Hearing Over Qatar Airspace Blockade Wraps in UN Court

The International Court of Justice on Monday, the first day of hearings in a dispute between Qatar and Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (Photo via UN/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Arguments wrapped up Friday in a case before the International Court of Justice over an airspace blockade against Qatar, as the peninsular nation urged the United Nations’ highest court to let an aviation agency resolve the dispute.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates want the ICJ to handle the adjudication of a dispute they have with Qatar rather than the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, the U.N.’s civil aviation body.

“The ICAO is unable to deal with the issues beyond those of civil aviation,” Payam Akhavan, an international lawyer and professor at Montreal’s McGill University, argued Thursday on behalf of the four countries.

“Qatar brought this dispute to the ICAO council because it is about civil aviation,” Vaughan Lowe of Essex Court Chambers said in his response Friday for Qatar.

In 2017, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, among others, cut diplomatic ties with Qatar ostensibly over its support for terrorist groups, accusing the peninsular nation of violating the Riyadh agreements.

Those 2013 and 2014 agreements between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain aimed to settle years of diplomatic issues between Qatar and its neighbors. The countries had pledged to support stability in Egypt and cease support for terrorist groups.

As part of the blockade, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE barred Qatari aircraft from entering their airspace, which Qatar claims violated the Convention on International Civil Aviation. Sometimes called the Chicago Convention, the 1944 agreement allows planes to fly into foreign airspace and created the ICAO to oversee international air transport.

After Qatar filed a complaint, the ICAO ruled last year that it had jurisdiction over the case, which is seen as a positive sign in the outcome of the case for Qatar.

Lawyers for Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE argued in opening statements Monday that the ICAO isn’t competent to adjudicate the dispute since the disagreement goes beyond aviation issues.

In their own opening statements on Tuesday, Qatari lawyers contended that the issues in the complaint relate to commercial flights and thus the ICAO is the correct jurisdiction, an argument which they reiterated in their rebuttal Thursday.

“If the [ICAO] council gets a legal decision wrong, this court is here to correct it,” Lowe told the 15-judge panel at The Hague-based court.

Representatives for all five countries declined to comment after Friday’s final hearing.

A ruling in the case is expected next year.

The UAE and Qatar also faced off before the ICJ in May over allegations by Qatar that the UAE violated international law when it deported Qataris from the country as part of the blockade.

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