Al-Ghufran families ‘arbitrarily stripped of Qatari citizenship’: HRW report

Members of the Al-Ghufran clan are being deprived of key human rights by the Qatari government, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement released on Sunday. (A delegation from the Al-Ghufran tribe has taken their case to the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2018. (Supplied/File Photo)
Updated 12 May 2019
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Al-Ghufran families ‘arbitrarily stripped of Qatari citizenship’: HRW report

  • Some members of the clan remain stateless and are consistently denied their rights
  • UNHRC to conduct third review of Qatar's human rights record May 15

LONDON: Members of the Al-Ghufran clan are being deprived of key human rights by the Qatari government, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement released on Sunday.

Some members of the clan remain stateless and are consistently denied their rights to work, access to health care, education, marriage and starting a family, owning property, and freedom of movement, the HRW report said.

Having been stripped of valid idenity documentation by the Qatari authorities, they continue to face difficulties opening bank accounts and attaining driving licenses and find themselves at risk of arbitrary detention, it added.

For those Al-Ghufran clan members living in Qatar, they are denied a range of government benefits afforded to other Qatari citizens — including state jobs, subsidies for food and energy as well as free health care.

Lama Fakih, the acting Middle East director at HRW said: “Many stateless members of the Ghufran clan are still denied redress today, the Qatari government should immediately end the suffering of those left stateless and give them and those who have since acquired other nationalities a clear path toward regaining their Qatari citizenship.”

HRW interviewed nine members of three stateless Al-Ghufran families living in Qatar and one person from a fourth family who lives in Saudi Arabia — in total there are 28 stateless individuals in the four families. A further four people interviewed, two of whom live in Qatar, said they decided to become Saudi citizens a decade ago after Qatar stripped them of their citizenship.

The report cited a 56-year-old man whose citizenship — along with that of his five children — was stripped in 2004, and who said: “I have no property in my name, no house, no income, no health card, I can’t even open a bank account, it’s like I don’t even exist. When I get sick (instead of going to a doctor or hospital) I take Panadol and hope for the best.”

The Al-Ghufran are a branch of the semi-nomadic Al-Murrah group who are among one of the largest tribes in Qatar. While citizenship has been restored to a number of Al-Ghufran who had their citizenship stripped in 1996, there are still some families still have no clear path to restore their citizenship.

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The group took their plight to the UN in September 2018 where they told the world how they were stripped of their nationality and were suffering torture, forced displacement and deportation in a 22-year campaign of systematic persecution by authorities in Qatar

According tot he HRW report, the Qatari government said those stripped of citizenship often hold a second nationality, especially in Saudi Arabia, because a large faction of the Al-Murrah settled in Saudi Arabia and gained Saudi citizenship. Dual citizenship is prohibited under Qatar’s nationality law, as in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

None of the stateless members received official or written communication stating the reason behind the revocation of their citizenship or offered the chance to appeal, according to the report. All, including those who returned to Qatar in 2017, said they either fled, were deported, or were denied entry back into Qatar after their citizenship was revoked. They said they settled for several years in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or Kuwait as stateless persons. All showed documentary evidence that they were Qatari nationals.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will conduct its third review of Qatar's human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure on May 15 in Geneva.

“The Qatari government should create a timely and transparent system to review the citizenship claims of members of Ghufran clan,” Fakih said. “Qatar should follow the positive recent steps it’s taken in ratifying core human rights treaties and make sure the rights enshrined there are being respected.”

All the Al-Ghufran members that HRW interviewed said they relied on the generosity of people sympathetic to their cause to cover their basic needs.

“Anwar,” 40, whose Saudi citizenship has expired in Qatar, refuses to renew it for fear of losing the chance to one day regain his Qatari citizenship, saying: “Getting the Saudi citizenship was simply a matter of attempting to pursue a dignified life. No more, no less. I didn’t want to leave Qatar. I want to remain in this country, my country … my life in Qatar now is such a struggle. I wish to work. I wish to be married. But I don’t have any identification documents that are valid today. And everything requires connections.”

Many Al-Ghufran clan members said they ended up in exile as a result of being stripped of citizenship and have effectively been deprived of their property, including their homes, in Qatar.

According to the HRW report, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of it.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Qatar ratified in April 1995, recognizes the right of the child to be registered immediately after birth and to acquire a nationality, “in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless” (article 7), and if the child has been “illegally deprived” of their nationality, to re-establish it “speedily” (article eight). The Convention prohibits discrimination (article 2), including in education, and obliges states to make higher education available to all on the basis of their capacity (article 28).

The rights to work, health, and education, are also enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Qatar also ratified in May 2018.

Many of these rights and the right to property are protected in the revised Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Qatar ratified in 2013.


Haftar’s rule brings security to eastern Libya, at a cost

Updated 43 min 55 sec ago
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Haftar’s rule brings security to eastern Libya, at a cost

  • Haftar’s rivals see him as a dictator who is hoping to rule
  • He worked with Qaddafi until he defected in 1980s

BENGHAZI: After years of assassinations, bombings and militia firefights, Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi finally feels safe again — but security has come at a heavy cost.
Uniformed police are out at major intersections, cafes and restaurants stay open late into the night, and local groups hold art exhibitions and festivals. But the city center lies in ruins, thousands remain displaced, and forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar, who now controls eastern Libya, have cracked down on dissent.
Benghazi offers a glimpse of what may befall the capital, Tripoli, where Haftar’s forces launched an offensive last month against rival militia loosely allied with a weak, UN-recognized government. Its fate could also harden the resolve of Haftar’s opponents — who view him as an aspiring dictator — and further imperil UN efforts to peacefully reunite the country.
Haftar’s forces have met stiff resistance on the outskirts of Tripoli, and experts say that despite considerable international support, he is unlikely to succeed in defeating his rivals in the west or unifying the country. They point out that even in the east, his forces rely on local militia as well as Salafists.
Benghazi was the epicenter of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 that toppled and killed long-ruling dictator Muammar Qaddafi. But in the years after his ouster, the city and much of the country came to be ruled by a patchwork of armed groups: local and tribal militias, nationalist and mainstream extremist groups, as well as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Extremists attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, killing US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Haftar served as a senior officer under Qaddafi but defected in the 1980s during the ruinous war with Chad, in which he and hundreds of soldiers were captured in an ambush. He later spent more than two decades in the suburbs of Washington, where he is widely believed to have worked with the CIA, before returning to join the uprising in 2011. He eventually built up forces known as the Libyan National Army.
In February 2014, he declared the start of an operation to root out the militia and unify the country. Four months later, when it appeared they would lose influence in a disputed election, extremist and other factions in Tripoli launched an attack on their rivals, eventually splitting the country into rival authorities in the east and west, each beholden to an array of militia6.
“Back to normal”
Haftar’s prominence rose as his forces battled extremists and other rival factions across eastern Libya, and the parliament there eventually recognized him as the head of its armed forces, giving him the rank of field marshal.
He also gained the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as well as France and Russia, all of which came to see him as a key ally against extremists and are widely believed to have provided weapons and other support despite a UN arms embargo. His opponents in western Libya are believed to have gotten aid from Qatar and Turkey.
Today his forces are firmly in control of the country’s east, and the near-daily assassinations, abductions and shootings that once terrified Benghazi’s residents are a thing of the past. Billboards and posters showing Haftar in full military regalia line the streets — with so many placed along the airport road that many jokingly refer to the display as Haftar’s Instagram page.
“In 2019 we have recorded no terrorist attacks or assassinations in Benghazi, which was a daily event back before the LNA took control over the city,” said Maj. Tarek Alkarraz, spokesman for the Interior Ministry in the east. He added that the city of Derna, which was under Daesh control, was similar. “Now life is back to normal and it’s safe and secure.”
Streets are cleaner, garbage is being collected and the electricity cuts out far less often than it did at the height of the fighting. Outside the devastated city center, modern shopping malls have sprung up, as well as upscale seafood and Turkish restaurants. Local ride-booking services are modeled on Uber and Careem.
“The only thing that matters is safety, which we are enjoying, thank God,” said Wanees Amgadah, a retired teacher. “The whole east, and God willing even the west, will be safe with the help of God, thanks to our soldiers.”
Inspired by Egypt’s El-Sisi
Haftar has modeled his rule on that of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, his close ally in neighboring Egypt, who led the overthrow of an elected but divisive president in 2013. Both have declared war on terrorism. El-Sisi has launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people and heavily restricting independent media and civil society.
“The LNA primarily emphasize stability and deem the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies and associates as a security threat,” said Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group. “This is a very vague term and this brand could be slapped on anyone who opposes the LNA.”
A human rights activist in Benghazi, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the security forces are more aggressive than at any point since Qaddafi’s time, restricting the movement of activists and NGO workers, and regularly bringing them in for interrogation.
In a report issued last month, the Tripoli-based Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press documented 29 attacks on reporters by Haftar’s forces over the past year and a half, more than any other armed group. Haftar’s forces “prohibit all the media and journalists who are not loyal to it, and thus totally curtail all civilian state aspects in eastern Libya,” it said.
The report said more than 80 journalists have fled the country since 2014. Across Libya, it said, “journalists now face one of three options: to work under threat, or observe silence and not talk about the threats they face, or abandon their profession.”
Haftar’s supporters insist the LNA is not seeking to rule the country, but to rebuild the state and create the conditions for elected government.
“Our goal is not to rule or to establish a military government,” Abdulhadi Lahweej, the foreign minister in the eastern government, told The Associated Press earlier this month. “We want a civil state based on institutions and human rights. We want a government that the Libyan people choose and we will approve of whatever the people choose.”
Egypt has also held elections under El-Sisi, but they resulted in a parliament packed with his supporters, which earlier this year approved constitutional changes allowing him to potentially remain in office until 2030. El-Sisi was re-elected last year in a vote in which all potentially serious competitors were either arrested or pressured into withdrawing from the race.
After years of unrest, many Libyans may prefer that kind of stability.
“Is it possible to achieve democracy in the presence of two and a half million weapons?” asks Ahmed Almahdawi, an independent political analyst based in Benghazi. “I don’t think so.”
Younis Fanoush, a Benghazi lawmaker who recently helped launch an independent political party backing the LNA, said the only hope of establishing a civil state is to first defeat the militia.
He says the armed groups “chose to destroy any hope for establishing a democratic state and drafting a constitution. Now the only way is forward, and this war is a must to remove these cancerous entities from the capital.”