“The Unforgiven”: Qatar’s Al-Ghufran expulsions termed ‘breach of human rights’

Illustration: (Alex Green for Arab News)
Updated 10 October 2019

“The Unforgiven”: Qatar’s Al-Ghufran expulsions termed ‘breach of human rights’

  • Rights violations under former Qatari emir included unfairly depriving thousands of people of citizenship rights
  • Depriving people of nationality and leaving them stateless is contrary to international conventions, says lawyer

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.

Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, former emir of Qatar

Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the current emir of Qatar

Former Qatari attorney general Najeeb Al-Nuami

“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.” 


The Unforgiven
How thousands of members of Qatar’s Al-Ghufran tribe are still paying the price for a failed coup in which they played no part.





US to pull last troops from north Syria

Updated 14 October 2019

US to pull last troops from north Syria

  • The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria
  • Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of US’s Kurdish-led ally the Syrian Democratic Forces

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT: The United States said on Sunday it will withdraw its remaining 1,000 troops from northern Syria in the face of an expanding Turkish offensive while Syria’s army struck a deal with Kurdish forces to redeploy along its border with Turkey, both major victories for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria and the failure of the US policy of keeping Assad from reasserting state authority over areas lost during the more than eight-year conflict with rebels trying to end his rule.
The developments also represent wins for Russia and Iran, which have backed Assad since 2011 when his violent effort to crush what began as peaceful protests against his family’s decades-long rule of Syria exploded into a full-blown civil war.
While the US withdrawal moves American troops out of the line of fire, the return of Syrian soldiers to the Turkish border opens up the possibility of a wider conflagration should the Syrian army come in direct conflict with Turkish forces.
The Turkish onslaught in northern Syria has also raised the prospect that Daesh militants and their families held by the Kurdish forces targeted by Turkey may escape — scores were said to have done so already — and permit the group’s revival.
The remarkable turn of events was set in motion a week ago when US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw about 50 special operations forces from two outposts in northern Syria, a step widely seen as paving the way for Turkey to launch its week-long incursion against Kurdish militia in the region.
Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of Washington’s Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been a key US ally in dismantling the “caliphate” set up by Daesh militants in Syria.
Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said the offensive would extend from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east and extend some 30 kilometers into Syrian territory, with the town of Ras al Ain now in Turkish control.
US Defense Secretary Mike Esper said the United States decided to withdraw its roughly 1,000 troops in northern Syria — two US officials told Reuters it could pull the bulk out in days — after learning of the deepening Turkish offensive.
It was unclear what would happen to the several hundred US troops at the American military outpost of Tanf, near Syria’s southern border with Iraq and Jordan.
Another factor behind the decision, Esper indicated in an interview with the CBS program “Face the Nation,” was that the SDF aimed to make a deal with Russia and Syria to counter the Turkish onslaught. Several hours later, the Kurdish-led administration said it had struck just such an agreement for the Syrian army to deploy along the length of the border with Turkey to help repel Ankara’s offensive.
The deployment would help the SDF in countering “this aggression and liberating the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries had entered,” it added, referring to Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, and would also allow for the liberation of other Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin.
The fighting has sparked Western concerns that the SDF, holding large swathes of northern Syria once controlled by Daesh, would be unable to keep thousands of militants in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.