Qatar Fights Airspace Blockade in Top UN Court

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Several Persian Gulf nations returned to the International Court of Justice on Tuesday for Qatar’s opening arguments in its challenge to an airspace blockade imposed by its neighbors.

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

On the second day of hearings, Qatar asked the ICJ to allow the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization to “address the merits of these time-sensitive disputes” rather than continuing the proceedings at the UN’s highest court.

Qatar’s opening statement was given by Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi, the country’s agent at the ICJ, before he turned the floor over to the country’s legal representatives.

The dispute dates back to a 2017 blockade of Qatar by its neighbors, after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, among others, cut diplomatic ties with Qatar ostensibly over its support for terrorist groups. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, imposed land, air and sea blockades and also expelled Qatari citizens living in those countries.

Qatar brought a complaint before the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, alleging that Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had violated the Convention on International Civil Aviation by cutting off air travel from the peninsular nation.  Sometimes called the Chicago Convention, the 1944 agreement allows planes to fly into foreign airspace and created the ICAO to oversee international air transport.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE argued Monday that the ICAO isn’t capable of adjudicating the larger issues central to the dispute. The four countries want the case to be handled in the ICJ instead.

But Vaughan Lowe of Essex Court Chambers, arguing on behalf of Qatar, said that all of the nations were parties to the Convention on International Civil Aviation and therefore Qatar’s complaint should be resolved by the ICAO.

“The ICAO is perfectly competent to address the claims before it,” Lowe said Tuesday.

The four neighboring countries have accused Qatar of noncompliance with the Riyadh agreements, a series of deals between the six Persian Gulf nations of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain that were signed in 2013 and 2014.

In those handwritten agreements, the countries pledged to support stability in Egypt, cease support for terrorist groups and not support “antagonistic media,” which is seen as a dig at Al Jazeera, the state-funded news station based in Qatar.

Hearings in the blockade dispute resume on Thursday when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will have a chance to rebut Qatar’s arguments.

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