Qatar Delivers Closing Arguments in Bias Case Against UAE

The judges of the International Court of Justice hear virtual arguments in a dispute over a blockade of Qatar last week. (UN Photo/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Accusing the United Arab Emirates of racial bias, Qatar had the last opportunity to speak before the United Nations’ high court on Monday in a dispute involving a land, air and sea blockade.  

The two Persian Gulf states wrapped more than a week of hearings over jurisdiction before the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, over a 2017 diplomatic row that left Qatar shut out by its neighbors, in a move it says was racially motivated and in violation of an international treaty. 

The UAE had a chance to respond to Qatar’s opening statements on Friday, after giving its own opening statements a week ago.  

“This is a nationality case, not a national origin case,” Scott Sheeran, representing the UAE, told The Hague-based court in closing remarks.

Abu Dhabi argued that its decision to expel Qataris from its borders and block air travel to and from Qatar does not violate the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD, because it was a decision based on nationality, rather than race. In its opening statements, the UAE claimed Emiratis and Qataris were of the same racial group and thus could not discriminate against each other based on race. 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the court is meeting using a hybrid model, with some judges present in the Great Hall of Justice and some attending virtually. Representatives for both the UAE and Qatar appeared virtually and Friday’s session included a number of technical hang-ups, including one lawyer needing to be reminded several times to turn his microphone on. 

In its closing statements Monday, Doha pushed back against the UAE’s argument.

“Qataris are a protected group under the convention by virtue of their distinct national origin,” said Vaughan Lowe of Essex Court Chambers. The CERD protects groups against discrimination “based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.”

He compared discrimination against Qataris to the treatment of Poles by the Nazis, where Polish nationals were forced to wear an identifying mark and were barred from certain jobs on the basis of their nationality. 

Sir Daniel Bethlehem of Twenty Essex Chambers, on behalf of the UAE, had argued on Friday that “both parties are fully committed to another process to address the issues.”  The UAE has also contended that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute because Qatar has not done enough to resolve issues bilaterally.

“As it stands, the UAE has yet to live up to its words,” Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi, Qatar’s agent at the ICJ, said in the last presentation on Monday. 

“There is no doubt that Qatar made a genuine attempt to negotiate,” Lawrence Martin of Foley Hoag, another Qatari representative, said Monday.

As Martin was describing to the court how the CERD allows for members to pursue multiple avenues of resolution, he experienced technical difficulties that caused his audio to repeatedly speed up, giving it a “Chipmunks”-like effect. ICJ President Abdulqawi Yusuf had to stop the hearing to allow technicians to fix the problem.

In June 2017, the UAE and a number of other countries announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, ostensibly over its support for terrorist groups. This included an air, land and sea blockade, which created serious supply chain issues for Qatar, which imports 99% of its food. Of the countries engaged in the blockade, only the UAE is a signatory of CERD.

In a related case,  the ICJ held 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.

A ruling on the court’s jurisdiction is expected before the end of the year.

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