Australian women who were subjected to a compulsory intimate medical examination at Doha airport may have limited options for redress unless the government of Qatar agrees to provide compensation to avoid protracted public criticism of its human rights record, an international law expert has said.
The women had boarded a Qatar Airways flight bound for Sydney at Hamad international airport on 2 October when they were ordered to disembark, escorted by security staff to a non-public lower level of the airport, and ushered into waiting ambulances. They were then told to remove their underwear and subjected to a medical examination to see if they had just given birth.
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The searches were prompted by the discovery of a newborn baby in one of the airport bathrooms. One woman, who was not examined because of her age, told Guardian Australia that the experience had been “terrifying”. Another woman told the ABC she would consider legal action.
“If the other 12 women came forward with a class action, I would definitely be part of that,” she said.
But avenues for legal redress for foreigners subject to unconscionable treatment by government officials in another country are limited. That is particularly the case in a country like Qatar, where the legal system has its grounding in sharia law and it is illegal to give birth out of wedlock.
Nick Kaufman, a former international criminal court prosecutor based in Israel, who represented Malka Leifer in fighting an extradition claim brought by the Australian government, said the most immediate outcome might be for the women to use diplomatic channels and the threat of litigation to obtain compensation directly from the Qatar government.
“The government of Qatar, in my opinion, will be eager to settle this matter quickly and in a fashion which will maximise its human rights credentials,” Kaufman said. “Qatar is very sensitive to international criticism as to its record on human rights, as evidenced by its attempt to deal with allegations of the exploitation of foreign workers.
“Qatar will not want the commercial potential arising out of its hosting of the [2022 men’s football] World Cup to be harmed by this incident and, accordingly, will be eager to settle. Any diplomatic pressure or legal action will be used as leverage to force just such compensation.”
Legally, he said, the women could pursue a civil claim against either Qatar Airways, which could be launched in Australia against its Australian offices, or against the government of Qatar.
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