The imposing towers of Doha’s skyline have become an awe-inspiring stopover point for weary international tourists since it became one of the most affluent and fastest-growing cities in the world.
Anybody who is lucky enough to have visited the Qatari capital is likely to have been left with vertigo and a sense of pride in human innovation as they craned their necks to see the Gulf city’s dazzling skyscrapers.
And despite its regional neighbours – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt – slashing their diplomatic and economic ties with the nation, Qatar shows no signs of slowing down in its ambitions.
If the coronavirus pandemic has abated in time, the desert nation will host hundreds of thousands of football fans from across the globe for the 2022 World Cup.
The world’s eyes will be firmly fixed on Qatar.
This week however, Qatar has captured the world’s attention for more disturbing reasons.
Human rights groups and the world’s media have reacted with horror to the disturbing strip-search scandal which saw 18 women – including Australians – subjected to “grossly disturbing” physical examinations in nation’s capital.
Qatar has a dark record of human rights abuses.Source:Supplied
Qatar’s government has confirmed it was trying to find the mother of a newborn baby abandoned in a rubbish bin at Doha International airport on October 2 so it could arrest and prosecute her.
It said it was trying to identify the woman responsible for a “shocking and appalling attempt to kill” the baby girl.
However, Qatar’s extreme reaction to the situation is not a one-off according to non-governmental groups around the world which have been documenting the Gulf nation’s dark record on human rights issues for years.
Amnesty International found that women are basically treated as second-class citizens who are jailed in significant numbers so-called “love crimes”.
A conviction for “illicit relations” – meaning sex outside marriage – can lead to a prison sentence of up to seven years.
Women are disproportionately impacted by the law as pregnancy serves as evidence of extramarital sex and women who report rape can find themselves prosecuted for consensual sex instead.
So, even women who have been raped are jailed if they not believed and women who get pregnant with an illegitimate child are also often jailed.
Human Rights Watch says concept of male guardianship is incorporated into Qatari law and regulations, which undermines women’s rights to make autonomous decisions about marriage and travel.
“Qatar’s personal status law also discriminates against women in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance,” it says.
“The law provides that women can only marry if a male guardian approves; men have a unilateral right to divorce while women must apply to the courts for divorce on limited grounds; and a wife is responsible for looking after the household and obeying her husband.”
It called for the airport incident to spark action to protect women.
RELATED: Witness opens up about shocking Qatar ordeal
Officers marched women off a Sydney-bound Qatar Airways flight earlier this month and forced them to undergo intimate examinations after a newborn baby was found abandoned. Picture: Pascal Pavani/AFPSource:AFP
“Qatar should prohibit forced gynaecological exams and … also decriminalise sex outside of wedlock,” the watchdog said in a statement.
The nation has come under fire for another reason this week after its migrant domestic workers have spoken out, saying they are at breaking point by extreme overwork, lack of rest, and abusive and degrading treatment.
A new report by Amnesty International found that their rights were still being abused and violated despite government reforms aimed at improving their working conditions. Some women said they had been victims of serious crimes such as sexual assault.
In 2017 Qatar introduced the Domestic Workers Law, which stipulated limits on working hours, mandatory daily breaks, a weekly day off and paid holidays.
The Amnesty report found that, three years on, 90 of the 105 women said they regularly worked more than 14 hours per day; 89 regularly worked seven days a week; and 87 had their passport confiscated by their employers.
Half of the women worked more than 18 hours per day, and most had never had a single day off at all. Some also reported not being paid properly, while 40 women described being insulted, slapped or spat at. One woman said she was treated “like a dog”.
Gay rights have also been trampled on by the Qatari government as the nation’s penal code criminalises sodomy, punishing same-sex relations with imprisonment for one to three years.
Qatar also runs sharia courts, where technically it is possible that Muslim men could be put to death for same-sex sexual behaviours. However, it does not appear that any person has been executed for this reason.
Despite all this, the nation was handed hosting rights for the World Cup – and it has struggled ever since to reassure critics that its promises on women’s rights, labour relations and democracy are credible.
Facing potentially devastating commercial and reputational damage after what happened at Doha’s airport earlier this month, Qatar vowed to guarantee the future “safety, security and comfort” of passengers.
The world’s eyes will be turning to Qatar in 2022. Picture: Giuseppe Cacace/AFPSource:AFP
“While the aim of the urgently decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action,” Qatar said in a statement.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani had ordered an investigation and the results would be shared with international partners, it added.
The Qatari statement, a rare act of contrition for an authoritarian Gulf state, did not explicitly say that women had been forcibly examined, referring only to a “search for the parents”.
The newborn had been “concealed” in a plastic bag and buried under rubbish in a bathroom bin, according to the Qatari account.
“The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her. The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha,” it said.
However, the Australian government wants answers.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the incident went beyond a single flight.
She told a Senate committee that women on “10 aircraft in total” had been subject to the searches, including 18 women on flight QR908 to Sydney – 13 of whom were Australian.
Scott Morrison, who was asked about the incident, said as a father he “could only shudder at the thought that anyone would, Australian or otherwise … be subjected to that”.
“It is unacceptable … it was appalling,” the Prime Minister said.
“You can be confident those messages were conveyed very clearly, at the time and more recently. We expect to see the result of that investigation very soon.”
RELATED: New detail over strip-searches emerges
Scott Morrison said the incident was unacceptable. Picture: Gary Ramage/NCA NewsWireSource:News Corp Australia
A Department of Foreign Affairs official, who was among women affected but not searched, was the first to raise the alarm with Australian authorities shortly after the incident occurred on October 2.
“The nature of the most unfortunate event that triggered this action meant that the women who were being searched were by definition, needed to be of child-bearing age,” DFAT secretary Frances Adamson told the hearing.
“So women who were not of child-bearing age … were not searched and that included our staff member.
“They were asked to leave a plane with no information given.”
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