The Qatar boycott is not a humanitarian crisis
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Three Gulf Arab states — the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain — and Egypt, have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. In response, the state of Qatar is politicizing human rights in a quest to gain sympathy from the international community. The National Human Rights Committee of Qatar has been issuing reports on the ongoing diplomatic situation and is calling on the government to take steps at the international level, including at the United Nations, to address human rights violations.

International observers should take these claims with a grain of salt because the aim of Qatar’s actions is not the application of universal human rights standards, but instead to forward a narrow, political agenda.

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To begin, it is always right for the international community to consider the humanitarian impact of a boycott, embargo, sanctions regime or similar measures on the civilian population of any state. The issue with Qatar is that, at worst, it has been diplomatically and economically inconvenienced by the measures taken by its neighbors. It is irresponsible for Qatar to claim that extensive human rights violations are taking place, especially since these claims are not motivated by a human rights interest.

In fact, how these human rights claims will be reported remains unclear. Qatar has ratified only a handful of UN human rights treaties, and has not accepted the individual complaint procedure under any of these treaties. While it is possible for an entity to submit a confidential complaint to the Human Rights Council, the complaint must demonstrate widespread violations. Qatar could also use the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, but then this would leave Qatar bound by this document in the future — allowing human rights advocates to raise issue about Qatar’s own human rights record.

The current situation involving Qatar is frequently, and incorrectly, referred to as a siege or a blockade. The actual situation entails a number of states taking unilateral diplomatic and economic actions in an effort to pressure Qatar to stop the funding and support of terrorism and extremism.

At present, the international airport in Qatar’s capital, Doha, is open for business, with international passenger flights transiting daily. While several of the states taking action against Qatar have barred their own national airlines from flying to and from Qatar, the airport is neither under siege nor a blockade. Likewise, the maritime ports of Qatar are all open and not subject to a naval blockade preventing port traffic.

It is true that some neighboring states have prevented their ports from being used by Qatar bound ships and some have prevented air travel between their airports and Qatar. But these actions do not constitute a humanitarian crisis and Qatari nationals can travel and move goods internationally via multiple other routes. Furthermore, the leadership of Qatar has consistently held that there has been little impact from the measures, and, importantly, that food and other crucial supplies continue to flow into the country.

Still, within this context, the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar is claiming that thousands of human rights violations are taking place against Qatari nationals as well as against the nationals of other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. In particular, Qatar is claiming violations against freedom of movement and travel, private property rights and the right to education, among other claims. Yet most of these issues stand out as clear examples of Qatar attempting to politicize human rights for its own political and economic gain.

For example, movement within the Gulf is a regional immigration issue for GCC countries to address — not a universal human right. On education, while it is distressing that students are having their studies interrupted by the situation, no student is being denied the basic right to an education by any of the states involved.

The right to education in UN law covers the denial of education by those in power. The denial of education is most evident these days in places like Syria and Afghanistan, where groups like the Nusrah Front or the Taliban destroy schools and deny young people an education. Ironically, these groups benefit from Qatari funding and support.    

The greatest humanitarian concern raised by Qatar is the issue of family separation because of the high rates of intermarriage and mixed-nationality families in the region. Aware of this issue, the states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have protected family life by ensuring exemptions are in place for impacted families. Humanitarian concerns have clearly been identified and addressed by these states.

There is no doubt that Qatari society and the economy will face negative consequences from the boycott and embargo; the whole point of the measures is to pressure the Qatari government to change its policies. If Qatar is seriously concerned about the humanitarian impact of state policy, it should not burden the UN and international community with spurious human rights claims, but should cooperate with the UN and others to help end international terrorism and extremism.

Ahmed Al Hamli is the president of TRENDS Research & Advisory, a progressive research center based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Follow him on Twitter @AhmedAlHamli.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.