becoming a country where modern day slavery becomes more and more prevalent, and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.
— Ashrita Rau
Papua New Guinea is an island in the South Pacific located just north of Australia, with a population of around 7 million. It is a developing country, ranking 156 out of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index.
Papua New Guinea suffers—like most developing nations—from high levels of poverty and corruption within the government due to vast oil and gas reserves.
But Papua New Guinea doesn’t simply have to deal with the normal problems of a developing country. Sadly, in recent years this island nation has become known for rampant and increasing violence against women.
It has been reported that 68 percent of PNG women suffer from violence. What is worse is that one in three women have reportedly been raped. As with most rape statistics, that number is often low, as many women who have been raped do not report it.
Violence against women in Papua New Guinea is not always of a sexual nature. Women are often accused of sorcery, and violence is used as retribution. In February 2013, there was a highly publicized case of a 20-year old woman accused of sorcery. As punishment, she was burned alive.
Domestic violence seems to be the most prevalent form. It is often the result of the male’s desire to assert authority over his female partner because he may perceive that she is acting insubordinate or lazy.
Amnesty International states that this type of violence “includes rape, being burnt with hot irons, broken bones and fractures, kicking and punching and cutting with bush knives.”
There have been some attempts by the government to deal with this issue. In April of last year, the 1971 Sorcery Act, which criminalized sorcery, was repealed.
In September 2013, the parliament in PNG passed the Family Protection Bill, which made domestic violence illegal.
However, many women still do not know of the existence of this law, and implementation has been difficult and not very far reaching. The same is true of the sorcery law, which is in the appeals process and does not change the pervasive cultural view of the existence of sorcery.
Women’s groups from within and outside PNG continue to try and spread awareness of this issue and work on programs that attempt to eradicate these grave human rights violations.
Statistics and research on this subject are hard to find though. Women’s rights groups have a difficult time funding further research because no raw data exists. Papua New Guinea is low on the international radar.
Awareness and further research on this issue is needed in order to help the women of Papua New Guinea escape this terrible cycle of violence.
– Eleni Marino
Amnesty International has recently released a report claiming that United Nations Environmental Programme’s 2011 recommendations for pollution cleanup in the Ogoniland region of Nigeria have been ignored.
In 2011, UNEP found that pollution in Nigeria was caused by government negligence and, specifically, by the oil company Shell. UNEP was commissioned by Shell to review the area in an attempt to convince the locals to allow for their return.
Shell left the Ogoniland in 1993 amid a wave of protests. The company has been trying to reconcile with the locals ever since.
However, the UNEP report did not produce findings favorable to Shell, as it stated that people in Ogoniland have “been living with chronic pollution all their lives.”
For example, drinking water was found to have high levels of the known carcinogen benzene, and the amount was 900 hundred times higher than what the World Health Organization considers safe.
The UNEP concluded that it would take 25-30 years to clean up the oil pollution left behind by Shell.
Three years later, yet another watchdog organization is saying that pollution is still a serious problem in Ogoniland.
Amnesty international led a joint report with Friends of The Earth Europe, Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development, Environmental Rights Action and Platform to say that “in the three years since UNEP’s study was published, the government of Nigeria and Shell have taken almost no meaningful action to implement its recommendations.”
Recommended measures like emergency water supplies were said to be “erratic” by the locals. Water was infrequent and often smelled bad.
Shell has been slow to decommission much of the equipment they left behind in 1993. This equipment is subject to corrosions, which contributes to further pollution.
There are also continuing oil spills, but Shell blames the government. Shell believes the spills occur because gangs break the pipelines to steal the crude oil, and it is the governments responsibility to deal with this.
Amnesty International and other groups involved in the joint report call for Shell to stop making excuses and take responsibility for the devastation they have brought upon Ogoniland and its people. This situation is far worse than what a brief summary can explain. To see the full report, click here.
– Eleni Marino
Amnesty International launched the “My Body, My Rights” campaign to address the sexual and reproductive rights that every person should be granted. It stresses the need for all individuals to have the power to make decisions about their own bodies and their own lives. It goes further to state that every government ought to safe guard these rights so everyone can live without fear of discrimination.
Part of the campaign lists the basic rights a person should have. The list includes:
· Make decisions about your own health
· Have access to information about health services
· Decide if and when you want children
· Choose if and when you want to marry
· Access to family planning (which includes contraception and legal abortions if justifiable)
· Live free from rape and violence
The security of sexual and reproductive rights is a fundamental problem in today’s world. According to Amnesty International, many people lack access to accurate information, sexual education and health services that they need in order to live a healthy life. For example, over 3,000 people each day are infected with HIV but of the 3,000, only 34 percent can answer basic questions about the disease and how to prevent it.
Those particularly affected by the failure to uphold sexual and reproductive rights are young women and girls. Specifically, females from poor and marginalized families often times fall victim to rights abuses. They are denied access to the health information and services they need because of discrimination. This reality can be seen in the fact that the leading cause of death in developing countries for girls 15 to 19 years old is pregnancy complications.
To demonstrate the pervasiveness of this issue, Amnesty International presents a series of little known but alarming realities. For example, more than 60 percent of teens in four sub-Saharan African countries do not know how to prevent pregnancy. Additionally, in 76 countries, sexual actions between people of the same sex are considered illegal. The problem is not limited to developing countries, as evidenced by the fact that about 83 percent of girls between the ages of 12 and 16 in the United State have experienced sexual harassment.
The campaign includes striking photos of body paintings done by Tokyo-based artist Hirkaru Cho. The 3-D paintings are meant to capture Amnesty International’s messages of violence against women, marriage equality and right to health services, including contraception.
One particularly impactful photo is of a person’s face broken in two and is meant to depict everyone’s right to: choose a partner and to be open about sexual orientation and gender identity. Another image shows a stack of books on a man’s back which is meant to represent everyone’s right to know and learn about one’s body, sexual health and relationships.
Amnesty International calls for an end to all policies, social norms and other barriers that prevent people from accessing the services and information they need to lead a healthy life. It asks people to take action by petitioning to global leaders and UN representatives to better address the sexual and reproductive rights of all people.
– Kathleen Egan
“The Borgen Project is an incredible nonprofit organization that is addressing poverty and hunger and working towards ending them.”
– The Huffington Post