Amnesty International draws attention to abused Qatari workers

Credit: Courtesy of CMU Amnesty International Credit: Courtesy of CMU Amnesty International Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Hanna Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Hanna

Three years ago, human rights monitors discovered that there were pervasive human rights abuses of laborers in Qatar working on construction projects related to the 2022 World Cup, which is to be hosted in the Middle Eastern country. Many of these laborers are migrants from other countries, many in South Asia.

The laborers are “treated like cattle” according to Amnesty International. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that at least 4,000 migrant workers would die due to work-related incidents before the World Cup even starts. Amnesty International also found that workers may also not be getting paid on time, are forced to live in dirty and cramped conditions, have their passports confiscated by employers, are threatened for complaining about harsh working conditions, and have to pay high fees which reach into thousands of U.S. dollars to recruiters in exchange for a Qatari job.

Unfortunately, despite Qatar’s announcements of labor reforms two years ago, the abuses have continued into this year at various World Cup sites in Doha.

Because of the severity of this problem, Amnesty International at Cornell University, its sister organization at Carnegie Mellon University, and student groups from seven other universities in the U.S., Canada, and U.K., are delivering an open letter to each of their respective university presidents asking them to utilize the universities’ existing connections to Qatar satellite campuses to put pressure on Qatari authorities to put a binding labor reform plan into place before construction peaks in 2017.

All of the universities involved have satellite campuses in the Education City district of Doha, which is physically very close to where many of the labor abuses are taking place. In particular, the letter asks the university presidents to demand the labor reforms via the President’s Council, a forum among international universities in Qatar that is convened by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, a Qatari royal and high-profile surrogate for the Qatari government. Because the presidents of the universities serve on the council, they can potentially have considerable access and influence over people at the highest levels of the Qatari government.

The efforts of this petition were led by the Cornell chapter of Amnesty International. Christopher Hanna of Cornell University, the facilitator of the campaign, said he was encouraged to pursue this since Cornell’s former acting president had previously expressed a willingness to use the power of the President’s Council to pressure the Qatari government to respect the rights of political prisoners.

“The values that our universities claim to uphold ... everything from human rights to [equal] opportunity...aren’t being respected in Qatar,” Hanna said in an interview with The Tartan. Our universities have partnered with Qatar to establish cutting-edge academic programs in Education City, but they haven’t quite yet partnered up in promoting human rights and the rule of law.
He started this campaign over the summer and played a significant role in planning the cross-campus campaign and drafting the open letter. The letter contains a blueprint appended from Amnesty International’s report of specific labor reforms and includes reparations for workers who were victims of labor violations at Khalifa International Stadium.

One of the groups that was contacted for support in this campaign is Amnesty International at Carnegie Mellon, led by co-presidents Sam Bolig, a sophomore statistics major, and Jack Verser, a junior social and decision science major. “As students of Carnegie Mellon, we felt compelled to offer our support by presenting this open letter to our University President and the Dean of our campus in Qatar,” Bolig and Verser said in an interview with The Tartan.

Their hope is that President Suresh and the Ilker Baybours, Dean of the Qatari campus, will help raise awareness of the issue and present a united front against these abuses before World Cup construction peaks next year. “Ideally, these actions would create a movement toward reforming these horrific labor practices at the World Cup construction sites that would reach the Qatari government,” said the co-presidents.