Geneva, Switzerland – Supplies of essential medical equipment and medicines, including essential antivenom doses, are not reaching Qatar due to the Saudi-led blockade, a human rights organisation has said.
Most of the international pharmaceutical supply companies trading with Qatar come from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the countries involved in the blockade, which has a particular responsibility in this area, a human rights officer for EuroMed Monitor said on Tuesday.
“A lot of life-saving medications and necessary medical instruments are not making it across the border still. And antivenom for deadly regional snakes is among the top medications that is not making it across,” said Sara Pritchett, spokesperson for EuroMed Monitor, a Geneva-based human rights organisation.
“The UAE have been a key player in the blockade and their actions have had a special impact on medicine, commercial trade and separation of families, just to name a few.”
Restrictions on travel have severely affected the right to health among others.
Hundreds of missed surgeries have been reported to human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch, including life-saving operations for two Qatari children who could not travel to Saudi Arabia.
“People have been prevented from going abroad for medical care, to assist their elderly or dying family members,” said Pritchett.
“It is clear how these measures constitute not only flagrant violations of human rights in a theoretical sense but have a practical application in real life.”
Pritchett was critical about the attitude of the international community, which she said is widely ignoring the impact of the blockade, which started seven months ago and has affected thousands of Gulf residents.
On Monday, the UAE underwent its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Office at Geneva, a process meant to assess the human rights situation of a country.
Pritchett said UN member states were supposed to make recommendations for improvement but failed to address the issue of the blockade in a more straightforward way.
“We are not really seeing the critique you would expect from the international community,” she said.
“We have seen the inability or unwillingness to assess a given state’s behaviour towards civilian population on all sides and not in terms of the political context.
“When it comes to human rights they must be considered equally and neutrally, away from political considerations.”
Seven months ago Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain launched an economic boycott against Qatar, cutting off the country’s only land border, its air and sea routes.
As part of the blockade, the three Gulf countries also ordered their own citizens and as well as Qatari nationals on their territory to return home within 15 days.
A technical mission by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Qatar has called the measures “unilateral, coercive and arbitrary” and therefore in violation of international law.
Displacement and separation of families remains the most problematic issue.
The measures have affected nearly 6,500 families, whose members stand to be forcibly separated for an indefinite amount of time.
EuroMed Monitor has reported incidents of people who have gone into hiding to remain with their families, thus breaching the laws of their own countries.
“Reports have flooded in to human rights organisations such as HRW of parents separated from children, husbands from wives, elderly and sick being separated from their caretakers,” Pritchett said.
The punishments for those who break the law by attempting to remain with their family or attempting to cross the borders into other countries include heavy fines, travel bans ranging between three and 15 years, or even the stripping of passports.
Employment and property rights are also an issue as thousands of migrant workers and businessmen have been forced to return to their countries of origin, in some cases losing their only job and source of financial support.
There are reports of businessmen from different Gulf nationalities having to abandon their lifelong businesses and rightful properties to return to their countries of origin.
“The claim that was made in the UAE review that they are champions of right for migrant workers is an affront to those that are losing those rights right now,” said Pritchett.
The technical mission of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also reported high levels of instrumentalisation of media, spreading campaigns of hatred and defamation both in media and social media, including one paid campaign by UAE conducted deliberately to link Qatar to “terrorism”.
“This consists in not only hate speech about incitement of violence and it’s certainly making the situation for Qatari people all around the world more tenuous,” said Pritchett.
The UAE has also criminalised the expression of any form of sympathy for Qatar or Qatari people in both media and on social media accounts, or any form of dissent or criticism.
Punishments for this infringement are often inflicted on the citizens of blockading countries, who can have their passports stripped from them.