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Qatar blockade: Independent UN expert calls for it to end

Special rapporteur highlights how three-year blockade has negatively impacted lives and 'fundamental human rights'
The blockading countries have closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft
Blockading countries have closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft and sealed their borders and ports since 2017 (AFP/File photo)

An independent UN expert released a preliminary report calling on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to end their three-year blockade of Qatar. 

Alena Douhan, United Nations special rapporteur on the negative impact of sanctions on human rights, said the punitive sanctions levied against Doha breach human rights norms and should be lifted. 

During a news conference on Thursday, Douhan stressed that "unilateral measures" such as the blockade were illegal - unless they were authorised by the UN Security Council or used as countermeasures and "do not violate fundamental human rights". 

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"During my visit, I met a large number of victims of human rights violations caused by the sanctions, including couples in mixed marriages and their children, migrant workers who lost their jobs and benefits, Qatari nationals with jobs or businesses in the four countries that imposed the sanctions, and many others," said Douhan, following a two-week visit to Qatar. 

Led by Saudi Arabia, the quartet cut ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of backing "terrorist groups" and supporting Iran - a charge Doha has long denied. 

As part of the measures, the countries also expelled Qatari residents, closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft and sealed their borders and ports, separating some mixed-nationality families.

"With the closure of the United Arab Emirates ports to Qatari use and the Saudi land border, Qatar had to establish new trade routes and find alternative sources for basic commodities and medications for people living in Qatar, beyond the Gulf Cooperation Council," Douhan said.

'Immediately withdraw all sanctions'

Douhan urged the boycotting countries "to immediately withdraw all sanctions and measures aimed at establishing restrictions on freedom of expression, movement, access to property [and] trade barriers".

She also expressed "serious concern" over the treatment of Qataris expelled by the boycotting countries at the start of the crisis, which interrupted work and study, and warned that citizens of the boycotting countries living in Qatar had also been adversely affected by their nations' measures against Doha. 

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At the same time, Douhan praised Qatar for not taking retaliatory steps, saying she "received credible information that Qatar’s government has sought to alleviate the potential harm to many nationals of the Four States who wish to remain in Qatar". 

At the start of the crisis, the boycotting nations set 13 demands, including the closure of Al Jazeera Media Network, shuttering a Turkish military base, downgrading ties with Iran, and cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar had rejected the demands, calling them "unrealistic" and "not actionable", leading to a stalemate. 

Instead, Doha restored full diplomatic ties with Iran, with which it shares a massive offshore gas field that provides the peninsular nation with its wealth.

Like all UN experts, Douhan's work is independent and does not speak for the world body, however, her findings can be used to inform the work of UN organisations, including the rights council. 

The final report will be presented by Douhan to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2021.