Geneva, February 08 (QNA) – H.E. the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Mahmoud here on Monday reviewed before the Working Group on Human Rights Council the human rights situation in the State of Qatar in all fields.
H.E the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in his speech underlined the importance attached by the State of Qatar to the promotion and protection of human rights as a strategic choice.
The human rights issue constitutes the backbone of the comprehensive reform policy / constitutional, economic, social, and cultural / pursued by state since His Highness the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani assumed the rule in the State.
H.E. the Minister said this has been emphasized in the comprehensive vision of development (Qatar National Vision 2030), which has been approved by the Emiri decision No. (44) of 2008, which involved the major topics affecting the core issues of human rights in the fields of education, health, the environment and the rights of migrant workers and women empowerment and the Child rights.
H.E the Minister said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for leading the process of preparing the national report with the participation of relevant ministries and with the assistance of civil society.
In this regard, H.E. the Minister noted that the report was the result of a broad consultative process and as a result of coordination and cooperation and expanded partnership with all groups and segments of society and other stakeholders…
According to the criteria and the basis of the review and its objectives and principles set by the Human Rights Council and the State developed an action plan to prepare a national report included the formation of a national committee by a Cabinet decision on February 11, 2009 under the chairmanship of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and the membership of the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Labor Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Advisory (Shura) Council and the Supreme Council of Health (SCH), the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, and the Supreme Education Council (SEC), the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, and the Qatar Foundation to combat trafficking in human beings and the Qatar Foundation for the protection of children and women.
Following is the full text of speech of H.E.the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed bin Abdullah al Mahmoud at the Meeting of the Working Group on Human Rights in Geneva:
At the outset, and on behalf of my country s Delegation, I would like to express our pleasure in meeting with the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism in the context of the first universal review of the State of Qatar. During this review, we will highlight the human rights situation in Qatar as well as the challenges it faces.
I would also like to express Qatar s appreciation of the Working Group s important role in helping States to improve, strengthen and promote their commitments under International Human Rights Law. In this regard, we stress the State of Qatar s full support to – and collaboration with – the Working Group and fully confirm Qatar s respect for the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism. We highly appreciate this interactive dialogue which is carried out in an objective, transparent and non-selective manner, and which is based on a constructive approach that avoids confrontation and politicization. Qatar sees the UPR process not as an end in itself but rather as an important means to fulfill our human rights obligations at the national level.
The State of Qatar has always seriously assumed its human rights obligations. Our participation in this review process represents the most recent effort in our constant determination to improve the human rights situation in Qatar. Since no state has a completely bright human right record, we seek today to share our constructive experiences with other States and to learn from them what relates to our challenges and those of the world around us.
Our national experience in preparing for the review was fruitful and led to an active dialogue on human rights both with governmental bodies and the civil society. Indeed, the preparatory process for the UPR has helped us create growing awareness on the issue of human rights promotion and protection.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar is responsible for directing the preparation of the report. Civil society has helped us in identifying the topics covered by the report and in highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the coverage in the draft report and in completing some of the gaps in it. I will not repeat here the procedures already mentioned in the report before you, but it is worth indicating that the infrastructure, institutional mechanisms and human resources that we have highlighted in the report constitute the framework within which we will build our plans and programs in the future.
The report before you is the result of a broad consultative process, coordination, cooperation and expanded partnership with all categories and sections of the society as well as with related stakeholders. The State of Qatar drew up a plan of action for the preparation of the national report which was based on the criteria and foundation of the review and on its objectives and principles as set down by the Human Rights Council. This plan of action included the setting up of a National Committee by decision of the distinguished Council of Ministers dated 11 February 2009. This Committee is under my chairmanship in my capacity as both Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and member of the Council of Ministers and its membership is composed of representatives of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Interior, the Labor Ministry, the Ministry of Justice, the Shura Council, the Supreme Council of Health, the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, the Supreme Education Council, the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, the Qatar Foundation to Combat Human Trafficking and the Qatari Foundation for Child and Woman Protection.
The issue of promotion and protection of human rights is a strategic choice for the State of Qatar as it constitutes the backbone of the comprehensive reform policy (constitutional, economic, social and cultural) adopted by the State of Qatar since His Highness the Emir Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa Al-Thani took over the reigns of power in the country. This was emphasized in the comprehensive development vision (Qatar National Vision 2030) which was approved by Emiri Decision (44) of 2008 and which included important topics relating to key human rights issues in the areas of education, health, environment, rights of expatriate workers, women’s empowerment, the rights of the child, the elderly and the disabled.
Qatar‘s efforts to protect human rights are based on its permanent Constitution. This Constitution embodies the main principles steering Qatar s policy, including the emphasis on the principles of separation of powers, the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary, and the guarantee of fundamental rights and freedoms. Since the coming of His Highness the Emir Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa Al-Thani to power and the adoption of a comprehensive reform policy, His Highness sought to place human rights at the heart of the constitutional, political, economic, social and cultural reforms. This interest has been reflected in the development and strengthening of human rights infrastructure at the legislative and institutional levels.
Accordingly, Qatar s Constitution devotes its third Chapter (Articles 34-58) to fundamental rights and freedoms. Indeed, it has embraced the principles of complementarity, interdependence and indivisibility, and thus guarantees the economic, social, cultural, civil, political and collective rights such as the right to development. The Constitution emphasizes that these rights should not be restricted or diminished on the pretext of regulating or amending them. Accordingly, Article (146) stipulates that human rights provisions and public freedoms may not be amended except where the objective is to provide more guarantees to citizens. In this regard, fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution have been promoted through the issuance of a set of national laws, for example: the Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Labor Code, the Associations and Private Institutions Law, the Law on Public Prosecution and the Judicial Authority Act.
In the context of promoting and strengthening the legislative structure of human rights, Qatar ratified and acceded to several human rights conventions both at the international and regional levels. According to Article 6 of the Constitution, the State respects international charters and covenants and shall implement all international conventions, charters and covenants in which it is a party. Furthermore, Article 78 of the Constitution grants the treaty or convention the act of law after its ratification and publication in the Official Gazette.The challenge that we have confronted over the years is how to transform these constitutional provisions into a general culture on promoting and ensuring human rights in all spheres of life. We have taken steps that we believe to be important and effective, but we must continue the effort in other vital fields. In this context, we greatly depend on our cooperation and dialogue with various human rights mechanisms, monitoring committees and the Human Rights Council.
The manifestation of interest in human rights is not only limited to the legislative area but includes institutional and strategic building as well as policies and programs which seek to translate the legislative protection of human rights into a tangible reality. Several institutions concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights in their universal and indivisible concept – were established at the governmental and non governmental levels. This matter has been dealt with in detail in the report before you. In this respect, we would like to make reference to the setting up of the National Human Rights Committee as an independent institution concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights according to the Paris Principles, ensuring that its composition reflects various views. It is worth mentioning in this regard that the National Committee was recognized by the International Coordinating Committee and that the Government pays due attention to the recommendations of the Committee and implements them. Moreover, the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue was established as a result of recommendations of the Fifth Doha Interfaith Conference held in May 2007.
The Center aims at spreading and promoting the culture of dialogue and peaceful coexistence. In addition, the Arab Democracy Foundation, which is the first of its kind in the Arab World, was established in 2007 and aims at encouraging the region to strengthen the culture of democracy. Also, in the context of the role of the media as an essential component of the State s orientations, His Highness the Emir issued an Emiri Decision approving the establishment of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom as a private institution of public utility.
The principles of freedom, credibility, independence, responsibility and transparency are the strategic foundations upon which were defined the objectives of the Center, as exemplified by the protection of the media system in accordance with international standards.
Concerning the promotion and protection of human rights in the area of education and health, allow me to briefly review some of the achievements accomplished by Qatar in this respect. With regard to the right to education, Article 25 of the Qatari Constitution stipulates that "Education is one of the basic pillars of social progress. The State shall ensure, foster and endeavor to spread it". Likewise, Article 49 stipulates that "All citizens have the right to education, and the State endeavors to make general education compulsory in accordance with the State s applicable laws and regulations". Education was therefore made compulsory and free of charge under Decree 25 of 2001.
And as a member of UNESCO, the State of Qatar abides by all the Organization s decisions and recommendations, including those relating to Education For All and its six objectives. To that effect, the national plan was developed in 2003 to provide education for all and an evaluation of progress made was carried out in 2007. Moreover, Qatar is keen to promote Inclusive Education which includes all learners without discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion or other grounds. Indeed, Qatar has endeavored since the fifties of the last century to modernize its educational and pedagogical systems and to expand the coverage of educational needs of generations of Qataris and residents, whether males or females.
The Supreme Education Council was established in 2002 as the highest authority responsible for drawing up education policy in the country. Emiri Decision 14 of 2009 was then issued, organizing the Supreme Education Council in the context of the procedures aiming at implementing the Qatar National Vision 2030. In its capacity as the highest competent authority, the Council aims at improving the level of education to meet the State’s needs for qualified human resources in various fields, so that young people can fulfill their ambitions and contribute to developing their society and the State s economy. The Council is implementing an initiative to develop public education under the slogan: "Education for a New Era". The essence of this initiative consists in establishing autonomous schools funded by the Government, which are called: "Independent Schools". It is based on four principles: autonomy, accountability, diversity and choice.
It is also worth mentioning that the expenditure on education increased from 19,6% in 2005 to 21% in 2008 (3,3% of gross domestic product). Similarly, the State of Qatar has adopted a pioneering policy to encourage scientific research, as exemplified by the allocation of 2,8% of GDP to research, and the establishment of the Qatar National Research Fund in 2006. In order to ensure the continuity of expenditure on education and to meet the related requirements, an endowment fund for education expenditure was set up from part of the investment in Qatar s gas wealth. Moreover, Qatar is very much interested in the process of incorporating human rights into school curricula and in teaching human rights concepts and principles at both general and higher education levels.
In the context of promoting and protecting the right to health, Qatari laws and legislations guarantee the right to access to medical care services without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, belief, language, age or disability.
Therefore, Emiri Decision No (13) of 2009 was issued to establish the Supreme Council of Health headed by His Highness, the Heir Apparent, and under the direct guidance of His Highness the Emir. The Council designs health policies and strategies and adopts development and scientific research plans.
The health care sector falls within the priorities of economic and social development. Therefore, Qatar has always endeavored and still continues – to provide various basic and necessary health services for different social sections, especially the most vulnerable to diseases such as children. The health care system in Qatar has accomplished numerous achievements in terms of providing various health services which contributed to improving the health situation of the population, particularly those related to reducing mortality rates of children under the age of five, as well as the mortality rate of infants under the age of one which has witnessed in turn a similar decrease in recent decades.
In the Context of Qatar s policy of openness as exemplified by the hosting of international conferences on issues such as, development, democracy, human rights and the promotion of culture of peace, Qatar recently hosted the "Third Anti-Corruption Conference" in Doha from 9 to 12 November 2009, and the "Sixth Global Forum on Combating Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity" from 7 8 November in Doha. In addition, Qatar annually hosts the "Doha Forum on Democracy, Development, and Free Trade", the "Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue" the "US Islamic World Forum". It also previously hosted the "Second International Summit for Financing and Development", the "Sixth International Conference on New or Restored Democracies", the "High Level Group Meeting for the Alliance of Civilizations", the "Second Conference on National Human Rights Institutions in the Arab World" and the "Second Forum on Democracy and Political Reform in the Arab World".
The State of Qatar is a party to several core human rights treaties and is currently considering the possibility of acceding to remainder ones.
One of the most important legislative principles in the State of Qatar lies in the fact that any ratification or accession to international conventions is only carried out once we make sure that all legislations are compatible with the provisions of the new convention. For this reason, the State of Qatar expresses sometimes slight reservations on some conventions in which it becomes a party.
We, in the State of Qatar, are committed to the principle of unity and integrity of a treaty. We therefore seek to strike a reasonable balance between our conviction in the universality of human rights and the need to take into account considerations related to history, culture and social values.
Qatar s positive interaction with International Human Rights Mechanisms stems from the principles enshrined in the Qatari Constitution, the first of which is the State’s commitment to respect international charters and covenants and to implement all international conventions and charters in which it is a party. Consequently, this commitment resulted in the submission by the State of Qatar of its periodic reports to the various monitoring mechanisms. We, in the State of Qatar, strive to respect the timeframe set by the monitoring committees in order to comply with their report submission requirements. The State of Qatar made valuable contributions to promote and protect human rights at the international level. Qatar has also played a pioneering role for the adoption of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In the context of the contributing efforts made towards capacity-building at the international level, the endeavors of both Qatar and the OHCHR were crystallized through the establishment of the United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Center for South-West Asia and the Arab Region under United Nations General Assembly Resolution 153 at its 60th Session. The Center aims, through training, information, documentation, studies and exchange of expertise, to promote human rights by means of cooperation with governments on the development of policies to strengthen these principles. The related Headquarters Agreement was signed between the State of Qatar and the OHCHR in December 2008 and I inaugurated the Center in May 2009 in the presence of H.E. Ms. Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Center is expected to contribute in meeting the needs of the geographical region it covers in terms of training, as well as developing and building capacities.
It is worth mentioning here that in recent years Qatar has adopted a strategic policy on general reservations with the purpose of reviewing them. According to this strategy, Qatar withdrew its general reservation to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Qatar also carried out its partial withdrawal on its general reservation on the Convention on the Rights of the Child with regard to any provisions inconsistent with Islamic law, so as to apply only to Articles 2 and 14 of the Convention. The competent authorities in Qatar are also considering the possibility of withdrawing their general reservation on the Convention against Torture and replacing it with a partial reservation. In addition, the State of Qatar undertook to completely abandon the general reservation approach when it joined the Convention against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) thus restricting its reservations to certain specific items and presenting their justifications.
In the context of the State s respect for special procedures, the State of Qatar accepted the request made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially children and women, to pay a visit to the country. Consequently, the Special Rapporteur highly appreciated the level of transparency, openness, and cooperation shown by the Government of Qatar during her visit, and commended the fact that she was given permission to visit all the institutions and bodies according to her request. She also commended the positive developments achieved by Qatar at the legislative and institutional levels in combating the phenomenon of human trafficking.
Although the State of Qatar has witnessed tangible developments at the legislative, institutional and awareness levels and despite the existence of political will and financial resources, the State of Qatar however faces temporary difficulties in promoting and protecting human rights in an ideal manner. Among these difficulties are the recentness of legislative and institutional developments, and the recentness of dealing with international human rights mechanisms. Moreover, the human resources technical capacities still remain at the stage of construction and development. Qatar is therefore expected to benefit from the activities and programs of the United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Center for South-West Asia and the Arab Region in Doha so as to overcome some of these difficulties. Also, our continuous cooperation with the Monitoring Committees and with this Human Rights Council s Working Group will greatly contribute in overcoming these difficulties. At the international level, Qatar believes in the importance of developmental partnership to assist in achieving sustainable economic development. We have established the Qatar Development Fund where human rights constitute the most important pillars of the international assistance we provide and of the development programs to be implemented by the Fund including in the fields of education and health. The State of Qatar, in its firm belief in the importance of peace and stability as the basis for the enjoyment of human rights, has strived and continues to strive as a mediator for the settlement of certain disputes.
In the context of promoting and strengthening the legislative structure for the promotion and protection of human rights, I am pleased to announce to the Working Group that the competent authorities in Qatar are considering a draft law on combating human trafficking and a draft law on domestic workers. Qatar is also considering the accession to the two international covenants (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).
I would like to conclude my introductory statement by saying that human rights protection in Qatar is a daily ongoing process. It is a process concerned with raising awareness, changing discriminatory practices, removing obstacles and building new structures; a process undertaken with careful consideration and consciousness.
We received a number of advance questions and thank the States for directing them to us. I hope to have answered most of them in this statement and we will provide more details on any remaining questions as part of our reply this morning. Likewise, we will do everything we can to answer the questions from the floor today. We, in the State of Qatar, are looking forward to working with other Member States to make headway towards our common goals and to contribute to the advancement of both the Working Group s work and to that of the Human Rights Council