Newcastle FC and “sportwashing”

FairSquare Director on Newcastle United and “sportswashing”

FairSquare director Nick McGeehan has used an article in openDemocracy to explore the implications of “sportswashing” for football and democracy, in the wake of the Premier League’s decision to agree to the takeover of Newcastle United FC by a consortium led by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The article offers potential lessons for Newcastle, drawn from the experience in Manchester, where Manchester City has since 2008 been owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group, an investment vehicle for the ruling Al Nahyan family.

“What we have seen in Manchester, and what we are now witnessing in Newcastle, is that the purchase and generous financing of a football club results in influential groups of people becoming invested in the success of your project. The investment can be political, in the case of MPs and councillors who don’t want to be voted out of office for going against what supporters want and who see opportunities for the regeneration of dilapidated areas of the city. (Manchester’s Abu Dhabi-financed regeneration resulted in the construction of a load of luxury flats that have reportedly exacerbated inequality in a city facing a homelessness crisis.) The investment can also be commercial, in the cases of the businesses that will profit from the petrodollars poured into the city or the newspapers and broadcasters that fear a backlash if they delve too deeply into allegations of the new owners’ involvement in torture, or war crimes, or child slavery, or even pre-meditated murder.”

McGeehan argues that, “for football and for the UK in particular, the takeover is but a microcosm of a far wider and deeper issue of how dark money has taken hold of the island”.

In April 2020 FairSquare called on the Premier League to disqualify the takeover attempt, in line with the requirements of its Owners’ and Directors’ Test.

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Qatar: Ensure Fair Trial of Ex-Qatar 2022 Official

Qatar: Ensure Fair Trial of Ex-Qatar 2022 Official

Qatari authorities should ensure a fair trial for a 35-year-old Jordanian man who is appealing a five-year prison sentence for offenses including misuse of funds and bribery, Human Rights Watch and FairSquare said today. The lower court trial of Abdullah Ibhais, which concluded in April 2021, ignored credible allegations that his confession, the basis of the prosecution’s case, was obtained via intimidation and coercion. A third and possibly final session in his appeal hearing is scheduled for October 6.

Ibhais previously was media and communications director for Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, and the case relates to allegations that he sought a bribe for awarding a contract. Ibhais told Human Rights Watch and FairSquare that he believes the charges were in retaliation for his criticism of the handling of a migrant workers’ strike in Qatar in August 2019, which Human Rights Watch and documented at the time.

“Qatari authorities appear to have robbed Abdullah Ibhais of his right to a fair trial in proceedings that raise serious concerns about Qatar’s justice system,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately investigate allegations that his confession was coerced and whether the Supreme Committee used the justice system to retaliate against an employee for internal criticism.”

Human Rights Watch and FairSquare examined the court judgment and testimony by four witnesses and other case documents. The judgment indicates that Ibhais’s confession was central to his conviction of “bribery,” “violation of the integrity of tenders and profits,” and “intentional damage to public funds,” for which he received a five-year prison sentence and a fine of 150,000 Qatari riyals (US$41,197) on April 29.

The court ignored the defendant’s allegations that Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officers denied him access to legal counsel during his interrogation and coerced him into signing this confession, which his lawyer argued in court should be thrown out.

The analysis of the court documents and testimony suggests that the rest of the evidence against Ibhais is vague, circumstantial, and in some cases contradictory.

The charges against Ibhais and two other defendants – his brother, who lives in Turkey, and another Turkish man – relate to a Supreme Committee tender for social media services. Ibhais told Human Rights Watch and FairSquare that on the morning of November 12, 2019, the Supreme Committee’s Human Resources director called Ibhais to a meeting where six police officers wearing Qatari traditional robes were waiting to speak to him.

The officers refused to say who they were or why they wanted to speak to him, although he later learned they were from the CID. The officers took him to the CID offices in Duhail, in northern Doha, where officers handcuffed him.

During his interrogation that afternoon, Ibhais said, he was denied access to a lawyer. Ibhais said that one officer told him that “we’ll break his leg [the lawyer’s] before he enters this facility” and the officer leading the interview told him, “You don’t get to ask for a lawyer here.” A third officer said, “Either you sign a confession here or we send you to state security, where they know how to get a confession out of you.”

The officers told him that if he signed, he could go home. When Ibhais refused, one of the officers said, “We will keep you there for six months, and nobody will know where you are.” At that point, he said, he agreed to sign.

The short confession said that he had awarded a Supreme Committee tender to a Turkish bidder in return for Turkish citizenship. He said he told the officer that the confession made no sense because the Supreme Committee hadn’t accepted any of the bids and that he had proof that all bids were rejected.

After signing the confession, he said, the officers drove him home, told him to sign a consent form to search his house, and confiscated phones, laptops, and tablets. They did not let him see his wife or children, then they took him to the CID offices in Duhail, where they placed him in a six-by-four meter cell with 12 to 14 other detainees.

The following morning, he said, police took him to the state security prosecutor, where he was again interviewed and denied access to a lawyer or permission to call his wife. Ibhais said that three men from the state security prosecutor’s office interviewed him that afternoon. One of the men said, “Do you think you are in an American movie? This is state security. You answer yes or no, and that’s it.” The prosecutor read out the confession and asked him to confirm that it was his.

He said that it was but that he had only signed it because he was pressured to. The prosecutor said that there were further charges against him but that if he confessed to the misuse of public funds, he could be removed from state security custody and have a defense lawyer, he said. He signed the second confession, he said, because he was “horrified by the possibility of a state security prosecution.”

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which visited Qatar in 2019, criticized article 7 of Qatar’s State Security Service Law (No. 5 of 2003), which allows detention for up to six months for vague offenses such as, “activities which are harmful to the security and stability of the state and its relationships with other countries.”

The Working Group noted that it had received “credible allegations of prolonged detention without judicial control and of ill-treatment” at state security detention facilities, which Qatar prevented it from visiting. Human rights organizations have previously documented instances in which confessions have been extracted through torture and ill-treatment in Qatari detention.

Ibhais did not receive any legal assistance until November 21, nine days after his initial arrest.

Ibhais said he finally saw a lawyer hired by his wife on November 21 and was released on December 21, after paying bail of 3,000 Qatari riyals ($824). Before his trial began on January 19, 2021, Ibhais was represented by three lawyers, but none were able to secure copies of the case file or see the evidence against him. Ibhais applied for copies of his case file via the public prosecutor’s online system on July 6, and December 8, 2020, but the public prosecutor refused without explanation. Human Rights Watch and FairSquare have seen documentation of these refusals.

On January 18, Ibhais received an email from the Court of First Instance telling him to attend the first session of his trial the following day. At the time, he had no legal representation, and was compelled to hire a lawyer the same day. His lawyer applied for a copy of his case file on January 19 and received the file shortly after. Hearings were held on January 19, February 2, February 17, and March 4.

At the March 4 session, he said, the judge abruptly terminated proceedings and announced that he would issue a judgment on April 19. Ibhais said he was given no opportunity to address the court. The judge denied a motion from his lawyer to present the defense’s case.

The court found Ibhais guilty of misuse of public funds, bribery, collusion to commit bribery, and causing harm to the Supreme Committee. The court convicted his brother in absentia and acquitted the third defendant, whom Ibhais says he does not know nor has never met.  

The court rejected Ibhais’s plea to invalidate the confession on the basis that it was extracted under threat and coercion and during interrogations that denied him the presence of a lawyer. The court said it has full discretion “to decide whether a confession is valid or not at any stage of the investigations” regardless of whether the accused recants the confession in court. The court stated that it was assured of the authenticity of the confession and that it was made voluntarily.    

Other aspects of the judgment raise serious concerns. It refers to testimony from nine witnesses, but Ibhais said that only four witnesses appeared in court. The judgment states that Ibhais and his co-defendant intended to “award the tender” to a bidder in return for a bribe, but the court record indicates that three of the witnesses said it was not in Ibhais’s power to do so and described procedures that would have made it impossible for him to decisively influence a tender decision. The court recognized that the tender was not awarded to the company from whom it was alleged that Ibhais had solicited a bribe.

No fair trial is possible when defendants do not have full access to their lawyers or prompt access to the evidence against them, and time and resources to prepare for trial, or if evidence obtained under duress is used to convict them, Human Rights Watch and FairSquare said.

“Sending a key staff member for the World Cup’s Supreme Committee to languish in prison following a grossly unfair trial could cast a dark cloud over the event,” said Nicholas McGeehan, founding director at FairSquare Research and Projects.

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Kenyan labour rights activist leaves Qatar after paying hefty fine for publishing “false news”

Joint statement: Kenyan labour rights activist leaves Qatar after paying hefty fine for publishing “false news”

Malcolm Bidali, a Kenyan national, who was forcibly disappeared by Qatari authorities on 4 May and held in solitary confinement for a month, has finally been allowed to leave the country after paying a hefty fine for his human rights activism. The 28-year-old is a security guard, blogger and activist, who has been vocal about the plight of migrant workers like himself, and has written for a number of online platforms.

On 14 July, Qatar’s Supreme Judiciary Council handed down a criminal order stating Malcolm Bidali had broadcast and published “false news with the intent of endangering the public system of the state” under Article 6 of the controversial cybercrime law arising purely from the exercise of his right to freedom of expression. The charges violate international human rights law and standards and particularly the right to freedom of expression, and as such the Qatari authorities should take immediate steps to have the unjust ‘conviction’ quashed. Malcolm was ordered to pay a fine of QR25,000 (approximately US $6,800), as well as having his personal mobile confiscated and his social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram (@NoahArticulates) through which “the crime was committed”, blocked.

Throughout his detention Malcolm Bidali was denied access to legal counsel. The criminal order was handed down without him ever having been formally charged, brought before a court or even informed of the nature of the criminal charges he was facing, even after he obtained access to a lawyer following his conditional release on 31 May.

Although dated 14 July, Malcolm Bidali was only made aware of the criminal order on 27 July 2021, two weeks after it was issued, leaving only one day to appeal the decision. An organization working on the rights of migrant workers paid the fine and he was allowed to leave Qatar on 16 August.

Speaking after leaving, Malcolm Bidali said:

“I’m extremely fortunate to have gotten out (relatively) unscathed, given the selection of charges levelled against me. Outrageous charges, and an even more outrageous fine, for simply sharing our lived experiences and pointing out shortcomings of the specific entities responsible for workers’ welfare, none of which translates to ‘misinformation’.

“What I learnt from this was that a) free speech is expensive, and b) free speech is immensely effective. The latter is why so many activists and advocates do what they do, despite the very real risks involved. It’s an honour for me to be counted as one.

“I’d like to thank all involved from the moment I was detained, all the way to my release.”

Amnesty International, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, FairSquare, Human Rights Watch and, a coalition of civil society organizations that have advocated on Malcolm Bidali’s behalf since his detention, welcomed the news of his departure from Qatar after almost four months, but remain concerned that his treatment stemmed solely from his legitimate human rights activism, and what this means for other migrant workers and freedom of expression more widely. The coalition calls on Qatar to urgently reform its judicial processes, including the cybercrime law that has been used against Malcolm. The coalition said:

“While we are relieved that Malcolm Bidali’s ordeal is over and he has finally been able to leave Qatar, he should never have been detained in the first place. It has been clear all along that he was being penalized for his human rights activism, and this unjust ‘conviction’ for spreading ‘false information’ only confirms that.

“Malcolm’s abduction, forced disappearance, detention, interrogation and hefty fine – all carried out without due process – risk leaving a chilling legacy on freedom of expression in Qatar. If the government is serious about protecting human rights ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it must stop using abusive laws to criminalize those who dare to speak up in the country, including about the dire treatment of the very migrant workers making the tournament possible. The abuse and exploitation Malcolm wrote about through his blogs and social media accounts has been well documented by human rights and labour rights organizations over many years.”


The detention and conviction of Malcolm Bidali was beset with a raft of due process violations from the moment of his arrest.

On 4 May, Malcolm was taken at the request of the Qatari authorities from his labour accommodation to the state security office for questioning. He was then forcibly disappeared by state security services for almost a month. During this time, the authorities refused to reveal Malcolm’s whereabouts to his family or explain why he had been detained, despite repeated requests for information from his mother and human rights and labour rights organizations. On 12 May, Qatari authorities acknowledged that Malcolm Bidali was in their custody, but would not disclose his location.

An enforced disappearance is a crime under international law, which, according to the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances, occurs when any person is arrested or otherwise detained by agents of the state, “followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place(s) such a person outside the protection of the law.”

Following his enforced disappearance, the Qatari authorities held Malcolm Bidali in solitary confinement for 26 days, until his conditional release from custody on 31 May.

On 20 May, Qatari state security services permitted Malcolm to call his mother, following an intervention by the Kenyan ambassador in Qatar. In the 10-minute phone call, he assured his mother that he had not been harmed but was unable to tell her where he was being held or why. He said he was being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and that he had no legal representation. He also told his mother that two officers were present as he made the call.

During his detention, Qatari interrogators repeatedly questioned Malcolm without the presence of a lawyer and made him sign multiple papers in Arabic, a language he does not understand, without written translation.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Qatar is obligated to ensure that everyone has the right to due process, and that no one is arbitrarily detained or subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The right to due process includes the right of all suspects or accused to have access to and assistance of legal counsel from the outset of any criminal investigation and throughout questioning. The Special Rapporteur on torture has recommended that anyone who has been arrested “should be given access to legal counsel no later than 24 hours after the arrest”.

Further, the ICCPR and the Convention Against Torture, to which Qatar is also a state party, prohibits the use in court of any evidence obtained through coercion, which includes, but is not limited to, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Prolonged solitary confinement – as Malcolm Bidali was subjected to – can constitute torture. Under international law, as reflected in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), solitary confinement can be used “only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible”. Further, as the UN special rapporteur on torture described in 2020, prolonged solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is considered a form of torture, and is therefore also a form of prohibited coercion.

As such, Qatar should have excluded from court proceedings any “evidence” gathered while Malcolm Bidali was being held in solitary confinement.

On 29 May, Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO) released a statement to the press saying Malcolm Bidali had “been officially charged with offences related to payment received from a foreign agent for the creation and distribution of disinformation within the State of Qatar”.

However, Malcolm was not aware of any charges brought against him and when he was conditionally released two days later on 31 May, told his mother he would be free to leave the country. Since then, he was prohibited from travelling and did not receive any official charge sheet. The GCO statement also said that Malcolm was “receiving legal advice and representation”, although that was not the case until he left detention.

Indeed, when Malcolm was finally presented with official record of charges against him, they did not relate to receipt of payments from foreign agents, but rather to his online activism.

The right to due process also includes the right to be informed promptly after arrest, and in a language the accused understands, of the nature of charges faced. This is critical to the effective exercise of the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention. Once formal charges are brought, the accused has the right to be given sufficiently detailed information about the charges to enable them to prepare their defence. This includes information about the law under which they are charged and the alleged facts which form the basis of the accusation. According to UN Human Rights Council General Comment 32, “The right to be informed of the charge “promptly” requires that information be given as soon as the person concerned is formally charged with a criminal offence under domestic law, or the individual is publicly named as such.”

On 28 July, Malcolm Bidali was presented with a criminal order from Qatar’s Supreme Judiciary Council, however up until this point he had not been informed, whether formally or informally, of the charges or allegations against him. The order was dated 14 July but was not relayed to Malcolm or his lawyer until two weeks later, leaving him with just one day to appeal. It stated that after reviewing “evidence and all the papers and documents accompanied by it”, it found Malcolm had “established and published false news with the intent of endangering the public system of the state” – “criminal” acts which it says are punishable under Article 6 of the Cyber Crime Prevention Law of 2014. Article 6 carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of QAR 500,000 (approximately US $137,000) for anyone who “through an information network or an information technology technique sets up or runs a website to publish false news to threaten the safety and security of the State or its public order or domestic and foreign security.” Anyone who “promotes, disseminates or publishes in any way such false news for the same purpose” can be punished with up to a year in prison and a fine of QAR 250,000 (US $68,000).

Multiple credible organizations have called on Qatar to repeal or significantly amend the cybercrime law under which Malcolm was charged. When the law was published in 2014, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists stated that, “this law is ostensibly to stop cybercrime but at least two articles [including Article 6] will severely restrict freedom of expression, which is not a crime”. Amnesty International raised particular concerns about provisions on “false news” and said the law contained “broad and vaguely-worded provisions that fly in the face of international standards”. The governments of France, Czechia, Sweden and Austria all called on Qatar in its 2019 Universal Periodic Review to make amendments to the law to bring it into compliance with international standards on free expression.

More recently, Qatar amended the penal code introducing vaguely worded provisions criminalizing a broad range of speech and publishing activities further restricting freedom of expression in Qatar. This is contrary to the ICCPR, which Qatar received international praise for joining in 2018, Article 19 of which guarantees the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

After arriving in Qatar in 2018, Malcolm Bidali had been on the front line of the fight to reform Qatar’s labour laws, including by writing about his experiences as a migrant worker in the country. Malcolm tweeted about labour abuses in Qatar using a pseudonym and a week before his arrest, gave a presentation to a large group of civil society organizations and trade unions about his experiences working in Qatar.

On 26 April 2021, a Twitter user tagged Malcolm Bidali in a tweet containing a graphic which Human Rights Watch had used for an August 2020 report about wage abuse in Qatar. The tweet also contained what appeared to be a YouTube link to a Human Rights Watch publication. However, according to Amnesty International’s analysis, the link led to a suspicious URL capable of recording the IP address and other data about the person who clicked on it. This is a social engineering tactic known as phishing, and may have been used to identify or locate Malcolm. State security forces detained him on 4 May, barely a week after the phishing attack.

Under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, governments must actively protect human rights defenders from harm. They have an obligation to put in place social and legal structures to create environments that are safe and supportive for human rights defenders to carry out their work.

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Qatar and FIFA should respond to boycott calls with action

Qatar and FIFA should respond to boycott calls with action

Image courtesy of The Workers Cup film

In light of an investigation by The Guardian newspaper which detailed a troubling rate and number of unexplained migrant worker deaths in Qatar, FairSquare is calling on the Qatari authorities to put in place a series of protective measures to better protect the lives of low-paid migrant workers in the country.

The Guardian’s reporting has prompted supporters groups in Norway and Germany to call for their national teams to boycott Qatar 2022. Qatar has responded to The Guardian by saying that “the mortality rate among these [migrant worker] communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that boycotts are “not the right approach” and that “engagement and dialogue is the only and the best way forward to make changes happen.” 

Individuals and organisations will form their own views about what approach to take. However, whatever position football associations choose to adopt on boycotts, it is undoubtedly the case that supporters making these calls are expressing legitimate concerns about issues of life and death. These should be taken seriously. The Qatari authorities should respond to supporters’ concerns with action on the issue of worker deaths, rather than making broad-brush, unsubstantiated claims. FIFA should make the case for such action publicly.

The Guardian found that there have been 6,750 deaths of migrants from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Qatar since 2010. It found that 69% of those deaths were effectively unexplained, as they did not include any reference to the underlying cause of death, instead using terms such as “natural causes” or “cardiac arrest.”

These findings are consistent with those of a diverse range of credible organisations that point to serious failings on this issue. In 2014, the Government of Qatar commissioned a major report by the law firm DLA Piper which found that the number of deaths attributed to cardiac arrest was “seemingly high” and recommended that the government commission an independent study into the issue. There is no evidence that any such investigation ever took place. In 2017, Human Rights Watch made a series of recommendations in relation to migrant worker deaths, calling on the Qatari authorities to: release data; conduct investigations; reform laws to protect workers from heat; and perform autopsies. None of these recommendations have ever been implemented. 

There are myriad factors that any investigation into unexplained deaths should consider, including working and living conditions, nutrition, air quality, and heat. In July 2019, a peer-reviewed paper published in Cardiology journal, authored by cardiologists, epidemiologists and heat-stress specialists, concluded that as many as 200 of 571 deaths of Nepalese workers in Qatar between 2009 and 2017 could have been prevented “if effective heat protection had been implemented as a part of local occupational health and safety programs.” In October 2019, a FAME laboratory report for the ILO and Qatari authorities found that the government’s existing heat measures – a blunt summer working hours ban – was “insufficient” to prevent heat stress. The ban was subsequently extended but remains demonstrably inadequate. As the FAME report detailed, the Supreme Committee has implemented heat mitigation measures on World Cup stadium projects additional to those afforded to the rest of the country’s workforce. Supreme Committee projects account for between 2 and 3 percent of all construction workers in Qatar. Nevertheless, deaths on Supreme Committee projects fall into a similar pattern, with many unexplained deaths of relatively young men, with no evidence of underlying health conditions.

In June 2019, FairSquare asked FIFA, in a letter, to call publicly on the Qatari authorities to commission an independent investigation into worker deaths. We provided analysis of the then available data on worker deaths and suggested that if the annual death rate was typical, the unexplained death toll in Qatar would far exceed 3000 since the country won the right to host the tournament in 2010. The Guardian’s 2021 reporting suggests the unexplained death toll exceeds 5,000. In 2020, FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory board said there was an “urgent need for FIFA to act” on concerns about “the number and nature of “non-work-related deaths” occurring in connection with FWC 2022 construction and more broadly in the country”, noting the lack of transparency on this issue beyond data presented by the Supreme Committee.

The Government of Qatar’s official response to The Guardian’s investigation was that “the mortality rate among these [migrant worker] communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.” The statement asserts that, “there has been a consistent decline in the mortality rate as a result of the health and safety reforms we have introduced” and that, “as part of our efforts to reduce the mortality rate further, we have raised awareness of health risks such as smoking and an unhealthy diet.”

Qatar has never responded to repeated requests for data on this issue over many years, thereby precluding any useful or informed comparison of mortality statistics. More critically, it has failed to instigate a detailed investigation into migrant worker deaths without which it will be impossible to understand precisely how these workers are dying and what needs to be done to prevent more deaths.

Labour reform programme
Concerns about the rights of workers in Qatar have extended beyond the issue of worker deaths. Qatar entered into a programme of technical assistance with the International Labour Organization in 2017. Since then it has made a series of reforms, including abolishing the exit permit, introducing new processes for workers seeking compensation for wage theft, setting a national minimum wage, and passing a law giving domestic workers some labour rights in law. Of particular note is Qatar’s 2020 removal of restrictions on migrant workers changing jobs without their employer’s permission – the key element of its kafala system. 

While these and other measures certainly have the potential to transform its labour system, nevertheless there remain serious concerns around progress with implementation of several of these reforms. We draw attention to the analysis of groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and, which provide credible and informed independent analysis. In particular:

Human Rights Watch’s August 2020 report which found that despite recent labour reforms, employers in Qatar still “frequently delay, withhold, or arbitrarily deduct workers’ wages…  often withhold contractually guaranteed overtime payments and end-of service benefits, and … regularly violate their contracts with migrant workers with impunity.” In the worst cases, workers told Human Rights Watch that employers simply stopped paying their wages, and they often struggled to feed themselves. 

Amnesty International’s November 2020 progress report, which concluded that Qatar “must ensure full implementation and enforcement of the reforms introduced to date, get serious about holding abusive employers to account, and take action to address major weaknesses in key areas” and “must also give particular attention to the situation faced by the country’s domestic workers, who face severe and widespread abuse away from the spotlight of the World Cup.”

– A report by from January 2021 detailing concerns about the implementation of the key September 2020 kafala reform, seemingly driven by the government’s desire to pre-empt a backlash from the country’s business community, which opposed the reform. Amnesty, among others, have raised concerns about recent proposals by Qatar’s Shura Council which would largely undo the kafala reform if they were approved.

– The Qatar country report published by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism at the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2020. The report describes how, in Qatar “nationality and national origin entrench de facto castes among non-nationals according to which European, North American, Australian and Arab nationalities systematically enjoy greater human rights protections than South Asian and sub-Saharan African nationalities.” She also found that there is a “stratification of quality of life according to nationality and national origin” on a scale that “raises serious concerns of structural racial discrimination against non-nationals in Qatar.”

With respect to the deaths of migrant workers, Qatar should commit to transparently implementing, as soon as possible, the recommendations provided by Human Rights Watch in their September 2017 report on construction related deaths in Qatar:

– Release data on migrant worker deaths for the past five years, broken down by age, gender, occupation, and cause of death;
– Immediately replace the summer working hours ban with a legally binding requirement that employers adequately minimize the heat-stress risk to workers, including the prohibition of work at all times of unacceptable heat risk;
– Amend Law No. 2 of 2012 on Autopsy of Human Bodies to require medical examinations and allow forensic investigations, including autopsies if necessary, into all sudden or unexplained deaths; and
– Pass legislation to require that all death certificates include reference to a medically meaningful cause of death, such as a trauma, a disease, or a pathological process.

Qatar should also conduct a broader investigation into unexplained migrant worker deaths and include in its scope at a minimum the impact on workers’ health of poor housing, long working hours, the effectiveness of pre-departure medical examinations, and heat. 

In relation to labour reforms, the Government should move to implement the recommendations made by Amnesty International in its November 2020 progress report.

The unexplained deaths of migrant worker deaths are an issue of serious concern across the Gulf region. In January 2021, FairSquare launched a new research initiative into the deaths of Asian migrant workers in all six GCC countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The project will report later in 2021.

Download this statement in PDF

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Premier League: Adopt Human Rights Policy

Premier League: Adopt Human Rights Policy

Credit: J. Pellgen

The English Premier League should respect human rights throughout all of its operations, including as it evaluates a bid by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to acquire Newcastle United FC, Human Rights Watch and FairSquare Projects said today. The Premier League and the Football Association should consider adopting a comprehensive human rights policy in line with the policy put in place by FIFA in 2017.

Human Rights Watch, in June 2020, and FairSquare, in April, separately wrote to the Premier League CEO, Richard Masters, outlining concerns around the prospective purchase by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The Premier League’s short responses, which contained identical language, failed to engage with the concerns raised about whether the buyer met the league’s own tests for prospective owners. The league also did not say whether it was taking Saudi Arabia’s human rights record into account when considering the sale, stating only that the sale to a “company based in Saudi Arabia” was subject to due processes that “cannot be conducted in public and on which we cannot comment.”

“The Premier League shouldn’t leave FIFA’s human rights policy to one side and ignore Saudi human rights abuses as it considers the sale of one of its clubs to the country’s sovereign wealth fund,” said Benjamin Ward, United Kingdom director at Human Rights Watch. “Adopting a comprehensive human rights policy and including human rights as a criterion for evaluating potential buyers of football clubs would set a positive example.”

On July 6, the United Kingdom introduced a new global human rights sanctions regime which included asset freezes and travel bans for 20 Saudi men connected to the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Those designated include Saud al-Qahtani, a former close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is chairman of the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

The Saudi fund made its bid to acquire Newcastle United in January, but the Premier League has been considering the sale since then. On June 30, Masters appeared before the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee and said the potential sale was “complicated,” adding that, “when [approval processes] drag on sometimes there is a requirement for information.” It is unclear what information Masters was referencing.

Saudi Arabia has faced unprecedented scrutiny over its human rights abuses since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017. A November 2019 Human Rights Watch report “The High Cost of Change: Repression under Saudi Crown Prince Tarnishes Reform” documented how Mohammed bin Salman’s elevation to crown prince coincided with a reorganization of the country’s prosecution service and security apparatus, the primary tools of Saudi repression, placing them directly under the royal court’s oversight.

The Saudi authorities then began a series of arrest campaigns targeting independent clerics, public intellectuals, and prominent women’s rights activists. Women’s rights activists and others targeted have reported that the authorities tortured them in detention. Saudi Arabia is a UK Foreign Office priority country because of its poor human rights record.

In June 2019, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, released the findings of her investigation into the Khashoggi killing. Callamard found evidence that responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder extends beyond the 11 people tried for the murder in Saudi Arabia, and that the mission to execute Khashoggi required “significant government coordination, resources, and finances.” The special rapporteur determined that there is credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, for their role in the murder.

The crown prince also has served as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister since 2015, and since March 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that have bombed homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques. Some of these attacks may amount to war crimes. In November 2018, during Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit, the Argentine judiciary took steps to formally investigate his possible responsibility for war crimes in Yemen and alleged torture of Saudi citizens.

The Premier League already has a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all of its operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out these responsibilities, including the expectation that businesses will adopt specific policies and conduct due diligence to identify any risks of contributing to human rights harms. Such harm may include conferring reputational benefits that help cover up human rights abuses. The Premier League’s current handbook does not include human rights under its “owners and directors test,” even though ownership of prominent football clubs by state entities or individuals close to state leaders is on the rise throughout Europe.

Under pressure from activists, fans, and sponsors, in 2017, FIFA amended its statutes, setting up a Human Rights Advisory Board and adopting a landmark Human Rights Policy that states “Human rights commitments are binding on all FIFA bodies and officials.” The new policy mandates that bidders to host FIFA events must map all human rights risks and provide a strategy to address them. It states that FIFA will embed respect for human rights in its member associations.

“The drawn-out saga of the Newcastle takeover bid has exposed the inadequacies of the Premier League’s current arrangements for assessing and managing human rights risks” said James Lynch, founding director of FairSquare. “A rigorous policy, drafted in good faith and with full institutional support for implementation, would go a long way to protecting the league in future.”

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Premier League should reject Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle FC

Call to disqualify proposed Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United FC

Credit: POMED

The Saudi-backed bid to take over Newcastle United FC should not be allowed to proceed, FairSquare has told the Premier League. In a letter to the League’s Chief Executive, the organisation argues that the conduct of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince – including in relation to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 – should be enough to disqualify the bid:

“Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, the chairman of the Public Investment Fund, presents a demonstrable threat to the vitality, integrity and reputation of the English game and to the future of Newcastle United. We would encourage the Premier League to take this opportunity to outline a clear position in this regard, and one that prevents governments from taking control of English football clubs and running them for political ends.”

FairSquare finds that the Newcastle takeover bid fails the Premier League Owner and Director test on two grounds: under paragraph F1.6 in relation to the conduct of Mohamed bin Salman; and secondly under paragraph F1.2, with regard to Newcastle’s relationship with Sheffield United FC, in relation to the “power to determine or influence the management or administration of another Club.”

The human rights organisation has encouraged the Premier League to consult with UN experts, including those who investigated the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and has offered to arrange a a private briefing from credible independent experts, including Saudi Arabian nationals.

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Liverpool FC and worker deaths in Qatar

Liverpool FC backs FairSquare call for investigations into worker deaths in Qatar

Credit: The Workers Cup film

Liverpool Football Club have supported calls by FairSquare for thorough investigations into the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar.

In a letter to FairSquare, ahead of Liverpool’s appearance at the Club World Cup in Qatar, the club’s Chief Executive said:

“Like any responsible organisation, we support your assertion that any and all unexplained deaths should be investigated thoroughly and that bereaved families should receive the justice they deserve.”

FairSquare had written to Liverpool in November raising serious concerns about the hundreds of migrant workers who die every year in Qatar, with new evidence linking their deaths to heat stress. Liverpool also told FairSquare the club has sought assurances from the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is organising the tournament and the 2022 World Cup, about the progress of investigations into the deaths of two men who had been working on the construction of football stadiums.
Nick McGeehan, director of FairSquare, has welcomed Liverpool’s intervention:

“In their detailed expression of support for investigations into worker deaths and compensation for families, Liverpool have demonstrated more clarity of thought than Fifa and all of their sponsors put together.”

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