Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, at the time emir of Qatar, addresses the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2012. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Qatar Deprives Group of Citizenship in Move Emblematic of Regional Trend

‘It’s like I don’t exist,’ says member of Ghufran clan

The Qatari government is depriving members of the Ghufran clan of key human rights, having stripped them of their citizenship over the course of a decade since several of its members were involved in a 1996 coup, leaving them stateless, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The revocations were carried out arbitrarily, without publicly issuing any court decisions or decrees mandating it, without formally informing the affected families of the decision, and without offering them the chance to appeal or challenge it,” Hiba Zayadin, an assistant researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division of HRW, told The Media Line.

The stateless persons have been deprived of the right to obtain “decent work, access to health care, education, marriage and start a family, own property, and freedom of movement,” the reports says, adding that they encounter “restrictions opening bank accounts and acquiring driver’s licenses.”

Ben Saul, a professor of international law at the University of Sydney, stressed to The Media Line: “Rendering a person stateless is a violation of international law.”

Despite moves by Qatar in 2006 to restore citizenship to many members of the clan, the status of some families has yet to be rectified.

HRW interviewed numerous stateless members of the community. One of them, an unnamed 56-year-old man whose citizenship, along with that of his five children, was revoked in 2004, said: “I have no property in my name, no house, no income, no health card; I can’t even open a bank account. It’s like I don’t even exist.”

Drewery Dyke, chairperson of the London-based Rights Realization Centre, explained to The Media Line just how crucial citizenship is.

“It’s the key that unlocks human rights protection,” he said.

Several clan representatives told HRW that the revocations were collective punishment related to the failed 1996 coup against then-emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, in which some members of the clan participated. Although citizenship was revoked in some cases almost right away, most revocations occurred in 2004, when the Qatari government canceled the citizenship of 5,000 to 6,000 members of the clan, according to US State Department reports and Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee.

The Qatari government has asserted that those stripped of citizenship were also Saudi nationals, although all the clan members interviewed by rights workers denied this. Dual citizenship is prohibited under Qatar’s nationality law, as well as in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Qatar is not the only country in the region to cancel citizenships en masse. According to Dyke, it is a well-documented method used to crush dissent in the region.

“It was prominent in Syria, Iraq and Iran in the 1970s, with the Kurds, but today it’s more prevalent in the Gulf, particularly in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. There are thousands of ‘Bedoon,’ the Arabic word for stateless people, literally meaning ‘without nationality,’” Dyke said.

One such Bedoon from Kuwait, Mohamed Al Badry, told The Media Line that his heritage hindered him from receiving Kuwaiti citizenship.

“I’m from the Enezah tribe, and when the number of people in the desert tribes in Kuwait increased, the government revoked our citizenships. They believed we have Iraqi roots, and if our presence increased, we could eventually be represented politically in the future,” he said.

Moreover, Badry didn’t know he was stateless until he was in secondary school.

“In 1983, they put in my school records that I’m a non-Kuwaiti. I was shocked. Three years later, they withdrew my rights as a Kuwait citizen. When I applied to university, they told me they wouldn’t accept me because I was stateless. I couldn’t find a job. I eventually left before the Iraqi invasion [of 1990],” he said.

Badry moved to Iraq, then Jordan and the Netherlands, and finally settled in the United Kingdom in 2000, where he became a Bedoon activist beginning in 2005.

Michiel Hoornick, a program officer at the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, told The Media Line that the phenomenon was most prevalent in Bahrain, largely due to people with Bedoon status being accused of disloyalty to the state.

“In April [of this year], 138 people were stripped of their nationality after a mass trial because of alleged links to Iran. Since 2012, the total was around a thousand, either because of court decisions or because of decrees by the king. While at the end of April, 551 people had regained their citizenship, it is still very concerning,” Hoornick said.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has pledged to end statelessness by 2024, and is conducting a major awareness campaign called #IBelong.

HRW’s Zayadin said it was vital for the international community to act, especially regarding the Al-Ghufran clan in Qatar.

“International bodies, media organizations and allies should use their leverage to push Qatar to demonstrate its commitment [to reform], to prove it is not just empty rhetoric,” she said.

“One way to do that is to right a wrong that took place more than a decade ago but is still [causing] suffering today,” she added.

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