Qatar’s Gay Rights Policy Under Scrutiny
Cornell Daily Sun, December 4, 2002
By Freda Ready
Renewed concern is arising around the Cornell Weill Medical College-Qatar
because of the country’s recent record on lesbian and gay rights.
According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association’s (ILGA) world
legal survey, “Article 201 of the Qatari Penal Code punishes sodomy between
consenting adults (irrespective of sex) with up to five years of
Qatar’s sodomy laws hardly make it unique, especially in the Arab world.
According to Amnesty International, 83 countries explicitly condemn
homosexuality in their criminal codes. 26 of those 83 countries are Muslim.
Most convictions in those 26 countries happen in the Sharia courts, which use
the Koran, Sunna and Ijma as sources for law.
In the Sharia courts, “Law is not a product of human intelligence and
adaptation to changing social needs, but of divine inspiration, which makes it
immutable,” according to H.A.R. Gibb in Mohammedanism, An Historical Survey.
What makes Qatar’s laws unique, however, is how they are put into
practice. In most countries, foreigners, especially Westerners, are often
immune to punitive action based on sexuality. In 1995, while the country’s
government was still under Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al-Thani, the father of
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, with whom Cornell has been largely
negotiating, an American citizen in Qatar was sentenced to receive 90 lashes
during a 6-month prison term for “homosexual activity,” according to the
U.S. Department of State’s report on human rights practices for 1996. In
October of 1997, 36 gay Filipino workers were deported, according to the
Manila daily newspaper, Today.
Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin, however, remains confident that the
University will be able to protect those students, faculty members and staff
of the medical school who may be affected by Qatar’s sodomy laws.
“The Qatari government has agreed to abide by Cornell University’s
standards for admissions and the status of students. The criteria for Cornell
University medical students are all academic,” she said.
But, one student worried that it is the gesture itself that is important.
“I think it’s outrageous that Cornell would consider opening a school
in a place where its students could be arrested for what they do in the
privacy of their own bedrooms,” said Jake Lazarus ‘05.
Qatar currently has no medical schools of its own, a fact that has
consistently been given as one of the important reasons for opening this
branch of the medical school. But such arguments are of little comfort to
“If they want access to our education, they can get a student visa and
come to Ithaca. Cornell shouldn’t disregard its commitment to inclusiveness
and diversity just because they want to make a few quick tuition bucks off
rich Arab oilmen sending their sons to med school,” he said.
Martin agreed that the Qatari laws in relation to Cornell’s commitment to
diversity was an important issue.
“It’s certainly worth my mentioning it directly to the Board of
Trustees,” she said.
Martin also pointed out, however, that there are “a lot of provisions in
the agreement [between Cornell and the Qatar Foundation] for protection of
people in any emergency situation.”
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