Qatar Accuses UAE of Racial Bias at UN High Court

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Qatar argued before the United Nations’ high court Wednesday that sanctions imposed by the United Arab Emirates constitute racial discrimination.

The International Court of Justice, or ICJ, is holding hearings on whether it has jurisdiction to decide the dispute between the Persian Gulf states, which stems from a 2017 decision by the UAE to cut diplomatic ties with its neighbor and impose a land and sea blockade. 

“It is the purpose of the UAE’s measures to discriminate against the Qatari people,” 

Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi, Qatar’s agent at The Hague-based court, said via video link. This is the second case the court is hearing in a mixed in-person and virtual capacity. 

In its opening arguments on Monday, the UAE said the ICJ lacked jurisdiction to rule on the dispute, brought by Qatar in 2018, because the diplomatic crisis between the neighboring countries is based on nationality, not race, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD, does not specify nationality as criteria. 

“It is telling that the UAE’s submissions on Monday neglect even to mention that the CERD Committee has assessed the scope of the convention specifically with respect to the UAE’s measures,” said Catherine Amirfar of Debevoise & Plimpton, a global firm based in New York.

The UAE gave Qatari citizens living in the country two weeks to leave when it announced it was cutting ties in June 2017. 

Amirfar told the ICJ that the Qatari accent is separate and distinct and that the country has its own traditional clothing as well, to demonstrate that Qataris are not merely the same group of people as the Emiratis, separated by a national border. 

The UAE said Monday that it had rescinded the ban without expelling anyone, but Pierre Klein, professor of law at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, told the court on behalf of Qatar that thousands of Qataris left the country on short notice after the order was announced.

“This was not an immigration control measure. It was a ban, plain and simple,” he said. 

Lawrence Martin of Foley Hoag responded to the UAE’s claim that Qatar has not fulfilled its obligations to come to a bilateral resolution by telling the court: “Qatar of course welcomes this recently discovered spirit of cooperation.”

Qatar maintains that it tried to mediate the situation for a year before filing its complaint with the ICJ. 

The ICJ has consistently ruled in favor of Qatar in cases involving the blockade. In 2018, in response to a request for emergency measures, the court ordered Abu Dhabi to reunite families separated by the embargo and allow Qatari students in the UAE to finish their studies. A year later, it rejected a request from the UAE to force Qatar to stop blocking an Emirati visa website. 

And in a separate but related case, the ICJ found last month that the U.N.’s civil aviation organization could hear a dispute between Qatar and the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the air blockade. 

In what is known as the Qatar diplomatic crisis, a group of Gulf and Middle Eastern states announced in June 2017 that they were cutting diplomatic ties with the country ostensibly over its support for terrorist groups.

Qatar’s neighbors banned Qatar-registered airplanes and ships from utilizing their airspace and sea routes and Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land crossing. The country, which imports 99% of its food supply, airlifted food from Turkey and Iran.

Of the countries engaged in the blockade, only the UAE is a signatory of the CERD. Hearings will resume on Friday.

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