Qatar, UAE Wrap Diplomatic Bias Case at UN High Court

The International Court of Justice on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, the first day of hearings in a discrimination case brought by Qatar against the United Arab Emirates. (UN Photo/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) –The United Arab Emirates and Qatar returned to the International Court of Justice a final day to duke out a small portion of a larger diplomatic discrimination case.

Qatar accuses the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of discriminating against Qatari citizens since the UAE and other nations cut diplomatic ties in 2017. For its part, the UAE wants the United Nations’ highest court to slap Qatar with a temporary restraining order.

On behalf of the UAE, Robert Volterra from global firm Volterra Fietta told the court Thursday that Qatar’s actions are harming the UAE’s reputation and hindering progress in resolving the dispute.

Volterra then handed the reins to Yale Law School professor W. Michael Reisman. The 80-year-old lawyer’s hands shook while turning the pages of his testimony, in which he accused Qatar of employing a “swarming strategy” against the UAE. The UAE objects to Qatar pursuing other legal channels for redress of the alleged discrimination.

Next up for the UAE was Dan Sarooshi, who had the unenviable job of explaining the technical aspects of suspected website hacking by Qatar.

After the UAE cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a land, air and sea blockade over Qatar’s alleged support of terrorists, UAE says it set up a website to assist Qataris in obtaining visas to enter the country. Qatar told the UN court Tuesday this website was infected with malware, so government officials blocked it.

But the UAE testified Qatar blocked the website “to ensure a favorable outcome for Qatar in this case.” According to Sarooshi, the malware-infected website presented by Qatar was, in fact, an entirely different website altogether.

The third aspect of the injunction requested by the UAE involves material published by Qatar’s state-funded global news organization, among others. Another Volterra Fietta lawyer, Maria Fogdestam-Agius, told the court that despite what Qatar said Wednesday, Al Jazeera is not independent and its unfounded reporting defames the UAE.

Volterra wrapped up the arguments, again in French, by noting the UAE is allowed to require visas for foreign nationals, just as European Union does for some travelers.

The final statement for the UAE was made by the Emirati ambassador to the Netherlands, Hissa Abdulla Ahmed al-Otaiba. She asked the UN court to issue the restraining order since “Qatar’s actions damage the UAE’s reputation and make it difficult to resolve the problems before the two nations.”

After a recess to allow Qatar to prepare its closing arguments, Qatar’s attorney Vaughan Lowe emphasized the case involves human rights. He reminded the court they were there to discuss the restraining order and not the merits in the full case.

As for what the UAE offered to support its request for such measures, Lowe challenged the UAE’s claim Qatar fabricated evidence.

“If the UAE wishes to allege that any piece of evidence has been fabricated by Qatar, it should say so and it should prove it,” said Lowe, dismissing claims by the UAE that Qatar has a history of fabricating evidence.

Lawrence H. Martin, from U.S. firm Foaley Hoag, followed, addressing the portion of the requested injunction requiring Qatar to withdraw from other legal actions surrounding these issues. Calling UAE attorney Volterra “strident,” Martin said it’s not unusual for countries to pursue solutions on several fronts.

Catherine Amirfar, of Debevoise & Plimpton, called the UAE’s demand to quell reports on human rights “disrespectful to the court.” Attorney Lowe also said the demand, the second provision of the injunction, is extremely broad and doesn’t define how to classify “state-funding” of media outlets.

Amirfar also tried to clarify the website issue. Qatar claims two websites with security issues redirect to the website the UAE has directed Qataris to use for visas. The UAE claimed previously Qatar was trying to muddy the waters with the technical issues, but Amirfar said the court is capable of understanding the issue at hand.

Qatar closed its testimony with Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi, the country’s agent at the court. He accused the UAE of using the restraining order request to attempt to intimidate the parties involved and delay the court from ruling on the merits. He also stressed that should the UAE deal with the malware issue on its website, Qatar would immediately unblock it.

Emirati ambassador al-Otaiba declined to comment after the hearing, but Al-Khulaifi of Qatar told reporters, “We have nothing to expect now, we are waiting for the judge’s ruling.”

The court will rule on the four UAE requests “in due course.” Its previous ruling on injunctions took a month.

Molly Quell reports for Courthouse News Service from the Netherlands.

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