The UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impacts of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Alena Douhan, on Thursday urged Middle East countries to lift sanctions against Qatar. The report followed Douhan’s 12-day visit to Qatar to “assess the impact of unilateral sanctions imposed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Arab Republic of Egypt.”
These sanctions were imposed after the four states announced on June 5, 2017, that they were “severing diplomatic relations with Qatar.” The states accused Qatar of supporting militant groups.
Douhan noted that the measures “isolated Qatar from its neighbours and limited substantially its access to the wider world.” The measures taken by the four states included banning “aircraft registered in Qatar … from landing in their territory or transiting through their airspace.” It also included suspending postal services with Qatar. Additionally, the four states closed their “land borders, air and sea ports, and airspace to Qataris,” expelling “almost 3000 Qataris from their territories.” The states also took other unilateral measures against Qatar, including blocking “access to Qatar-based media channels and websites” and “criminalizing the expression of sympathy with Qatar.”
Douhan refused to take a position on the political dispute between Qatar and the four states but welcomed “efforts for mediation.” Additionally, she noted that unilateral measures, such as the ones taken by the four states, are “only legal if they have a valid and clear legal basis in national legislation”; “do not breach any international obligation of states”; “are authorized by the UN Security Council” (or their illegality is “excluded in the course of countermeasures taken in accordance with the standards of international responsibility”); have provided “prior notice”; and meet the criteria of “legality, legitimacy and proportionality.”
Douhan expressed concern that the four states’ unilateral measures do not meet these requirements for legality, particularly because the measures negatively affect “the rights of people living in Qatar and other individuals beyond Qatar’s borders.” While Douhan acknowledged the steps taken by the four states “to limit the humanitarian impact of the applied unilateral sanctions,” she met with a “large number of victims of human rights violations” while in Qatar. The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about numerous “substantiated” reports regarding how the four states’ measures “discriminated and continue to discriminate against Qataris on the basis of their national origin,” which she said, “may amount to a pattern of persistent and systematic human rights violations.”
Based on her findings, Douhan urged the four states to “withdraw all sanctions/measures aimed at establishing restriction on freedom of expression, movement, access to property, trade barriers, and ban tariffs, quotas, non-tariff measures, including those which prevent financing the purchase of medicine, medical equipment, food, other essential goods for people living in Qatar in violation of international legal standards.” Douhan further requested that the four states “guarantee freedom of opinion and expression.”