Human Rights Watch confirmed that at least 28 members of Qatar’s Al-Ghufran tribe remain stateless as a collective punishment for past alleged wrongs. Without valid identity documents, they face restrictions on opening bank accounts, they are denied state jobs, and they are deprived of food, education, and energy subsidies as well as the free health care provided by the state to citizens. On top of that they are at risk of arbitrary detention and restricted freedom of movement.

Why Did Qatar Target Al-Ghufran?

Al-Ghufran clan is a branch of Al-Murra tribe, one of the largest tribes living in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

In February 1996, approximately 119 members of Al-Gufran clan supported an attempted counter-coup to reinstate Sheikh Khalifa Al- Thani, who had been deposed by his son, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani in June 1995.

By February 2000, 19 of the accused members of Al-Ghufran had been sentenced to death and 33 to life in prison. The rest were acquitted.

The Qatar government meted out collective punishment to the tribe when the Qatari Interior Ministry issued an administrative decree in 2004 stripping more than five thousand people, all from Al-Ghufran tribe, of their citizenship.

But the Qatar government nonetheless meted out collective punishment to the tribe four years later, when the Qatari Interior Ministry issued an administrative decree in 2004 stripping more than five thousand people, all from Al-Ghufran tribe, of their citizenship, according to Amnesty International.

Following the decree revoking their citizenship, government officials ordered thousands of Al-Ghufran members to leave Qatar. Many refused or sought to delay their departure. Further punitive measures followed: the state security apparatus closely monitored them, and the Qatari government cut off electricity and water supplies to their homes and denied them the right to work. 

The government also dismissed Al-Ghufran members from civil service and the military. 

Up to about 2,000 former Qatari citizens of Al-Ghufran tribe were forced to move to Saudi Arabia to live and work.

Between October 2004 and June 2005, the claims of thousands of members of Al-Murra tribe, whose citizenship had been revoked, were reviewed, case by case. Some reports indicate that the Qatari government restored citizenship to up to about 2,000 people, but the exact figures are still not clear.

The head of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee said that by 2008, ninety five percent of Al-Ghufran tribe had had their citizenship restored. But Al-Ghufran rights activists disputed his assertion.

Statelessness Lingers On

After all these years, at least 28 members of Al-Ghufran tribe are still stateless and are calling for their citizenship to be restored. 

On April 29, 2019, Human Rights Watch addressed a letter to Qatar’s Interior Ministry raising concern about Al-Ghafran’s stateless members. However, it did not receive any official response.

“Many Stateless members of Al-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 towards regaining their Qatari citizenship,” Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said.

Al Ghufran clan

Members of Al-Ghufran Tribe

“Al-Ghufran Qatari tribesmen are part of the original residents of Qatar and they have been subjected to arbitrary displacement due to oppressive political reasons. We demand that Al-Ghufran members regain their rights,” Jaber Al-Kehla, who was stripped of his Qatari citizenship, told the International Observatory of Human Rights.

Hamad Khaled Al Marri, another Al-Ghufran activist spoke at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council UNHRC in Geneva.

“Qatar did not deny its violations of Al-Ghufran tribe’s rights for the first time in twenty years, but it has been trying to justify these violations using the nationality law.”

Qatar’s Citizenship Law

Qatar’s 2005 nationality law allows an individual’s citizenship to be revoked if another nationality is acquired. Qatari authorities have argued that the early wave of Al-Ghufran members who were stripped of their citizenship were believed to have Saudi citizenship. 

Inside Arabia contacted the Qatari Embassy for comment, and it doubled down on this argument in the following statement. 

“The State of Qatar has always strived to uphold its commitments to human rights and international law, and takes complaints of any failure to meet these standards with utmost seriousness. Therefore we work very closely with the pertinent UN agencies and cooperate with all credible and established international human rights institutions. 

In the case of the referenced issue, the respective Qatari authorities received inquires [sic] from Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee in response to a request sent to the Committee by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the complaint made by some individuals who claimed that they had been stripped of the Qatari citizenship. 

After investigating these claims the Qatari authorities found that the individuals who have lodged the complaint either had dual citizenship which is prohibited by Qatari law, or did not have Qatari citizenship in the first place. We have written back to both the Qatar National Human Rights Committee and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights clarifying the aforementioned facts.”

The Embassy also attempted to impugn the credibility of the organization that lodged the formal complaint to the United Nations against the State of Qatar on September 15, 2017: the Arab-European Center for Human Rights and International Law. 

Because Qatar has not signed either of the UN Statelessness Conventions, activists assert that the Qatari government has been free to act unjustly and with impunity on citizenship matters.

Because Qatar has not signed either of the UN Statelessness Conventions, activists assert that the Qatari government has been free to act unjustly and with impunity on citizenship matters.

That, among other things may explain why, despite the many human rights abuses Qatar has been accused of, nation after nation lined up in May at the third UNHRC review of Qatar’s human rights record to laud its track record of human rights.

According to a count by UN Watch, 91 out of 104 countries that took the floor at that review praised Qatar for its human rights record.

The vast majority of countries ignored Qatar’s severe restrictions on many aspects of human rights such as forced labor and lack of free and fair elections, let alone stripping its own citizens of their legitimate nationality.

Nevertheless, after the third UNHRC review of Qatar’s human rights record on May 15, Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch called upon the Qatari government to “create a timely and transparent system to review the citizenship claims of members of Al-Ghufran Tribe.” Fakih added, “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.”

For Hamad Al Marri the struggle to restore Al Ghufran’s members’ citizenship has no time limit.

“We strongly believe that our legitimate right will not fade away as long as we keep demanding such right, and we are rallying diplomatic pressure on Qatar to secure a fair solution to our case.” 

Inside Arabia also contacted the Saudi Embassy several times for comment but received no response.