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Human Rights Watch condemns Skytrax over Qatar Airport award

written by Hannah Dowling | September 10, 2021

An internal photo of Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar (Arne Müseler/Wikicommons)

Skytrax’s decision to award Qatar’s Hamad International Airport as the “World’s Best” has been slammed as “ridiculous” by a human rights advocacy group, following the non-consensual intimate examination of Australian women by airport staff last year.

In October 2020, women from as many as 10 flights out of Doha’s Hamad International Airport were asked to leave their aircraft before escorted to ambulances for an invasive check, supposedly carried out as staff tried to find the mother of a baby abandoned at the airport.

Last month, Hamad International was honoured by UK-based air travel review site Skytrax as ‘World’s Best Airport’ for 2021.

Senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch Rothna Begum has since called out Skytrax, arguing its inclusion of Hamad International in the running for the 2021 award signalled a disregard for the “safety and dignity” of women at airports.

“It seems ridiculous that Doha airport could be granted World’s Best Airport, given that in October 2020, the authorities had removed women off planes and forced a number of them to undergo gynecological exams which can amount to sexual assault,” she said.


Begum added that by issuing such an award the year after airport staff conducted and condoned “forced gynecological exams” on women, Skytrax has “signalled that women’s safety and dignity at airports do not matter”.

When contacted previously by Australian Aviation, Skytrax defended its decision to award this year’s World’s Best Airport accolade to Hamad International, arguing the outcome is “the customer’s choice”.

Begum further suggested that the World’ Best Airport award adds insult to injury to the women around the world involved in the incident, who are yet to see closure on their traumatising experience.

“While the Qatari authorities issued an apology for the incident and said that they will investigate, there has been no mention of the completion of any such investigation, whether anyone was held to account, or any redress provided to the women concerned,” Begum said.

She added that this was not the only incident in 2020 in which women’s rights were undermined by staff at Hamad International.

“In 2020, immigration officials at Doha airport also stopped several Qatari women under 25 and women over 25 years old and demanded to speak to their guardian to check they had permission to leave the country, providing inconsistent statements to women about the legal basis for doing so,” Begum said.

She previously spoke out against the incident, when it was first reported last year.

“I don’t know of any law in Qatar that obligates the authorities to conduct forced gynecological exams,” Begum told The New York Times, after the news first broke.

“Any woman of childbearing age became a suspect. This was not treated as a public health matter, but as a criminal matter. And even in criminal cases, there’s due process.”

Earlier, TWU state secretary for NSW and Queensland, Richard Olsen, told Australian Aviation that Hamad International Airport should have been disqualified for the title of World’s Best Airport following the “extremely serious” reports of “illegal invasive searches” of women at the instruction of airport staff.

“​​It’s beyond belief that Skytrax has named the Hamad International Airport ‘World’s Best Airport’,” Olsen, who also previously spoke out in support of the women involved, said.

“Skytrax says that the ‘World’s Best Airport’ award is based on customer surveys – I’ll bet they didn’t speak to any of the women who were subjected to these horrendous examinations when deciding who to give an award to.

“Skytrax should immediately revoke the award. Anything less is an insult to the women who were subjected to these invasive searches.”

Early reports of the incident suggest the women involved, which included 13 Australians, were ”distraught” and “couldn’t believe what had happened”, as they were pulled from their long-delayed flights and subject to intimate examinations, with no explanation.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said at the time that the incident was “a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events”.

“It is not something that I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to Qatari authorities on this matter,” Minister Payne said.

Four months after the incident, in February this year, Qatar was still yet to provide the Australian federal government with its crucial report into the incident, which was initially promised in the weeks following the incident.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not respond to a request for comment.

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Comments (3)

  • Kenneth


    “stopped several Qatari women under 25 and women over 25 years old “ hmm, wouldn’t that just mean “women” in general? I don’t get the point about the age ?

  • Joanne


    Too little, too late.
    It’s already been awarded so nobody will have the guts to rescind the decision.

  • Nicholas


    Perhaps these people with far too much time on their hands, should focus on the dozens of countries and regimes where the human rights of millions are trampled on, and thousands die or are tortured.

    To focus so shrilly on Qatar Airport just shows that organisations such as this have lost the plot, and I’d say the respect and time of most people…

    It sounds callous, and is not meant to be, but being brutal none died or was hurt…

    And it happened only once, and yes clearly was poorly handled, but also it clearly wasn’t a government mandated action..

    Perhaps Human Rights Watch should go and do some useful work….

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