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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Qatar, an Arab state on the Persian Gulf, is a monarchy with no constitution or political parties. It is governed by the ruling Al-Thani family through its head, the Amir. The current Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, took power from his father in June 1995 with the support of leading branches of the Al-Thani family, and in consultation with other leading Qatari families. This transition of authority did not represent a change in the basic governing order. The Amir holds absolute power, the exercise of which is influenced by religious law, consultation with leading citizens, rule by consensus, and the right of any citizen to gain access to the Amir to appeal government decisions. The Amir generally legislates after consultation with leading citizens, an arrangement institutionalized in an appointed advisory council that assists the Amir in formulating policy. In 1999 the Amir convened a constitutional committee to draft a permanent constitution that would provide for parliamentary elections. The committee has met regularly and is projected to complete its recommendations by 2002.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

Responsibility for the Qatari judiciary is shared among the bureaucracies of three ministries. Adlea (Civil Law) Courts are subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, Shari'a (Islamic law) courts fall under the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, and Prosecutors fall under the Ministry of Interior. The Adlea courts have jurisdiction in commercial, national security, all forms of trafficking (including drugs, contraband, and persons), and criminal matters. The Shari'a courts have jurisdiction in family, inheritance, deportation, wrongful injury, and most other civil cases. Both Muslim and non-Muslim litigants may request the Shari'a courts to assume jurisdiction in family, commercial, and civil cases.

The law also provides for the establishment of ad hoc state security courts. Although there have been no cases before these courts since the current Amir assumed power, they have not been abolished formally by law and remain an option. Defendants tried by all courts have the right to appeal. The Appeals Court is the highest in the country.

The Shari'a courts apply most principles contained in the draft Family Status Law, which covers marriage, inheritance, and juvenile matters, to cases currently under adjudication. Some provisions of the legislation continue to be debated. Shari'a trials usually are brief. Shari'a family law trials often are held without counsel; however, an increasing number of litigants, especially women, use lawyers to present their cases. After both parties have stated their cases and examined witnesses, judges usually deliver a verdict after a short deliberation.

Trials in both the Adlea and the Shari'a courts are public, but the presiding judge can close the courtroom to the public if the case is deemed sensitive. Lawyers in the past did not play a formal role except to prepare litigants for their cases; however, an increasing number of litigants avail themselves of a lawyer to present their cases, particularly in divorce cases. In such cases, lawyers prepare the litigants and speak for them during the hearing. Non-Arabic speakers are provided with interpreters. Defendants are entitled to legal representation throughout the trial and pretrial process.

Source: IPR Country Guide

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Human Rights

The Qatari Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, its record was poor in some areas, particularly regarding citizens' right to change their government and the treatment of foreign workers. Citizens do not have the right to change their government peacefully. The Government severely limits the rights of assembly and association. The Government restricts freedom of religion although it continued to take some steps to ease restrictions on the practice of non-Muslim religions. Women's rights are restricted by law and social customs. Women have the right to vote. The Government severely restricts workers' rights. Domestic servants are mistreated and at times abused. Noncitizens, who make up more than 75 percent of the residents of the country, face discrimination in the workplace. The country also is a destination for trafficked persons.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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