Doha News sits down with US official to discuss several key topics including Qatar’s efforts with regards to labour reforms, US’ involvement in Afghanistan as well as the Palestinian file.
Qatar has made “very” significant progress on the issues of labour reforms and advancing the rights of migrant workers, a top United States official told Doha News on Sunday.
Highlighting key areas, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya said progress has been observed with regards to workers changing jobs swiftly, minimum wage guarantees, the dismantlement of the Kafala system, among other protections.
“I think that what we’ve heard on my visit and our ongoing engagement with the Qatari government is a real desire to make more progress and to improve implementation and the United States is certainly a partner in those efforts,” Zeya told Doha News at the US embassy in Qatar.
The American diplomat visited the Gulf country on a two-day trip which began on 1 October, where she met with several Qatari officials including the country’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to discuss means of collaboration to combat human trafficking and ways to enhance labour reforms.
Over the past few years, Qatar has seen a number of sweeping labour reforms. In 2021, Doha introduced the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage law.
Additionally, Qatar approved two key laws in August 2020 to eliminate barriers on migrant workers leaving the country and changing jobs without permission from their employers.
The amir removed limitations on migrant workers changing jobs without permission from their employers and established a monthly minimum wage of QAR 1,000, including basic living allowances for select workers.
Zeya further emphasised Washington’s “constructive engagement” with Doha regarding the issue of tackling labour rights issues and promoting it to “dignified work in accordance with international norms.”
“In our view progressing on this issue set can really help societies achieve not only true prosperity but civilian security in terms of all those present being able to live and carry on their livelihoods in dignity and in accordance with international norms,” the diplomat told Doha News.
Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Care Shelter was re-opened in Qatar on 2 of October in order to provide a shelter centre for survivors of trafficking, which comes under a common cause, Zeya said.
“We’ve had engagement between our embassy and the Qatari government for some time and I think that our view is, as the US and Qatar deepen their strategic partnership in advancing security, prosperity for our citizens we also have an opportunity to deliver for the world in terms of advancing human development, human dignity, and rights.”
With Afghanistan being an important file in Qatar’s foreign policy, Doha News asked Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in New York last month about the latest situation in the country, as well as the international community’s efforts in supporting them.
More than a year since the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the Qatari diplomat noted that to date there is no clarity “on the way forward” for the country.
“We’ve been advising the international community that we need to arrange a blueprint for the way forward—what are the required series of conditions we need from the current leadership in Afghanistan, in exchange of what we can provide as an international community,” Sheikh Mohammed told Doha News.
The Taliban militarily seized power last year following a deadly 20-year invasion by the US and foreign forces, which ended in a catastrophic exit. At the time, Qatar carried out history’s largest airlift of people, evacuating at least 80,000 Afghans and foreigners.
After facilitating negotiations between the Taliban and the US, in addition to talks between the former Afghan government and the movement, Qatar has remained a key platform for dialogue.
“Our humanitarian support continues. It is very substantial we’ve announced I believe over $700 million in new humanitarian support since last summer but at the same time we remain resolute with the international community and with partner Qatar who plays an indispensable role as the protecting power for the US and Afghanistan,” the American diplomat told Doha News.
Addressing the importance of safeguarding human rights progress, Zeya noted: “In our view it is very important that the international community remain resolute in terms of linking normalisation to human rights progress that has up to now not materialised from their side [the Taliban].
“What’s most important here is actions and not simply words.”
This comes as the US President Joe Biden in February inked an executive order splitting $7 billion in frozen Afghan funds held in the US, allocating half for victims of the September 11 attacks while allocating the rest as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
However, Families of 9/11 victims have urged US President Joe Biden’s administration to release billions of dollars that are being held in the US by the central bank of Afghanistan.
77 relatives of 9/11 victims wrote to Biden in August, urging him to change an executive order from February that frozen $7 billion in assets held by the Afghan central bank at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“Any use of the $7 billion to pay off 9/11 family member judgments is legally suspect and morally wrong,” the family members wrote in a letter first reported by Politico.
After the US assassinated al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri in Kabul earlier this month, according to a Wall Street Journal article, the US decided not to release the funds. This is when the letter was published.
Responding to Washington’s heavy military interventionist approach to the Middle East, especially up until the previous administration, Zeya told Doha News: “I would really challenge the view of the United States resorting to military force as a means of ensuring stability, I think it’s quite the contrary, military force when necessary is a tool of last resort but absolutely enshrining the principles of the UN charter, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the UN member states.”
The US invasion of Afghanistan, also Washington’s longest war, cost some $2 trillion and killed at least 71,000 civilians.
The Barack Obama administration highly endorsed the US drone programme, authorising more strikes in his first year in the office than George W. Bush ever carried out during his entire time as president of the United States.
Until 2017, Afghanistan had been under frequent US bombardment, in an ‘unreported war’ that saw 1,337 weapons dropped in 2016 alone, a 40% rise on 2015.
Between 2003 and 2004, Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the US was complicit in war crimes in Afghanistan with American forces indiscriminately detaining innocent civilians who were not connected to hostilities taking place in the country.
Some civilians also told HRW that they were subjected to house raids.
Speaking on the issue of Palestine and Washington’s approach to the occupation, Zeya told Doha News: “President Biden has been resolute in supporting a two state solution and a solution by which the Israeli and Palestinian people live side-by-side in peace and dignity.”
“We are proud to be the leading international donor to the Palestinian people and during the president’s recent visit to the region he announced it over $300 million in new support for the Palestinian people including over $100 million for the east Jerusalem hospital initiative. So I think that the US view and that of many of our partners in the international community is the only route to a lasting settlement is through a political and peaceful negotiation.”
However, the US also provided $3.8 billion in aid to Israel in 2020 as part of a long-term, yearly commitment made under the Obama administration. This help was almost entirely for military support that has exacerbated Israel’s persecution of Palestinians.
This assistance was provided as part of a deal that previous president Barack Obama signed in 2016 for a total package of $38 billion in military aid over the ten-year period from 2017 to 2028.
This is an increase over the spending commitment for the previous ten years of around 6% (adjusted for inflation).
Last year the US gave $5 million toward resettling migrants in the zionist state.
According to an Amnesty report from February, more than six million Palestinians remain refugees 73 years on, most of whom live in camps in neighbouring countries.
The report amplified previous ones released by Palestinian activists, detailing flagrant human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Such abuses include the ongoing forced dispossession of Palestinians to make way for Jewish settlers, imposing over 65 discriminatory laws, and denial of the right to return for those who were made refugees during the establishment of the Zionist state.
Qatar has long refused to normalise with Israel as long as it continues its illegal occupation of Palestine and its abuses of Palestinians’ rights.