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Qatar hires law firm to probe violations from blockade

Lalive will pursue the cases of some 2,450 citizens and foreign residents hit by the anti-Qatar measures.

Lalive in Geneva

The Qatari National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) has hired a Swiss law firm to investigate thousands of cases of human rights violations from a Saudi-led blockade on Qatar and seek compensation.

NHRC and Lalive signed a contract in Geneva on Saturday that will grant the international law firm the right to pursue the cases of some 2,450 citizens and foreign residents of Qatar, who have been affected by the blockade.

Lalive, which specialises in mass claims, said it will pursue the cases in local and international tribunals.

"The sanctions imposed on Qatar go too far and are not in accordance with international law.  Ordinary Qatari nationals and companies are not part of the State and cannot be targeted," Veijo Heiskanen, the lead lawyer on the case, said.

"A political dispute between States does not justify sanctions against private citizens, companies and other private entities. The Qatar National Committee for Human Rights is therefore justified to pursue these claims," he said.

Heiskanen said Lalive will be working closely with the NHRC over the coming days and weeks to proceed as quickly as possible to determine the right course of action with respect to the claims already submitted and those to come.  

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and implemented a blockade in a bid to bring Doha in line with its neighbours’ foreign policy.

The embargo has isolated Qatar, blocking air and land traffic and movement of people and goods from Doha to other Gulf capitals, as well as severing commercial and financial relations between Qatar and the three Gulf countries.

Gulf authorities expelled Qatari citizens living in the three countries and asked their own citizens to return home within 14 days or face sanctions. In the first days of the embargo, some non-Qatari citizens holding a Qatari resident permit were also banned from entering some of these countries, the NHRC reported.

"People have been forced to immediately leave behind their jobs, homes, universities or business activities. Families have to decide whether to split up or face sanctions upon their return, including prison terms," NHRC Chairman Ali Al Marri said.

"There are thousands of people of all nationalities, not just Qataris, who are suffering because of the embargo."

The number of people affected by the sanctions who may seek compensation could increase in the next few days and weeks, as residents come to terms with the effects of the travel and residency restrictions imposed on them, the official added.

READ MORE: CPJ slams Saudi-led bloc's contempt for media freedom

According to the NHRC, some 11,300 citizens from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates living in Qatar have been affected by the forcible repatriation measures. Many have decided to stay in Doha, but now they fear returning home, said Bettahar Boudjellal, a consultant at the NHRC.

Some 19,000 Qatari citizens living in the three countries were expelled living assets, properties, jobs and in some cases their families behind, he said.

More than 1,000 Gulf students attending Qatar universities have been forced to quit their studies and repatriate immediately. Qatar students have been expelled from universities in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE, without receiving proper attestations from the educational institutions they were enrolled in, the NHRC said.

Patients from Saudi Arabia and the UAE who were hospitalised in Doha were asked to leave promptly, as well as Qatari patients in hospitals of the Gulf capitals.

The NHRC said a 13-point list of demands, which include Qatar shutting down the Al Jazeera Media Network, contain gross violations of human rights conventions and other relevant international and regional agreements, from the right to freedom of opinion and expression to the right to nationality and the right to asylum.

The comments echoed UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein's statement that the demand to close down Al Jazeera was an "unacceptable attack" on the right to freedoms of expression and opinion.

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