Qatar Group to Pursue Damages Tied to Saudi-Led Blockade

  • Foreign workers in isolated Gulf state forced to return home
  • Group seeks international law firm, wants meeting with UN

A Qatari human-rights group plans to take legal action over what it says are damages to citizens and the economy from the Saudi-led blockade of the gas-rich Gulf state.

Ali bin Smaikh Al Marri, chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, told reporters in Doha that the group is shopping for an international law firm to take the case, and is soliciting a meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri

Photographer: Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

In a surprise move, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and trade links with Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, on June 5. Qatar’s neighbors accuse it of destabilizing the region by supporting proxies of Shiite Muslim Iran and the Sunni militants of al-Qaeda and Islamic State, charges the sheikdom has denied.

The measures have disrupted food and material imports, and many foreign workers -- who comprise a majority of the tiny emirate’s population of about 2.6 million -- are being forced to return to their home countries. Citizens of the four Gulf countries were given two weeks to move from Qatar while Qatari citizens residing in Saudi, the U.A.E. and Bahrain were told to leave within 14 days. Rights groups say families are being split apart, and some Qataris had to halt pilgrimages to Mecca during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“Even if the political crisis isn’t solved, the blockade affecting people should be lifted,” Al Marri said. “It’s a violation of human rights.”

Amnesty International said on June 9 that the Saudi-led coalition is “toying with the lives of thousands of Gulf residents.”

Read: Stunned Qataris Hunker Down as Gulf Neighbors Tighten the Screws

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain said they’ll make some exceptions on humanitarian grounds to the expulsion of Qataris married to citizens of the three countries. Hotlines have been set up to review cases, according to statements carried by the Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini news agencies.

The decisions came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on the coalition to ease Qatar’s isolation saying the curbs have forced families to uproot themselves and pull their children from school.

The orders are complicating the lives of Gulf citizens, who before this dispute were able to live anywhere within the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council without restrictions. Family ties run deep in the Gulf, where tribes intermarried long before borders were drawn between the energy-rich nations.

“People from across the region -– not only from Qatar, but also from the states implementing these measures –- risk losing jobs and having their education disrupted,” James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Global Issues Program, said in the group’s report. “All the states involved in this dispute must ensure their actions do not lead to human rights violations.”

Separately, the government of Qatar, singled out in recent days by President Donald Trump for supporting terrorist activities, has hired the law firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to represent it.

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