Qatar’s failure to do enough to tackle the trafficking of people has kept it on the US government’s watch-list for the third year, according to a new report.
The latest edition of the US State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Person’s Report said that Qatar is making “significant efforts” to tackle the problem, but added that much more needs to be done.
Typically, the US downgrades a country that spends more than two years in the same ranking without improvement.
However, this time around it made an exception for Qatar.
The report said this was because the Gulf country has drafted a plan which, if implemented, “would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards.”
However, it warned that Qatar needs to make a number of significant legislative and social changes in order to move up the rankings, saying:
“Despite these efforts, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period.”
What is trafficking?
The annual report assesses the anti-trafficking efforts made by 188 countries globally between April 2, 2015 and March 31, 2016, and ranks them in one of four tiers.
It describes trafficking as “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.”
This includes sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, debt bondage, forced labor, domestic servitude, forced child labor and the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Qatar is on the Tier 2 Watch List, alongside 43 other countries including China, Niger and Costa Rica, as well as other Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait.
Oman was actually downgraded to the watchlist, and Kuwait upgraded from Tier 3. The UAE is the only Gulf country with a higher ranking, at Tier 2.
According to the report, Qatar has been attempting to make strides to improve in some areas over the last year.
Qatar government figures stated that 24 trafficking cases were investigated during the reporting period, which is double the previous year.
Of these, 11 people were prosecuted and convicted, including two people working at unnamed private companies.
This is the first time the government has successfully used the 2011 Anti-Trafficking Law to convict offenders, the report said.
It also cited the recent prosecution of what it described as an “Arabic couple” who were jailed for eight years and each fined QR450,000 after being charged with the unintentional murder of a domestic worker and involvement in human trafficking crimes.
While the report did not give further details of the incident, it is likely referring to the case of a Palestinian man who was convicted of human trafficking and involuntary manslaughter in early 2016.
He is taking his case to the Court of Cassation after failing to appeal the verdict last month, his lawyer said.
A Qatari woman facing the same charges was exonerated at the same appeal.
According to the report, Qatar has made “modest” efforts to prevent trafficking this year through legislation.
Authorities also increased efforts to enforce the Labor Law, upping the number of labor inspectors who undertake spot-checks on companies, and blacklisted more companies for flouting the rules.
A total of 21,000 labor violations were recorded in the past year and 4,400 companies were blacklisted – a marked increase on the 200 for the previous year, the report said.
However, Qatar still fell-short of protecting workers’ rights in many areas.
The report made nearly a dozen recommendations for improvement, including “sufficient implementation” of the new sponsorship law.
This would help ensure sponsors or employers are not given excessive power and that workers are protected from abusive practices and working conditions that could amount to forced labor.
More efforts should also be made to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and to punish those responsible, the report added.
Other reform recommendations include:
- Bringing domestic workers under the Labor Law;
- Ensuring all companies comply with the Wage Protection System;
- Enforcing the law against sponsors who withhold workers’ passports. Currently, penalties are only “sporadically and inconsistently” applied;
- Requiring all companies to provide Residency Permits for their employees within one week of arriving in Qatar;
- Reporting all anti-trafficking data; and
- Launching anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns.
The report also called for more prosecutions under the 2011 anti-trafficking law (No. 15 of 2011), which carries jail terms of up to seven years and maximum fines of QR230,000 for those found guilty.