Vienna Consular Convention
Under Article 36(1)(b) of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the government of Qatar must, at the request of any detained American, notify the U.S. Embassy immediately after an arrest takes place.
Qatar’s authority to try foreigners as well as its own citizens is based upon the principle of sovereignty, which is the right of a nation to make and enforce its laws within its own boundaries. All Americans in Qatar are under the absolute jurisdiction of Qatari courts.
Anyone who breaks the law in Qatar is subject to prosecution under the Qatari legal system. If a person is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by a Qatari court, this sentence will be served in a Qatari prison.
The Embassy’s Role
A U.S. passport does not entitle the bearer to any special privileges or preferential treatment in Qatar. In spite of what you may have heard to the contrary, the U.S. government cannot get anybody out of prison. Nevertheless, neither arrest nor conviction deprives a U.S. citizen of a consular officer’s best efforts in protecting the citizen’s legal and human rights.
At the time of arrest, if the prisoner requests that the U.S. Embassy be notified, a consular officer will visit the jail as soon as possible. Thereafter, the consular officer will visit periodically, and in an emergency will come right away. Prison visits enable the consular officer to monitor the health and well-being of the prisoner and the status of the judicial proceedings.
The consular officer can intercede on the prisoner’s behalf when necessary to ensure that he/she receives adequate medical attention. The consular officer will also look into any complaints the prisoner may have, and discuss them with the appropriate authorities.
The consular officer will notify the prisoner’s family and friends, and relay requests for financial or other aid, provided the prisoner gives authorization to do so by signing a Privacy Act Waiver. The consular officer can also serve as a liaison between the prisoner and his/her lawyer.
Consular officers are not attorneys. However, the consular officer will provide the prisoner with a list of local attorneys. The consular officer cannot recommend an attorney or provide legal advice. An arrested person should hire an attorney as soon as possible. If the case involves anything more serious than a minor traffic violation, we recommend retaining a local defense attorney. Local lawyers are naturally very familiar with Qatari law and proceedings in Qatari courts. The Qatari attorney should serve as the prisoner’s primary source of advice. The prisoner should ask the attorney any questions that he/she may have about the case and listen carefully to the attorney’s advice, for the attorney is trained in Qatari law and has the duty to defend a person to the best of his/her ability.
Legal services will be at the prisoner’s own expense. The Embassy cannot cover these costs.