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.