Qatar’s labor minister accused the media of a “smear campaign” against his country during a heated debate on human rights Monday with members of the European Parliament.
“We do not want to close the door to constructive criticism,” Ali bin Samikh Al Marri said during a meeting of the Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights. “However, there should not be any politicizing.”
The meeting took place just days before the start of the football World Cup in Qatar and with the country facing intense criticism over its treatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community.
The Qatari minister claimed that there are inaccurate numbers being reported on the deaths of migrant workers and that “some media, unfortunately, said that Qatari nationals are a bunch of terrorists.” He said such reports were “smear campaigns” against Qatar.
Max Tuñón, head of the International Labour Organization Office (a U.N. agency) in Doha, also addressed the MEPs and highlighted the progress Qatar has made in terms of new legislation on workers’ issues such as dealing with heat stress, cooperating with trade unions, and dealing with visas.
However, Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said “reforms remain insufficient,” pointing to a lack of protection for migrant workers, as well as issues with press freedom, and women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights. She called on FIFA (international football’s governing body) and Qatar to commit to a remedy fund that provides financial compensation to workers who “suffered to make this tournament happen” and their families.
This demand was strongly rejected by the Qatari minister, who said that there are already mechanisms in place to compensate victims.
The demand for compensation was supported by several MEPs, with lawmakers from across the spectrum lambasting Qatar over its record on human rights.
Hannah Neumann, a German Green, mentioned some progress achieved through pressure on human rights but said “a lot of problems” remain in Qatar, including with regard to compensation for workers.
Another German MEP, Dietmar Köster of the Socialists & Democrats, said he would not be watching the World Cup, while Miguel Urbán Crespo from the Left group called it “a World Cup of shame” and backed a boycott of the event.
Dutch MEP Peter van Dalen from the center-right European People’s Party said “World Cup 2022 should never have ended up in Qatar.”
Spanish MEP José Ramón Bauzà Díaz, of Renew Europe, was one of the few MEPs with anything positive to say about the event, saying the “Qatar World Cup is a good example of sports diplomacy.”
Qatar has faced criticism ever since it was awarded the tournament in 2010. Bribery and corruption allegations dogged the bidding process, and the country’s human rights record and treatment of migrant workers have been criticized by activists, politicians and football associations.
After the meeting, Worden of Human Rights Watch said this was “the toughest session” held by MEPs on human rights in connection to a big sporting event, with lawmakers taking a harder line than in sessions before the World Cup in Russia 2018 and the Olympics in Beijing this year.