German minister at centre of World Cup spat spotlights ‘good’ Qatar reforms following criticism

The Gulf Cooperation Council also condemned remarks made by Germany’s interior minister against Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup.

Qatar’s efforts to address human rights concerns have been acknowledged by a top German official who has been at the centre of a diplomatic spat between Berlin and Doha.

Expressing on what is seen as a positive take on her current visit to Qatar to discuss human rights issues, Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said she has acknowledged the “very good laws” and reforms that have been implemented in the last few years.

While referring to recent reforms introduced since Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup 2022 back in 2010, Faeser said “it is now a matter of filling them with life, of course,” in comments made following a meeting with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Monday.

The German minister arrived to Qatar this week with a delegation from the German Football Association (DFB), headed by the association’s President Bernd Neuendorf. Several members of the German federal parliament (Bundestag) accompanied the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) politician.

The trip is set to place spotlight on “the human rights issues that are being discussed around the tournament, such as the protection of queer people from discrimination and persecution and the responsibility for migrant workers who built the World Cup stadiums,” according to a statement from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, reports said.

The remarks on Monday come following Faesar’s brazen criticism of Qatar’s human rights record during an interview with local German broadcaster ARD network last week.

Faeser had described Qatar’s hosting of the tournament as “very tricky” for the German government, saying “it would be better that tournaments are not awarded to such states.”

In a statement responding to the comments, Qatar’s foreign ministry said it handed the German ambassador to Doha an objection memo to express its “disappointment and complete rejection and condemnation” of Faeser’s remarks.

Her remarks were also strongly denounced by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which described them as “a violation of diplomatic norms, traditions and international laws.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by Qatar’s Shura Council on Monday, which went further to say the comments “came at a surprising time just days before the start of the major competition”, local outlet The Peninsula reported.

Separately, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Dr. Majed Al Ansari on Friday described the comments “as unacceptable and provocative for the Qatari people”. 

Dr. Al Ansari stressed that “it was unacceptable for politicians to try and score political points locally at the expense of their relations with other countries.”

Meanwhile, Germany’s human rights envoy Luise Amtsberg postponed an official visit to Qatar that was scheduled to take place this week, following Faeser’s criticism of the World Cup.

Amsberg feared the conversations with officials in Qatar would be “difficult,” the Associated Press (AP) reported on Sunday.

“The developments this weekend have made clear to me how difficult it is in the current situation ahead of the World Cup to have the open and also critical conversation I planned with the government of Qatar,” said Amstberg, commenting on her postponed visit.

“While recognising Qatar’s growing role as a regional and global actor, international pressure and our efforts to protect human rights will remain central even after the World Cup,” said Amstberg.

Human rights concerns

With the kick off date for the World Cup less than a month away, Qatar has continued to face an increase in scrutiny for its treatment of migrant workers.

Qatar has responded to the criticism over the last decade with a wave of reforms designed to better conditions for migrant workers in the country, in what officials have described as a targeted campaign rooted in racism against the first World Cup in the Arab world.

Prior to his departure to the Gulf country, Neuendorf allegedly made note of an “inspection trip,” according to reports, stressing that human rights is “never exaggerated”.

“As the DFB, we must always speak out when we believe that human rights are being violated.”

During her stay, Faeser is also scheduled to undertake a round of talks to resolve the predicament of the construction workers, the majority of whom are from South Asia, the report detailed. The SPD politician declared that she intended to visit the location to “get a first-hand impression.”

Faeser also intends to speak with a number of authorities on Tuesday, including Qatar’s Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani as well as FIFA President Gianni Infantino, reports said.

Neuendorf is also keen on a round of negotiations with Infantino once again, in a bid to secure a compensation fund from the global sporting body for the families of migrant workers that were part of the preparation team for the World Cup 2022.

In the lead up to the World Cup, a number of European nations, including England and Denmark, have raised issues over the plight of migrant workers in the host country, triggering calls to compensate employees.

The #PayUpFIFA campaign is a collective appeal by human rights groups for FIFA to match the tournament’s $440 million in prize money with compensation for migrant workers.

FIFA stated at the time that it was evaluating the campaign, and that as of December 2021, workers had received compensation payments totalling $22.6 million, with an additional $5.7 million pledged by contractors.

Meanwhile, a fresh report issued by the ILO on Monday said thousands of workers have already experienced an improvement in their living and working conditions as a result of the recent reforms Qatar has implemented.

However, the report, detailing the results of the Technical Cooperation Programme between Doha and the ILO since its launch in April 2018, said more work must yet be done to guarantee that all workers gain from them.

The latest criticism by the German interior minister came just days after Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani slammed what he described as “ferocious” attacks against Qatar since it won the bid to host the World Cup.

The amir said that “no other host nation” has faced this level of “ferocious” criticism.

“Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has faced an unprecedented campaign that no other host nation has received. And we had handled it at first in good faith while considering some of the criticism positive and beneficial,” Sheikh Tamim told the Shura Council earlier this month.

Responding to the incident between Berlin and Doha, former German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel slammed the “German arrogance towards Qatar.”

“How forgetful are we? Homosexuality was a punishable offense in Germany until 1994. My mother still needed her husband’s permission to work. We treated ‘guest workers’ crappy and housed them miserably,” tweeted Gabriel.

The former German vice-Chancellor also said it took Germany “decades to become a liberal country.”

“Progress does not come overnight, but step by step. That was true for and is true for Qatar now. The UN, the ILO praise the country for its reforms. Only we Germans insult it every day,” he added.

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