Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Qatar is a constitutional monarchy ruled by the Al-Thani family and headed by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The emir exercises full executive power and ultimately issues legislation through a process of consultation with an appointed advisory council and cabinet. Shari'a (Islamic law) is a main source of legislation. Political parties are forbidden by law. There were summary and prolonged detentions in overcrowded and harsh facilities. The government continued to restrict civil liberties, such as freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Some limitations on religious freedom existed. There were also some restrictions on foreign travel, as well as summary deportations. Trafficking in persons was a problem. Cultural discrimination against women limited their full participation in society. Worker rights were severely restricted, especially for foreign laborers and domestic servants.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government seeks windows of opportunity to promote democratic reform and provides U.S. technical and programmatic assistance wherever possible. Major U.S. efforts focus on increasing awareness of the benefits of reform and broadening the political participation of citizens within the government. The U.S. Government uses a combination of programmatic and diplomatic means to assist the government and citizens in their efforts to build and sustain democratic institutions. The U.S. Government's democracy promotion objectives include promoting democratic elections, the rule of law, and legislative reform; supporting the engagement of citizens, particularly youth, in the process of civil society development; promoting freedom of expression and the development of independent media; and addressing the poor working and living conditions of the large expatriate workforce.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

To promote the rule of law and legislative reform, the U.S. Government works with implementing partners to target specific sectors and populations. To enhance the quality of legal education, a U.S. implementing partner provides technical assistance to the Qatar University College of Law in the area of curriculum reform. Another implementing partner provides technical assistance to the Advisory Council and the Central Municipal Council and their administrative staffs on parliamentary and legislative procedures. In advance of parliamentary elections, a U.S. implementing partner is engaging with the Permanent Election Committee to increase voter awareness and to identify and train prospective candidates. The U.S. Government recently funded an exchange program for local stakeholders to witness the U.S. presidential election, and it sponsors other exchange programs for local lawyers to examine democratic legal systems in the United States and elsewhere. Through targeted workshops, roundtable discussions, exchange programs, and training sessions, the United States engages women on increasing their traditionally limited participation in the democratic process. Other ongoing programs focus on training in investigative techniques, forensic studies, and legal procedures for security personnel.

The U.S. Government actively supports civic engagement through the development of civil society. NGOs do not formally exist in the country, and the law effectively discourages their establishment; however, the United States continues to identify and build the capacity of potential NGOs and associations. U.S. officials consistently encourage the government to reform its restrictive laws prohibiting freedom of association and the legal formation of NGOs, and in 2008 one U.S.-based NGO moved closer to concluding a memorandum of understanding with the National Human Rights Committee. The U.S. Government funds exchange programs and management training opportunities for civil activists and leaders of potential NGOs, as well as for youth to teach them the importance of civic engagement. Since half of the country's population is younger than 20, U.S. officials target youth in their democratic promotion efforts. The United States sponsors visiting speakers to lead discussions with local audiences on civic activism and Muslim involvement in the United States, and a U.S. grant enables local children to produce videos on the importance of civic engagement. A U.S. implementing partner also provides technical assistance to the Supreme Education Council in developing curriculum and implementing a legal and civic education program for middle schools.

The U.S. Government continues to address severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and the press. The chief of mission and other U.S. officials regularly engage the media and government stakeholders on internationally accepted standards of expression, professionalism, and objectivity. In 2008 the U.S. Government sponsored an editor-in-chief and an influential political cartoonist to participate in media professionalism training. The United States also sponsored a local organization to lead a training program for female journalists to help strengthen their role in local media. 

One of the most important U.S. priorities is to address the working and living conditions of the large expatriate workforce. This vulnerable population, made up primarily of male unskilled and semiskilled laborers and male and female domestic workers, is often subjected to inadequate accommodations, miserable work conditions, forced labor, and trafficking in persons. The chief of mission and other U.S. officials regularly engage government stakeholders and foreign diplomats from labor-sending countries on ameliorating the situation. The U.S. Government also funds an implementing partner to create awareness and provide advocacy services to the many expatriate community support groups by facilitating communication and coordination between these groups and NGOs in the sending countries.