Amnesty underscores Qatar’s failure to investigate workers’ deaths in new report

The rights group asked the Qatari government to do more to investigate and identify the underlying causes of deaths of the foreign workers

August 27, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Qatar laborers deaths
(Photo: Middle East Online)

Human rights group Amnesty International heavily criticized Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA football world cup, for the deaths of thousands of foreign migrant laborers in the country. A majority of these workers’ deaths remain unexplained and the cause of death in the death certificates remains vague and unclear. Amnesty called upon the Qatari government to order a thorough and credible investigation into the causes of deaths of foreign workers in the country. 

Various other human rights groups, the United Nations, and foreign governments including Germany have repeatedly urged Qatar to make sure that the rights of foreign workers are respected and meet international standards. Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers has come under the scanner for several years, with numerous reports raising concerns about the workers’ living conditions, long working hours, and other labor abuses. Additionally, the foreign workers have to work long hours with minimal breaks in scorching heat with temperatures routinely exceeding 40-45 degrees Celsius. This makes them prone to various health hazards, such as heat strokes and heat-related dehydration, among others. 

Amnesty in its report said that despite having a world class healthcare system, Qatar has not been able to properly identify the cause of death in almost 70% of the premature workers’ deaths. Many of these workers have died between the ages of 30 and 40. The Amnesty report says, ”Qatari authorities have failed to investigate the deaths of thousands of migrant workers over the past decade, despite evidence of links between premature deaths and unsafe working conditions. The report documents how Qatar routinely issues death certificates for migrant workers without conducting adequate investigations, instead attributing deaths to ‘natural causes’ or vaguely defined cardiac failures.” 

Between 2010 and 2019, official statistics recorded deaths of over 15,021 non-Qatari residents in the country, according to data from multiple sources examined by Amnesty. 

Amnesty analyzed 18 migrant workers’ death certificates issued by the Qatari authorities between 2017 and 2021. It found that 15 of them provided no information about underlying causes. The cause of deaths in these certificates included things such as “acute heart failure natural causes”, “heart failure unspecified” and “acute respiratory failure due to natural causes”. These causes were also used to explain away the deaths of more than half of the 35 workers who died while working on the world cup facilities since 2015, with their deaths also being categorized as “non-work related”. Amnesty said that since Qatar did not properly investigate these deaths and recorded them as deaths due to natural causes, the families of these workers were not only left in the dark about their loved ones but also denied compensation that they otherwise would have received if the deaths were deemed as wrongful or due to reasons directly arising from their work conditions.

Many of the families that Amnesty spoke to have revealed that their relatives had no pre-existing conditions before traveling to Qatar for work. Amnesty also found that the Qatari authorities did not conduct a postmortem investigation, or even offer the families the option to medically identify and conclude the cause of death if there were any work-related factors that contributed to it. David Bailey, a pathologist and member of the WHO’s Working Group on death certification, speaking to Amnesty, said that, “essentially, everyone dies of respiratory or cardiac failure in the end and the phrases are meaningless without an explanation of the reason why.”

The Qatari government has rejected the assertions put forth by Amnesty and others over the years regarding its treatment of foreign laborers and the specific issue of their premature deaths. The government has pointed to recent improvements made in the labor laws and new work rules. But Steve Cockburn, head of Amnesty’s economic and social justice division, rejected the government’s tall claims, saying, “When relatively young and healthy men die suddenly after working long hours in extreme heat, it raises serious questions about the safety of working conditions in Qatar. In failing to investigate the underlying causes of migrant workers’ deaths, the Qatari authorities are ignoring warning signs which could, if addressed, save lives.” He called this a violation of the right to life.