An independent United Nations expert has urged countries which are blockading Qatar as part of a regional dispute led by Saudi Arabia to “immediately” lift all sanctions against Doha, condemning the punitive measures as a violation of human rights.
In a report published on Thursday, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative effects of sanctions on human rights, Alena Douhan, called for the blockading nations to “immediately withdraw all sanctions/measures aimed at establishing restrictions on freedom of expression, movement, access to property, trade barriers, and ban tariffs, quotas, non-tariff measures … for people living in Qatar in violation of international legal standards”.
“Measures directly affecting fundamental human rights shall not be used as the means of influencing the government,” she said.
In 2017 an air, land and sea blockade was imposed on Qatar by four Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The blocking states cut diplomatic and trade ties with Doha, claiming that it supported “terrorism” and that its ties with Iran were too close.
Qatar has vehemently rejected the claims and said there was “no legitimate justification” for severing relations.
The special rapporteur’s condemnation came as she considers any unilateral measures to be illegal “if they have significantly detrimental and disproportional impacts on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights”.
The report also highlighted the wrongful treatment of Qataris expelled by the boycotting countries at the start of the blockade, which interrupted family relations, work and study.
In this regard, Douhan is “still concerned about the numerous substantiated reports that unilateral sanctions discriminated and continue to discriminate against Qataris,” she said, adding that such measures represent a pattern of “persistent and systematic human rights violations”.
As conditions to lift the blockade three years ago, the four countries issued a list of demands to be carried out within 10 days, which Qatar promptly rejected.
At the top of the list was the downgrading of diplomatic ties with Iran, but it also included ceasing military cooperation with Turkey and shutting down Al Jazeera.
The special rapporteur found the request to shut down the Qatari news outlet “unacceptable and contrary to international human rights law” and said it creates a “chilling effect that stifles civil society as well as provokes uncertainty and fear among writers and journalists”.
She described Qatar as “well-known for setting examples of pioneering of the promotion of freedom of expression in the region”.
The special rapporteur also welcomed “recent progress of Qatar in improving its domestic legislation and practice in countering terrorism”, highlighting a “lack of evidence for legitimising the imposition of unilateral sanctions”.
Resolving the standoff
UN experts are independent and do not speak for the world body, but their findings can be used to inform the work of UN organisations, including the rights council.
The report, which was published at the end of a two-week visit to Qatar, contains the preliminary findings of the special rapporteur’s mission.
A full brief will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2021.
Sings of a possible resolution to the rift between Doha and the four blockading countries have surfaced on various occasions in the past, but little progress has been made.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has said that his country is ready for dialogue to resolve the diplomatic crisis, but stressed that any solution to the crisis must respect his country’s sovereignty.
In October, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan said the kingdom was “committed to finding a solution” during a visit in Washington, while in June, Kuwait, which held a mediator role in the dispute, said progress had been made towards resolving the standoff.
Last December, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said early talks with Saudi Arabia had broken the impasse but a month later he said that efforts to resolve the dispute were unsuccessful.