Qatar has been arbitrarily stripping the citizenship of family members of the Ghufran tribe for over 30 years, depriving them of basic human rights. At least 28 members of the Ghufran tribe have currently been left stateless and are calling for their rights to be restored. A Human Rights Watch report published on 12 May confirmed a number of cases of Ghufran family members that have been deprived of their rights to health care, education, marriage, property ownership and have had restrictions imposed on their freedom of movement.
Who are the Ghufran?
The Ghufran is a branch of the semi-nomadic Al Murrah tribe, who span the wider Gulf region and are among one of the largest tribes in Qatar. Qatar started arbitrarily stripping their citizenship in 1996 and despite some families having had their citizenship restored, many others remain stuck with no means to citizenship.
During the first wave of citizenship stripping, between 1996 and 2004, 6,000 people had their citizenship revoked. In 2006, close to half of those had their citizenship reinstated, and the exact figures are still not clear.
Jaber Al Kehla, a member of Al Khofran Tribe who had citizenship revoked told IOHR,
“Al Khofran Qatari tribesmen are part of the original residents of Qatar and they have been subjected to arbitrary displacement and due to oppressive political reasons. It was a message to all Qataris not just members of the tribe. If you present any opinions or ideas that are critical of Hamad Bin Khalifa’s government then what happened to the Al Ghofran will happen to you. Your property will be confiscated, and you will face arbitrary detention after your citizenship is revoked. We demand that Al Ghofran regain their rights without any damage to our homeland Qatar.”
Loss of rights
The report by Human Rights Watch details the loss of rights stateless members of the Ghufran tribe face. All the interviewees reported relying on handouts for their basic needs and expired or invalid identity documents meant they were unable to maintain an income. Most of those interviewed also requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, demonstrating not only a loss of basic rights but the loss of the right to speak out against the injustice they face.
Rights groups including the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, and the Rights Realization Center have all brought attention to the plight of the Ghufran. In October 2018 a joint submission that they delivered to the UN outlined the lack of rights due to citizenship deprivation.
On 29 April 2019 Human Rights Watch addressed a letter to Qatar’s Ministry of Interior raising concerns about the Ghufran situation, however the letter has yet to receive an official response.
Lama Fakih, acting Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch said:
“Many stateless members of the Ghufran clan are still denied redress today, the Qatari government should immediately end the suffering of those left stateless and give them and those who have since acquired other nationalities a clear path toward regaining their Qatari citizenship.”
Qatar’s citizenship laws
Qatar’s 2005 nationality law allows an individual’s citizenship to be revoked by the decree of the Emir. Under this law there are 5 situations in which a citizen could have their nationality withdrawn and gives no right to appeal the decision. One of these situations is if another nationality is acquired.
It is under this premise that Qatari authorities have maintained that the first wave of Ghufran family members, who faced citizenship deprivation after 1996, are not stateless they were believed to have Saudi citizenship. Qatar does not allow dual citizenship, nor do other GCC states and holding a second citizenship could lead to the revoking of Qatari citizenship.
However, the conditions of this law are unfair and somewhat vague. As Qatar has not signed either of the UN statelessness conventions, this allows them to act unjustly on citizenship matters and with impunity.
Campaigns and response
In September 2018, and again in March 2019 some members of the Al-Ghufran tribe protested in Geneva. The first protest took place outside the UN, and the second protest took place during a conference held by Silatak Foundation. The conference was attended by Sheikha Moza Al-Musnid, the consort of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the former Emir of the State of Qatar. The group of Al-Ghufran activists distributed leaflets in front of the conference and demanded the international community take note of their plight.
NGO ‘Justice for Al-Gufran Tribe’ have also been campaigning to bring awareness to the plight of the tribe. Their website says they aim to highlight,
“The issue of denouncing Qatari nationality from Al Ghufran Al Murrah tribe and the law of nationality in Qatar has (have) negative effects in the near and long term on the safety, security and stability of the homeland.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will conduct the third review of Qatar’s human rights record on 15 May in Geneva in its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure.
Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch called for,
“The Qatari government should create a timely and transparent system to review the citizenship claims of members of Ghufran clan,”
“Qatar should follow the positive recent steps it’s taken in ratifying core human rights treaties and make sure the rights enshrined there are being respected.”