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The blockade of Qatar has come on the back of a major diplomatic crisis involving countries in the Middle East. The blockade effectively began on the 5th of June in 2017, with the declaration by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Egypt that they are cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar. The blockade has specific implications for the human rights of many classes of people in Qatar as well as Qataris in the countries that have declared the blockade, which are the subject of study in this essay. Blockade in international law amounts to a belligerent act wherein the entry to or departure from a defined part of an enemy's territory is blocked as in the case of Qatar wherein the four states used their airspace and sea routes to block Qatari airplanes and ships from entering or leaving Qatar and also blocked Qatar’s land crossing.

Qatar is a part of the Persian Gulf, which also includes Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Iran. It is also a part of the Arabian Peninsula along with Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar is also a part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and is one of the founding members of the organisation along with Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia; the GCC plays a major role in the economic and cultural cooperation in the Gulf region. Despite Qatar’s position within the GCC, the other members of the GCC have led the blockade against Qatar because of the Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, both of which are organisations with terror links. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in particular have initiated the trade and travel embargo against Qatar on the allegations that it is a sponsor of terrorism in the region. Apart from these countries, Egypt too has participated in the blockade.

Qatar is generally described as a nation that has maintained a hybrid diplomacy that has allowed it to work with the United States, the Hamas, the Hezbollah and Iran. There are complex reasons for why the tensions have grown between the Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on one hand and Qatar on the other. Some of these reasons can be traced back to the behind the scenes mediation conducted by Qatar with Israel and Lebanon, and its support for the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Another reason is the support given by Qatar to the Al Jazeera media complex in Doha, which has been seen with some suspicion by Arab states due to its critical reporting regarding many Arab governments, including the four states of Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.


International law of human rights and Qatar blockade

The international law of human rights contains specific responsibilities and duties of the states that are parties to relevant treaties and conventions on human rights. Both Bahrain and Egypt have signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Qatar recently acceded to these Covenants in 2018, which is problematic in terms of rights of Qatar and corresponding obligations of the other parties prior to the date of accession. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are also parties to the Arab Charter on Human Rights 2004. Egypt has also signed the Arab Charter of Human Rights, while Qatar is a State Party to the Charter since 2009. As this is the only regional charter on human rights in the Arab context, it is particularly significant in this case. Article 37 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights specifically notes that all persons “have a duty to give effect to the values of solidarity and cooperation among them and at the international level with a view to eradicating poverty and achieving economic, social, cultural and political development.” The Qatar blockade raises important questions on how these duties are affected by the blockade and what the international law duties and responsibilities of the state concerned are in the situation.

The blockade of Qatar raises some questions with relation to human rights of the Qatari citizens who are affected by the blockade. In particular, the questions are related to the right of education, right to food and sustenance and other rights of the civilians in Qatar, which are threatened by the continued blockade of Qatar. The blockade of Qatar has implications for human rights of persons within Qatar and to some extent on persons in the four states that have issued the blockade. This is especially true of the rights of Qatari nationals who were resident in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, and the students who were forced to leave their educational institutions after the declaration of the blockade. Even the nationals of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain who at the time were residents of Qatar, or were married to Qataris have been affected as they had to return to their country of origin. Qataris in particular have been affected by the negative impact of the blockade for their local economy, loss of employment, and right to education. It may be mentioned that the Qatari National Human Rights committee has noted that the humanitarian costs of the blockade of Qatar might have impacted some 19,000 Qataris living in the four countries and also close to 11,300 citizens of the blockading countries who were living in Qatar but had to leave as a consequence of the blockade. The Human Rights Watch reported that the human rights costs of the blockade against Qatar includes the violations of rights related to work, family separations, medical care and education. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein too noted that the human rights

impact caused by the “overly broad” measures of the four blockading nations were alarming.

Therefore, there are many indications that show the costs of the blockade on the human rights of the nationals of Qatar as well as nationals of the other countries that were forced to leave Qatar. The particular focus of this essay is to consider the international law obligations that may be linked to the right of Qataris to education and to that extent the legality of the Qatari blockade in international law.

Right to education in international law

The term education has been defined as that which includes "all activities by which a human group transmits to its descendants a body of knowledge and skills and a moral code which enable the group to subsist." Education therefore is a wide term, which includes the transmission of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next, and which for that reason has specific significance to the community. Education thus has a wide meaning and import as also recognised by Article 1 (a) of the UNESCO Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1974, which provides that education “implies the entire process of social life by means of which individuals and social groups learn to develop consciously within, and for the benefit of, the national and international communities, the whole of theirs personal capacities, attitudes, aptitudes and knowledge.” Clearly, education has specific significance to communities and groups. In the same way, education also has specific significance to childhood or as a special right of children. This was affirmed by the Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959 that had affirmed that mankind owes to the child the best that can be given a child, including education.

Right to education has been recognised by a number of international treaties and conventions. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights identifies right to education as a human right, which is to be ensured through the provision of free and compulsory primary education for all and an obligation to provide equitable access to secondary education and higher education. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was one of the first important international law mentions on right to education; it states:

"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."

Subsequently, right to education was recognised by the Articles 13 and 14 of the ICESCR. It is important to see the right to education as a human right in the context of the responsibility or duty mentioned in Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which requires states to take steps both individually and in cooperation with other states and to create conditions of international assistance, within which the rights mentioned in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can be achieved. Rather than creating conditions in which the rights mentioned in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can be compromised, Article 2 (1) requires that states act in cooperation with each other, including economic and technical cooperation and to the maximum of the resources that are available to the states for the purpose of the progressive achievement of “the full realisation of the rights recognised” in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 2(2) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires that the rights under the Covenant shall be “exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” It would also be pertinent to mention the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 1(1) of which defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin” with the purpose or effect of impairing the exercise of human rights on an equal footing in public life.

In the present situation, the rights of Qatari students have been compromised by keeping their nationality in focus. The actions of the four states that have imposed the sanctions against Qatar has serious implications for the principles that are recognised in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and particularly emphasised on in Article 2 of the Covenant of which international cooperation is one principle and the non-discrimination on grounds of nationality is another. As all these countries are also parties to the Arab Charter on Human Rights, Article 37 is also relevant to the discussion on this point of international cooperation because it provides that states have the duty to ensure values of solidarity and cooperation for the purpose of “eradicating poverty and achieving economic, social, cultural and political development.”

It is also important to mention the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960 in which similar provisions on the right to education are to be found. This document considers any discrimination in education to be violative of human rights of the individual. Article 1 of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960 explains discrimination as including any distinction, exclusion, or limitation based on factors that may include race, religion, political or other opinion, or national or social origin.

Discrimination can include deprivation of any person or group of persons of access to education of any type or level. Therefore, where one country may create conditions in which it deprives the citizens of another country from their access to education, such conduct may be discriminatory for the purposes of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960. In other words, the right to education includes the obligation to eliminate discrimination at all levels of the educational system, where the term discrimination may be employed in a broad sense as something that limits or restricts an individual’s or group’s access to education at any level. This is because the term education as per Article 1(2) of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960 includes "all types and levels of education, (including such) access to education, the standard and quality of education, and the conditions under which it is given.” The emphasis on right to education

is not just from the perspective of human rights but also consumer rights because in the recent times, there has been an emphasis on the right to dignity as also a part of consumer rights. The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection 1985 mentions right to education as one of the rights that is included in the concept of consumer rights.

In the context of the states in the Middle East and those that are specifically involved in the issue of the Qatar blockade, the rights protected under the Arab Charter on Human Rights are important to note. Article 41(4) of the Arab Charter on Human Rights states that parties to the Charter shall “guarantee to provide education directed to the full development of the human person and to strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The Arab states are parties to the Arab Charter on Human Rights although many states are yet to ratify the charter. However, the Charter is still significant because it reflects on the general acceptance of the human rights, including right to education by Arab states. As such, the Charter can provide a basis for understanding the way the Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain have extended recognition to the right to education.

Qatar blockade and right to education of the Qatari students

The Qatar blockade has had some serious implications for the right to education. This was noted by the UN Special Rapporteurs to the government of the United Arab Emirates on 18 August 2017, where they specifically mentioned the “serious concerns … at the numerous rights being infringed, including the right to movement and residence, family reunification, education, work, freedom of expression, health, freedom of religious practice, and the right to private property, without discrimination on any basis.” In the aftermath of the tensions in the region followed by the blockade of Qatar, the right to education of many students of Qatari origin has come to be seriously compromised. According to the report of the OHCHR Technical Mission, Qatari students studying in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt were expelled from their educational institutions and were ordered to leave

immediately. They were not allowed to even take their exams. The targeting of students of Qatari origin in the universities and colleges of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt can be considered to be a discriminatory act by the governments of these countries. The discussion in the previous section on the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960 would be relevant to understanding how this is discriminatory on the part of the authorities of the concerned state. In the case of Qatari students this discrimination can be linked to the acts of the states to stop the students from completing their education. Moreover, the report also states that when some Qatari students attempted to return to Egypt in August 2017, they were denied visas or were required to obtain security clearance upon obtaining visas, the latter of which task was not easy for the students. Clearly then, there has been restriction and limitation of the rights of the Qatari students to pursue their education following the blockade of their country by the four countries that have expelled these students from their colleges and universities. The issue does not just end at expulsion of the Qatari

students from the universities because these students had to be adjusted in the universities in Qatar or other countries, for which the expelling Arab countries did not provide transcripts in all the cases. The University of Cairo asked the Qatari students to collect their transcripts in person but then denied the visas which would have allowed the students to collect the transcripts from the university. The High Commissioner for Human Rights had also reported that a few UAE universities blocked access of Qatari students to their websites, which effectively meant that the students were not able to request transcripts and take admissions in

universities in countries like Jordan and Malaysia. The Ministry of Education of Qatar has reported that 201 Qatari students were affected in their pursuit of university studies because of these actions of the universities of the other countries.

The actions of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt in expelling Qatari students and imposing an air and sea blockade against Qatar led Qatar to file a suit against the UAE at the International Court of Justice. In this case, Qatar alleged that the actions of the UAE amounted to violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This Convention is engaged in this situation because the targeting of Qatari nationals in the territories of these states was alleged to be involving discrimination on the basis of racial and national identity. The issue of emphasis in this suit before the International Court of Justice was the forced expulsion of Qatari nationals from these four countries, which also included students of Qatari origin. It would be useful to note that both Qatar and the UAE are State Parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which may have given cause of action to Qatar against the UAE. There were a number of rights that were included in the Qatar application before the International Court of Justice, including interference with marriage and choice of spouse rights, right of free expression, right to work, right to enjoyment of property, and right to equal treatment before tribunals.

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Blockade of Qatar as possible coercive sanctions in international law

In this context, it may be noted that blockade of Qatar by the four countries may amount to sanctions against the nation and the question of whether international law permits countries to take such coercive measures except in limited circumstances is grey area. The actions of the states that have enforced a blockade on Qatar may amount to a unilateral coercive sanction measure. However, it may be argued that the actions of the blockading countries amount to countermeasures responding to the actions of Qatar. This aspect is discussed at some length in this section with respect to the actions of the blockading countries.

Unilateral coercive sanction is defined as ‘the use of economic, trade or other measures taken by a State, group of States or international organisations acting autonomously to compel a change of policy of another State or to pressure individuals, groups or entities in targeted

states to influence a course of action without the authorisation of the Security Council.” The four countries that have enforced the blockade against Qatar have taken measures that are economic in nature and also involve the restrictions on the rights of the citizens of Qatar with the motivation to force change of policy in Qatar without taking the permission of the Security Council.

The law of state responsibility as contained in Draft Articles on State Responsibility of the International Law Commission does allow such coercive measures to be taken as countermeasures towards an internationally wrongful act; however, there are specific circumstances in which such measures can be taken. In a recent report to the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has clarified that the sanctions imposed on a state must be subject to stringent conditions with relation to the duration of the sanctions and the proportionality of the sanctions to the legitimate and lawful aim sought; moreover, human rights safeguards must be undertaken strictly.

The question is whether the four countries have taken adequate safeguards with respect to human rights. The resort to coercive means like blockade do have serious implications for the human rights of the citizens of the countries that have been subjected to such blockade. In this context, the view of the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council with reference to impact of coercive sanctions on human rights becomes relevant and deserves mention here.

“general consensus that unilateral coercive measures, particularly those that are comprehensive in nature and manifested in the form of trade embargoes and restrictions on financial and investments flows between sender and target States, may have a serious impact on the enjoyment of human rights by the civilian population in targeted and non-targeted States alike. This is so because economic sanctions in general, including unilateral coercive measures, irrespective of their declared intent (such as preventing gross violations of human rights in targeted States), usually translate into a severe impact on the population at large, and in particular vulnerable groups in the society who become the true victims of such sanction rather than the States or Governments they are supposed to target.”

As the above note specifies, even where the sanctioning countries have a reason to believe that the sanctions are necessary for the protection of gross violation of human rights, what the imposition of sanctions does also amounts to the gross violations of the human rights of the citizens of the countries against whom the sanctions are being imposed. These citizens may not even be participants or the drivers of the offending decisions of their governments which the sanctioning states might want to target. Nevertheless, these sanctions, even when imposed for worthy causes might end up violating the human rights of citizens of the sanctioned country. In the case of Qatar, the unilateral blockade imposed by the four Arab countries has

led to the compromising of the human rights of the citizens of Qatar. In this research, focus is on the human rights of students of Qatar, who have been impacted by the blockade imposed by the four Arab countries. In particular, the right to education is impacted as discussed in the previous sections of the dissertation. The justification for such blockade can be made in international law if the actions are countermeasures against Qatar’s unlawful actions.

Unilateral sanctions may not be permitted under the international law and could amount to violation of the principles recognised by the United Nations as well. This is clear from the language used in the UN Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States, the Preamble to which clearly notes that it is the “the duty of States to refrain in their international relations from military, political, economic or any other form of coercion aimed against the political independence or territorial integrity of any State.” In the present situation, there is no authorisation by the UN Security Council or any other competent international organ for the four countries to impose a blockade of this nature against Qatar. Blockade of this nature may be justified only when the countries imposing them can establish that it is in response to a breach by the country of an international obligation that has serious consequences for the international community.

Under the UN Charter, sanctions can be imposed only when the UN Security Council authorises these sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Article 41 of which gives powers to the Security Council to determine the existence of conditions that may justify the use of such sanctions. Sanctions are generally not allowed in the international law and particularly under the UN Charter because these are seen as coercive measures that ought to be avoided in the interest of the maintenance of friendly relations between states and international peace and security. Instead, the UN Charter encourages countries to resolve their disputes and differences through the use of peaceful methods of resolution which are provided in Chapter VI of the UN Charter.

Coming to the blockade against Qatar specifically, that there was a blockade of the air, sea, and land routes out of Qatar is documented, and these actions of the four countries were not authorised under Article 41 of the UN Charter. These actions may however amount to countermeasures, which is different from imposition of sanctions as the state resorting to the countermeasures may be acting in response to international wrongful acts committed by the targeted state. The jurisprudence on countermeasures indicates that these can only be in response to a wrong and proportionally applied, and that these should not be used as a form of punishment but as a way for leading to compliance with international obligations and norms. The question is whether the actions of the four states can be justified as countermeasures. The international law is not clear on this point as countermeasures can be applied and the actions of the four gulf countries may also amount to countermeasures.


The right to education is now recognised as one of the important human rights in international law. The literature and international law provisions discussed in this literature review indicates that the right to education in international law entails corresponding obligations on the states. The actions of the four states in blockading Qatar and the impacts on the students studying in the four states may amount to a violation of the right. The four states may argue that the actions of blockade amount to countermeasures. However, international law is not clear on the question of countermeasures that are justified although the Draft Principles on State Responsibility may provide framework on that. In case the actions are not justified by the Draft Principles, then these may amount to unilateral sanctions. Under the UN Charter, only Security Council has the power to authorise such sanctions.


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