US working with Qatar on reforms: Diplomat

March 19, 2013 - 4:21:58 am

By Azmat Haroon

Doha: The US Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is working with Qatar on a number of programmes, including trade agreements and commercial law reforms, a senior US diplomat said.

This includes programmes on best practices in energy law, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary Nazanin Ash (pictured) said during a digital video conference held at the US embassy here yesterday.

She was speaking about the outcomes of the G8-Broader Middle East and North Africa Forum for the Future that was held in Tunisia last December.

All the MEPI projects in Qatar, targeted at women and youth, were launched with the understanding and support of the government, the diplomat said.

“We have an ongoing programme with Qatar University (QU) and the American Bar Association that focuses on providing technical assistance for the establishment of legal clinics that will focus on women’s rights,” Ash said.

The 2012 Forum for the Future saw strong participation from Qatari organisations, which included the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), Qatar Foundation for the Protection of Women and Children and the Roudha Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 

Previously, the Solidarity Center and NHRC had signed an agreement to cooperate on human and worker rights issues and fighting human trafficking. The agreement aimed at extending legal protection to migrants and to provide workers access to information about their rights.

Launched in 2002, MEPI provides support to government and civil society groups in the region in the form of small grants, training and exchange programmes that aim to empower civil society.

From Qatar, MEPI has so far only seen requests for support from citizen groups on various programmes, the diplomat said while answering a question about initiatives lead by expatriate communities here.

“We don’t discriminate on the basis of who applies. But so far, in countries like Qatar, the demand has come largely from citizen groups,” she said.

She said that under the Voices of Women project, a number of Qatari women here expressed their opinions on a range of issues, including education, labour law, migrant workers and poverty.

As per the 2012 Forum for the Future Declaration, the US will establish a new Journalist Response Fund this year to provide training to at-risk journalists, bloggers, and citizen journalists, and to offer emergency assistance to journalists facing difficulties or repression.

“The Journalists Response Fund is modelled on what we call the human rights defenders fund, which will provide immediate legal support to journalists. We will also be providing financial and technical assistance as journalists who go through the program,” Ash said.

The US will also launch the Freedom of Association Index, a new tool to measure the ease of forming and operating an NGO, comparable to the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report. This will help NGOs advocate for legal changes and will help countries enact new rules to benefit the civil society.

The Mena Partnership for Democracy and Development (MPD) is another project that will see extensive US support in the region.

The Peninsula