UAE Fights Qatar Bias Claim in UN High Court

The International Court of Justice on Tuesday, 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 argued Tuesday before the International Court of Justice that Qatar forged documents and spread false information in a case accusing Abu Dhabi of discrimination against Qatari citizens.

In front of a full courtroom at The Hague-based ICJ, the Emirati ambassador to the Netherlands, Hissa Abdulla Ahmed al-Otaiba, outlined in her opening statement what the UAE has done to assist Qataris living, studying and owning property in her country since the ending of diplomatic relations between the nations. She also accused Qatar of supporting terrorism.

The dispute between the UAE and Qatar dates back to June 2017 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, Egypt, the Maldives and Bahrain all announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar ostensibly over its support for terrorists groups.

A number of countries also implemented a blockade of Qatar. Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline, both based in the UAE, grounded flights into Qatar on the same day. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border and both the UAE and Saudi Arabia closed their ports to ships sailing under the Qatari flag or bound for Qatar. The UAE and Saudi Arabia also expelled Qatari citizens living in the country.

Nearly a year after the initial blockade and with no resolution in sight, Qatar filed suit against the UAE in the ICJ, the United Nations’ highest court. The UAE is the only country among the nations boycotting Qatar that is a party to the ICJ.

Qatar and the UAE are both parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the government in Doha claims Abu Dhabi is fostering racial hatred.  

Mohammed Abdulaziz al-Khulaifi, one of the lawyers representing Qatar, said at a preliminary hearing last June, “The UAE has fostered such an environment of hate against Qataris. Individuals in the UAE are afraid of even speaking to family members living in Qatar.”

After an initial review of the case in July, the ICJ ruled that families separated during the dispute should be reunited, students affected should be allowed to continue their studies or be supported in transferring elsewhere, and Qatari citizens in the UAE should be granted access to legal aid.

The preliminary ruling was issued because, according to the court, “there is an imminent risk that the measures adopted by the UAE could lead to irreparable prejudice to the rights invoked by Qatar.”

But at Tuesday’s hearing, the UAE contended that it has already met these obligations. Dan Sarooshi, one of four lawyers who presented evidence in the case in addition to the opening statement made by the ambassador, argued that the UAE was merely engaging in normal behavior by requiring foreign citizens to obtain visas before entering the country. Before 2017, Qataris enjoyed visa-free access to the UAE.

Sarooshi further alleged the Qatari government is blocking the UAE website where people can request visas.  

Another UAE attorney, Robert Volterra of global firm Volterra Fietta, went even further and claimed that Qatar hacked the website the UAE created to help Qatari citizens living in the country.

Volterra has faced off against Qatar before at the ICJ, representing Bahrain in a 2001 case over a territorial dispute of islands off the coast of Qatar. Volterra said Qatar submitted at least 82 forged documents as evidence in the Bahrain case and accused Doha of doing the same in the UAE case.

“These falsehoods irreparably contaminate every aspect of this case,” he said.

Counsel for Qatar seemed bemused during Volterra’s argument, rolling their eyes and snickering.

Maria Fogdestam-Agius, another Volterra Fietta attorney, went on to accuse Qatar of “advancing baseless accusations about the UAE to multiple international bodies” and asked the ICJ to order Qatar to stop disseminating false information.

“These statements aggravate and extend the dispute,” she said.

Her arguments related to reports published by the Qatari government outlining the alleged treatment of their citizens by the UAE as well as information published in Al Jazeera, a state-funded global news organization.

Volterra returned to offer the closing argument on behalf of the UAE, this time presenting in French, rather than English. He argued that Qatar itself is behind all of the difficulties its citizens face and repeated an allegation made by his colleague: “This fake news that Qatar circulates further inflames the tensions between the two parties.”  

The hearing will resume Wednesday with Qatar giving opening statement.

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