During his trip to the World Cup host country Qatar and other Gulf States, Chancellor Scholz has to find clear words about the human rights violations in the region. A guest contribution by Regina Spöttl and Katja Müller-Fahlbusch (Amnesty International).
Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz is traveling to the Gulf region on September 24th and 25th – to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and of course Qatar. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), who is responsible for sports policy, will also travel to Qatar before the start of the soccer World Cup in November to get an idea of the situation on site. Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Robert Habeck were already there.
There is a lot to talk about in the region, not just since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the search for new energy sources. Qatar is a major player in the region. One that is needed. Qatari officials, for example, like to recall the role Qatar played in the evacuation of foreigners and threatened Afghans after the Taliban took power last year. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from Afghanistan with the help of the Emirates.
In the past, however, when political leaders traveled to the region, one thing was always missing: clear and public words about human rights violations in the respective country. Unfortunately, Qatar is no exception: in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi – other stops on the Chancellor’s trip – too often human rights were not a prominent topic in the past.
Against the background of the human rights situation in the three Gulf States, this is a gap that shouldn’t really exist: Saudi Arabia has already executed more than 120 people this year, 81 of them on a single day in March. People are arbitrarily arrested, tortured and sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials. Read here: Fifa gave a damn about human rights in Qatar – and now has to pay for it
Salma al-Shihab, a young Saudi activist, was recently sentenced to 34 years in prison for sharing tweets about women’s rights. The prison sentence is followed by a 34-year travel ban – the woman was simply deprived of an entire life of freedom.
Raif Badawi, a well-known blogger who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014, is currently serving a 10-year travel ban and is barred from visiting his family and children in Canada. Since Saudi Arabia took over the trial for the murder of Jamal Kashoggi this spring, nothing has been heard about the trial – which probably came as no surprise to anyone.
In both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, almost everyone who campaigns for human rights or criticizes the government is now in prison or has had to leave the country. Well-known human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2018. He is in solitary confinement; his family does not know his whereabouts. His “crime”? He had campaigned for democracy and human rights.
Human rights are not doing particularly well in Qatar either: Despite the initiated – and welcome – reforms, the rights of migrant workers continue to be systematically violated; Women are under a male guardian, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are severely restricted. As recently as May this year, two Qatari lawyers were sentenced to life imprisonment for criticizing laws and organizing public events.
So much to talk about for the chancellor. Of course, one thing is clear: the federal government is not a human rights organization; it operates in a complex mixture of the most varied of constraints. In such a mixed situation, however, a clear compass is required, which the federal government has also given itself: human rights.
“For us, the commitment to peace, freedom, human rights, democracy, the rule of law and sustainability is an indispensable part of a successful and credible foreign policy” – this is what the coalition agreement says.
However, this mission must not only take place behind closed doors and in confidential discussions. This is not only a requirement of transparency, it is also a requirement of logic. Because we know that without public pressure, little – too little – happens as a rule.
It is right when the federal government names positive reform steps, for example by the Qatar government, also to encourage and support reformist forces. However, such an approach only works in concert with objective and clear criticism where it is justified and necessary. This approach must not be shaken even when “hard interests” such as the search for new oil and gas suppliers come into play. Human rights must not be played off against strategic interests.
The coalition agreement states: “Human rights as the most important shield of the dignity of the individual form […] our compass.” As a human rights organization, we rely on this compass also being used in the talks in the Gulf States of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is used.
About the guest authors: Regina Spöttl has been with Amnesty International since 1979 and has been the Qatar expert for the human rights organization in Germany since 2011. Spöttl lived and worked in the Gulf region for many years.
Katja Müller-Fahlbusch is the senior Middle East and North Africa expert at Amnesty International in Germany.