Integrated Regional Information Networks - February 20, 2012
JOHANNESBURG, 20 February 2012 (PlusNews) - Allegedly tested for
HIV without consent, found positive and subsequently dismissed,
detained and deported, a South African journalist is attempting
to take his case against Qatar to the International Labour
Organization (ILO) to change the country's HIV travel and
More than 100 protestors gathered on 14 Feb outside the
Johannesburg offices of Qatari state-owned media company
Al-Jazeera to protest the journalist's alleged dismissal due to
his HIV-positive status.
The international news agency has denied allegations that the
reporter was removed from his post due to his HIV status, but
Section27, a South African human rights organization, has lobbied
South Africa's delegation to the ILO to lodge a complaint against
Qatar for its failure to abide by international labour
Qatar is a signatory to one of the ILO's eight fundamental
conventions, the 1958 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation)
Convention, which requires states to enact legislation
prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race,
colour, sex, nationality, or religious or political beliefs.
The 1958 declaration does not address discrimination based on HIV
status, but its preamble references the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, which can be interpreted to include HIV, and
Section27 attorney Nikki Stein is arguing that the two
declarations should be read together.
Stein says the South African Ministry of Labour has agreed, but
Section27 has not received a response to its request that South
Africa lodge a complaint against Qatar at the ILO.
If South Africa successfully pursues a complaint, the ILO could
issue recommendations to bring Qatar in line with international
law, and could then try to ensure they were adopted. This could
not only remove HIV travel and employment bans but set a
precedent for action against other countries with similar bans
that are also signatories to the 1958 convention.
Qatar is one of about five countries that deny visas to people
living with HIV, and one of about 20 that can legally deport
Other countries in the region - United Arab Emirate and Kuwait -
which depend on migrant labour, all have laws allowing
deportation of any HIV-positive foreigner, according to UNAIDS.
The reporter says the experience has driven home the
discrimination facing many HIV-positive immigrants in the Middle
"You see this sort of thing in movies and you react with
disbelief; you see it happen to other people and it still seems
unbelievable," the journalist, who has chosen to remain
anonymous, told IRIN/PlusNews.
Chased off and out
The reporter relocated to Qatar to take up employment with
Al-Jazeera in October 2010. Two months later he was sent for
medical tests to finalize his Qatari residence permit, which
included an HIV test, but was not informed that he was being
tested for the virus. The test results were delayed and he tested
again at a clinic in Qatar's capital, Doha.
He alleges that when he returned to collect his results the staff
chased him off the premises, and then at a meeting at
Al-Jazeera's headquarters he was allegedly ordered into a car and
without explanation driven to Doha Prison, where he was detained
for several hours and given a public, full-body search before
being released. He claims that an Al-Jazeera employee told him he
had been dismissed and should leave the country within 48 hours
to avoid arrest.
Al-Jazeera has denied that the reporter's HIV status was the
basis for his dismissal. "Al Jazeera was not privy to his HIV
status and at no point was it communicated to the company by
either the authorities or by the candidate himself," the news
network told IRIN/PlusNews [in an email]. "His HIV status
therefore could not have been, and was not, a consideration for
The news service has also maintained that although it is an equal
opportunity employer, its offices must abide by local labour and
immigration laws, and employment is conditional upon meeting the
requirements for legally working and living in a country.
"Al Jazeera was informed that the candidate was denied a
residence permit and work visa by the Qatari authorities,"
Al-Jazeera said in a statement. "Without a work visa a candidate
may not pursue employment in the country and due to this, Al
Jazeera was under the legal obligation to withdraw the
conditional offer of employment which was made to the candidate,
a risk which the candidate was made aware of and accepted prior
to his acceptance of the offer."
No legal recourse
Susan Timberlake, a UNAIDS senior advisor for human rights and
law, says people legally residing in a country should be offered
the chance to contest deportation, but this is seldom granted to
HIV-positive people in countries like Qatar.
"So many of the cases we hear about are handled in a very cruel
and inhuman way. Summarily deported, they are not able to take
their goods back, they don't get their last pay cheque, and if
they have money in the bank, they lose it," she told
"To make matters worse, the reason for their deportation is not
kept confidential so... discrimination starts to follow them into
their own country," said Timberlake, who added that HIV tests and
informing patients of the results is often done without
counselling. "It's one of the most devastating experiences people
can go through."
Stein's client called his deportation one of the most traumatic
events in his life. "What Al-Jazeera did to me makes a mockery of
their so-called commitment of fair treatment and giving a voice
to the voiceless," he told IRIN/PlusNews.
When the law fails
UNAIDS has been calling on countries to end HIV travel and
employment bans for years, but countries continue to justify them
on economic and public health grounds that Timberlake says are
International law offers recourse when national laws provide
none, but she noted that labour-sending countries, like South
Africa, may need to start difficult bilateral negotiations to end
bans on their citizens.
"It's very hard because, from a political point of view, the
countries that receive hundreds of thousands of migrants every
year call the shots," she said. "The labour-sending countries
don't want to challenge these types of practices because their
citizens [and economic opportunities] will be affected."