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Middle East Environmental Law


Geographical Overview

Qatar is a peninsula located midway down the west coast of the Persian Gulf. It has land and maritime borders with Saudi Arabia and maritime borders with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran. Qatar's the total land area is approximately 11,500 square kilometers including a number of islands. It has 563 square kilometers of coastline, but 0 square kilometers of inland water. The country boasts a number of geographical features such as coves, inlets, and depressions, which are peculiar to the western side of the Persian Gulf. Rainwater-draining basins, found mainly in the north and central regions of Qatar, create fertile land and attract heavy agricultural industry; However, arable land comprises only 1.6% of the nation's total land mass. Qatar's natural resources include petroleum, natural gas, and fish, which are also its largest exports.

Political System

In 1999, His Highness the Emir appointed a committee to draft a permanent constitution. The tenets of the Constitution are based on Qatar's affiliation to the Arabic world and the teachings of Islam. In 2003, a public referendum overwhelmingly approved the new Constitution and in 2004, the Emir ratified the Permanent Constitution of the state of Qatar. It became effective in June 2005. Article 1 declares, "Qatar is an independent sovereign Arab State and the people of Qatar are a part of the Arab nation. Its religion is Islam and Shari'a law (Islamic Religious Law) is the main source of its legislation. Its political system is democratic. The Arabic language shall be its official language." Article 59 identifies the people as the State's source of power and directs them to exercise that power in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Article 60 adds that the system of government is based on a separation of powers, designating three authorities: the Legislative Authority, the Executive Authority, and the Judicial Authority.

Executive Authority

Article 62 vests Executive Authority in the Emir. The rule of the State is hereditary in the family of Al Thani and in the line of the male descendants of Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Hamad Bin Abdullah Bin Jassim. His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is the current Emir and ruler of Qatar. The Emir is constitutionally inviolable and must be respected by all. He is designated the Head of State and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces which he supervises with the assistance of a Defense Council, set under his direct authority. He also represents the State internally and externally and in all international relations.

The Emir names a son as Heir Apparent to inherit the rule. If there is no such son, the rule shall pass to the member of the family named by the Emir as Heir Apparent. In this case, his male descendants shall inherit the rule. An Emir Order shall name the chosen Heir Apparent after consultation with the members of the Ruling Family and the people of wisdom in the State. The Constitution requires the Heir Apparent be a Muslim born of a Qatari Muslim Mother. The Heir Apparent shall assume the powers and discharge the functions of the Emir on his behalf during his absence outside the country, or in the event of temporary compelling circumstances. Also, the Emir may designate a deputy from the Ruling Family to discharge some of his powers and functions. His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is the crown prince of Qatar and is both the Deputy Emir and Heir Apparent. The Emir also appoints the Members of "The Council of the Ruling Family" from the members of the Ruling Family. If the Heir Apparent is less than 18 years of age when he is named Emir of the State, the reins of Government rest in a Regency Council appointed by the Council of the Ruling family.

In cases requiring utmost urgency when the Al-Shoura Council is not session, the Emir may issue special decrees that have the power of law. Such decrees are submitted to the Council at its first meeting to accept, reject, or amend them by a two-thirds majority vote within fourteen days of submission. Decree will cease to have the power of law from the date of rejection or when the period for amendments has expired.

The Council of Ministers (Cabinet), a Prime Minister, and six supreme councils assist the Emir in his Executive Authority. He appoints all Ministers, including the Prime Minister. The Ministries and other government agencies are responsible for executing public policies and programs relevant to them. The cabinet primarily includes the following Ministries: Ministry of Business & Trade, Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Economy and Commerce, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Ministry of Energy and Industry, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture. The Prime Minister presides over the sessions of the Council, organizes its proceedings and supervises coordination of work among the various Ministries in order to achieve unity and harmony among the Governmental organs of the State. Every minister is accountable to the legislative Council for the performance of his ministry.

The Central Municipal Council was originally rooted to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, but evolved into an independent government body consisting of twenty-nine publicly elected members representing constituencies from more than 230 regions within the State. The Council is charged with monitoring the implementation of laws, decrees, and regulations relating to urban and industrial planning, infrastructure and other public systems. It also oversees the economic, financial and administrative management of municipal affairs and agriculture.

Legal System

Article 61 provides "legislative power is vested in the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative) Council", which approves the general policy of the government and budget, and exercises control over the Executive Authority as specified in the Constitution. The Council is a unicameral advisory body with a bureau consisting of the Speaker, his Deputy and chairs of committees, and a general secretariat to assist the Council in the discharge of its functions. The Council currently seats thirty-five members appointed by the Emir. No legislative elections have occurred since 1970. The new Constitution provides for a forty-five member Council; with thirty ballot-elected members and fifteen appointed by the Emir. Elections were postponed several times since 2005 and are tentatively scheduled for 2013.

Every Member of the Council has the right to propose bills. Every proposal is referred to the relevant Council committee for study, recommendations, and submission to the full Council. If the Council accepts the proposal, the Council forward the draft law to the Emir for ratification. If the Emir declines to approve the draft law, he will return it along with the reasons for such his rejection within three months from the date of referral. If, once returned, the Council passes the draft once more with a two-thirds majority vote of all members, the Emir must ratify and promulgate the law. In compelling circumstances, the Emir may order the suspension of a law he rejected for the period he deems necessary to serve the higher interests of the State. The law is in effect after publication in the official Gazette. The Department of Opinion & Contracts/Ministry of Justice issues the Qatar Gazette.

Under the new Constitution, citizens are equal in rights and duties. People are equal before the law, without discrimination on grounds of sex, origin, language, or religion. Qatari woman exercised their full right to vote in the 1999 Central Municipal Council election; this was the first time women exerted the right to vote not only for Qatar, but in the entire Gulf region. The Emir first permitted Qatari women to run as candidates in the 1999 election, recognizing their role in society as a vital element in the nation's development process.

Other notable provisions in the Constitution establish the right to address public authorities, the right to litigate, the right to assemble, freedom of association, freedom of worship, freedom of the press, and the freedom of opinion and scientific research. Education is a right for every citizen and the State seeks to achieve free and compulsory public education. The State also cares for public health, and provides means of prevention and treatment of diseases and epidemics. Significantly, the Constitution prohibits modification of public rights and freedoms save for granting more rights and guarantees for the benefit of its citizens.

Court System

Article 63 states, "Judicial Authority shall be vested in courts of law as prescribed in this Constitution; and court judgment shall be pronounced in the name of the Emir." All court sessions are public except where a court decides, in the interest of public order or morality, to hold them in camera. In all cases, courts issue pronouncements of judgment in open session.

The legislature regulates the categories and divisions of courts and defines their jurisdiction and powers. In 1999, the legislature designed a three-tiered judicial system. The Courts of Justice and the Shari'a Courts of First Instance occupy the base of the structure. The Courts of Justice are empowered to hear civil, criminal, and commercial matters while the Shari'a Courts try cases involving personal status. The aggrieved may appeal decisions made in these courts to the Appeal Court of Justice and the Shari'a Court of Appeal. The Court of Cassation is the third tier of the judicial system and serves as the court of final appeal. It is presided over by a president, deputies, and enough judges to form two-judge chambers, one for Shari'a cases and the other for Court of Justice appeals. In addition, Qatar has established a separate "Family Court" to hear and determine family and inheritance disputes.

The Supreme Constitutional Court was formed in 2008 as an independent judiciary body with an independent budget. It consists of a president and six Emir-appointed members with jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes concerning the constitutionality of laws and regulations, conflicts of jurisdiction competency to adjudicate cases involving judicial bodies or agencies, and disputes arising from the implementation of final judgments issued by judicial bodies or agencies, it also interprets the texts of laws that provoke controversy in their application. Its rulings, decisions, and interpretations are final and binding on state authorities.

The law protects the independence of the judiciary against interference from other authorities. The legislature created the Supreme Judicial Council to serve as the authority over the entire judiciary and ensure its independence. The Supreme Council is composed of the head of the Court of Cassation, the head of the Shari'a Court of Appeal, the head of the Court of Appeal, the head of the Shari'a Court of First Instance, and senior judges from the Court of Cassation, Shari'a, and ordinary Courts of Appeal. The Supreme Council is empowered to suggest legislation concerning the judicial system and give opinions to the Emir regarding the appointment and careers of judges for which they enjoy renewable three-year terms.

Qatar does not submit to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and has not yet ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Foreign Relations & International law

Article 6 of the Constitution provides, "the State shall respect the international charters and conventions, and strive to implement all international agreements, treaties, and covenants to which it is a party." Article 7 states, "the foreign policy of the State is based on the principle of strengthening international peace and security by means of encouraging peaceful resolution of international disputes; and shall support the right of peoples to self-determination; and shall not interfere in the domestic affairs of states; and shall cooperate with peace-loving nations."

Qatar is a member of fourteen Gulf organizations and twenty-four Arab organizations including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In addition,, it is a member of numerous international organizations including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Islamic Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) to name only a few.

In 2004, Qatar assumed the annual chair of the Group of 77 (G-77 + China), the largest alliance of developing countries in the UN. The Group 77 was established by the "Joint Declaration of the Seventy-Seven Countries" issued at the end of the first session of the Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964. In addition, Qatar is a State Party to thirty multilateral international environmental agreements:

Amendment to the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal

WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity

Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer

Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air

Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade

Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

International Plant Protection Convention - New revised text approved by Resolution 12/97 of the 29th Session of the FAO Conference in November 1997 - Declaration

Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 (UNCLOS)

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa

Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer

Convention on Biological Diversity

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (London Amendment)

Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal

Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone layer

Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency

Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident

Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone layer

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material

Environmental Law

Article 33 of the Constitution provides, "the State shall protect the environment and its natural balance in order to achieve comprehensive and sustainable development for all generations." But Qatar's legislature focused its attention on preserving the environment even prior to the adoption of the 2004 Constitution. In 1968, Qatar promulgated its first law regulating pesticide use under its Agriculture and Municipal Legislation. It then promulgated laws on plant quarantine, neglected animals, and groundwater, which primarily focused on agricultural matters. In 1981, Qatar adopted legislation establishing the Standing Committee for the Protection of the Environment, recognizing a new area of necessitated lawmaking. Laws that followed included:

1983 Law on the Protection and Exploitation of Living Aquatic Resources in Qatar

1985 Act Concerning Animal Health

1995 Law on the Prevention of Damage to the Environment and Plant Components

2000 Decree-law transfer of Department of Environment and Natural Reserves Management Department of Agricultural Development of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture to the Supreme Council for Environment and Natural Reserves

2002 Law Organizing the Hunting of Animals, Birds, and Reptiles

2002 Environmental Protection Act

2004 Law on the Protection of Wildlife and Natural Habitats

2006 Law Regulating Trade in Species of Endangered Wildlife and Their Products

2007 Law on the Control of Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer

In addition, the Ministry of the Environment was established to promote environmental sustainability and to the coordinate Qatar's environmental initiatives. The Ministry works closely with officials in a number of government departments to develop responsible environmental policy and expand official environmental records. Its administrative functions include monitoring and assessing industrial and municipal activities concerning the environment, overseeing water treatment and waste management facilities, and regulating agriculture, fisheries, and animal control. The Ministry's role also extends to recruiting scientists and technical specialists to oversee monitoring systems and regulations, establishing an emergency preparedness committee charged with responding to environmental disasters, launching a nationwide campaign to clean up Qatar's beaches, creating and managing a comprehensive biodiversity database of protected areas and marine resources suffering environmental impact.

Looking to the future, Qatar issued its first National Development Strategy in March 2011 setting out a plan for 2011-2016 that takes to balance economic growth and environmental protection. The overarching goal is an environmentally sustainable framework that assures future generations prosperity, but with a quality of life unconstrained by shortages or inherited ecological damage. As this Strategy takes effect, the world may well see Qatar emerge as global leader in environmental awareness and innovation.

Environmental Concerns

Qatar's endowment of natural resources creates a unique mix of benefits and stresses. Although it has significant wealth in hydrocarbons, that production comes at an environmental cost. Moreover, Qatar suffers from an extreme scarcity of water and arable land. And even though its resources are limited, Qatar's biodiversity is not. A 2007 census recorded eight spcies of mammals, 242 species of birds, 29 species of reptiles, one amphibian, and 228 species of invertebrates in the terrestrial ecosystems of the country. The flora consisted of 371 species of flowering plants. Additionally, the country's rich marine habitat's support approximately 995 marine species, including 379 species of invertebrates and 20 species of birds in ecosystems such as barchans dunes, sea grass beds, coral reefs, and mangrove swamps. Balancing the competing environmental interests of all its inhabitants causes Qatar several points of stress:

A rising water table in Doha that is causing heightened construction costs and multiplying the city's environmental challenges while threatening marine life,

Increasing salinity in groundwater sources for agriculture that has degraded soil quality, lowered farm productivity already weakened by poor farming methods, inappropriate mixes of crops and livestock, and government subsidies,

Declining air quality resulting from chronically high levels of dust mixing with chemical pollutants contributing to high rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses,

Major energy production causing carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases and climate change,

Rising seas levels caused by climate change, and

Threats to biodiversity

68 endangered species including 44 species of coral, three mammals (Arabian Oryx, Dugong, Indo-Pacific Hump-Backed Dolphin), 14 fish (including 8 species of shark), and seven birds (including the Egyptian Vulture and Eurasian Peregrine Falcon)


CIA World Factbook:

Earth's Endangered Creatures:

Embassy of the State of Qatar:

EUROPA Treaties Office Database:


Gulf Cooperation Council:

Hukoomi, Qatar e-Government:

Qatar Ministry of the Environment:

Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

UNDP Programme on Governance in the Arab Region: