Sports & Politics

"The door is wide open to exploitation"

The issue of human rights in Qatar has been in the spotlight for some time: deaths on large construction sites, legal-structural discrimination against homosexuals. The issue in Qatar harkens back to a centuries-old guardianship system, the kafala, and is fuelled by the dynamics of globalisation. Style PASS spoke with Amnesty International's (AI) Qatar expert Katja Müller-Fahlbusch about the current situation in the state of the oil billionaires.

Style PASS: What does AI say about Qatar hosting the World Cup?

Müller-Fahlbusch: Of course, every country is free to bid to host major sporting events. However, the human rights situation should play a greater role in the awarding of such events. Now that the award has been made, we believe it is important to use the international attention to achieve real improvements for the people on the ground - beyond 2022.

Style PASS: Some argue that hosting a major sporting event could bring improvements for the host country. How does AI assess the chances of the World Cup eliminating or improving human rights deficits in Qatar?

First of all, it should be noted that no human rights improvements could be achieved from the time the World Cup was awarded in 2010 until 2017 - despite the fierce and public criticism already at that time. Since 2017, however, the Qatari government has taken a number of reform steps that have improved the working and living conditions of workers in the World Cup stadiums, in some cases very significantly. However, these people make up only two per cent of the total foreign workers - for the other 98 per cent, conditions remain often precarious to catastrophic.

Style PASS: On the one hand, Qatar does have "welfare state" achievements to offer its citizens, such as health insurance/general health care, on the other hand, the so-called kafala system still applies in parts. Can you describe Qatar's socio-political structure a little? How can one imagine it in concrete terms?

The kafala system is a kind of guardianship system that also exists in other Gulf countries and applies exclusively to foreign workers, not to citizens of the respective Gulf state. Although the Qatari government has reformed the kafala system - foreign workers no longer need their employer's permission to leave the country or change jobs - this system continues to cement a massive dependency of migrant workers. This in turn opens the door to exploitation and abuse.

Moreover, unlike Qataris, foreign workers do not have the right to organise in trade unions, and despite some reforms, access to justice is much more difficult for migrants than for Qatari citizens. So in terms of basic rights, it is quite appropriate to speak of a two-tier system.

Style PASS: What are the most serious abuses in Qatar from AI's point of view?

Migrant workers continue to be massively dependent on their employers. Domestic workers in particular, the majority of whom are female, are subject to exploitation, abuse and regular physical violence. In practice, despite a series of legal reforms, many workers do not receive a salary for weeks or months at a time and are not free to choose their employer or to decide to leave the country. The fact that they are not allowed to organise in trade unions means that they are often helpless and unprotected at the mercy of abusive employers.

Style PASS: What is the situation for women in Qatar?

Women continue to be discriminated against by laws and in daily life. Family law puts them at a disadvantage, among other things, in that it is much more difficult for women to file for divorce than for men. If a woman divorces or has been abandoned by her husband, this is associated with considerable economic disadvantages.

The male guardianship system, which stipulates that women under the age of 25 need the permission of their male guardian for everyday transactions such as signing a contract or travelling abroad, leads to significant restrictions. In 2020, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention even saw "de facto deprivation of liberty by their families".

Style PASS: What can citizens or even soccer fans do if they want to do something for human rights in Qatar?

We very much welcome the fact that there has been an increased awareness of human rights in Qatar among fans. The mere fact that fans and fan associations regularly express criticism of the human rights situation in Qatar and demand a binding commitment to human rights from the national soccer associations and FIFA helps to build pressure for change. This pressure must be kept up until the World Cup and beyond.

Style PASS: Would it be desirable for (German) national soccer players to speak out more?

Individual national teams and soccer associations have visibly and audibly campaigned for human rights in Qatar in recent years. The pioneers here are certainly the Nordic associations, which have jointly called for a stronger commitment to human rights. The "T-shirt protests" by the Norwegian, German or Dutch teams are also welcome initiatives. When prominent national soccer players stand up for human rights and use their popularity to work for improvements, we as Amnesty International very much welcome this.

The somewhat different flag

Certainly, it could be argued whether signals are still necessary at all in Germany to counter homophobia. Legally equal, long since integrated into society, no longer discriminated against in private: Germany like other european countries has shown the red card to unfortunate prejudices!

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