UN Court Rejects UAE Bid for Measures Against Qatar

The International Court of Justice on 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 International Court of Justice on Friday ruled against the United Arab Emirates in a two-year legal battle accusing Abu Dhabi of discrimination against Qatari citizens.

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.

Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline, both based in the UAE, grounded flights into Qatar. 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.

The UAE is closely aligned with Saudi Arabia, while Qatar has a closer relationship with Iran.

A year after the embargo began, Qatar instituted proceedings against the UAE in The Hague-based International Court of Justice, or ICJ, the United Nations’ highest court.

Doha argued that Abu Dhabi violated International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD, a 1969 agreement. It requested provisional measures “to protect against further, irreparable harm of Qataris and their families,” asking the court to order the UAE to cease its alleged discrimination against Qatari citizens.

Of the countries that joined the embargo against Qatar, only the UAE is a party to the CERD convention.

Initial hearings on the requested provisional measures were held in June 2018. A month later, the ICJ ruled in favor of Qatar, ordering Abu Dhabi to reunite families separated by the embargo, allow Qatari students in the UAE to finish their studies, and ensure Qataris had access to legal representation within the UAE.

But in March, the UAE requested its own set of provisional measures against Doha. It asked the court to force Qatar to withdraw its complaint before the CERD committee and stop blocking a website the UAE says it set up to help Qataris apply for visas to enter the country.

Hearings on the UAE’s request for provisional measures were held over three days last month.

On Friday, ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf read aloud the court’s ruling, starting with whether it had jurisdiction to rule on the request. As the court had already held that it had jurisdiction to rule on this case last year, it saw “no reason to revisit the previous findings.”

In a 15-1 vote, the ICJ rejected the UAE’s request for measures against Qatar.

Abu Dhabi alleged that Doha was not adhering to the court’s initial order to “refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute” by blocking the visa website. During the hearings in May, both sides spent a considerable amount of time debating the technical aspects of the website issue. Qatar claimed the website lacked a proper security certificate.

However, the court declined to issue an order stopping Qatar from blocking the website.

“The court considers that this measure relates to obstacles allegedly created by Qatar to the implementation by the UAE of the provisional measures indicated in the Order of 23 July 2018. It does not concern plausible rights of the UAE under CERD which require protection pending the final decision of the court in the case,” the ruling states. “As the court has already stated, ‘[t]he judgment on the merits is the appropriate place for the Court to assess compliance with the provisional measures.’”

The last two provisional measures requested by the UAE relate to the requirement that both nations avoid doing anything that might worsen the situation. The ICJ noted in its ruling that “measures aimed at preventing the aggravation or extension of a dispute can only be indicated as an addition to specific measures to protect rights of the parties.”

“With regard to the present request, the court has not found that the conditions for the indication of specific provisional measures are met and thus it cannot indicate measures solely with respect to the non-aggravation of the dispute,” the ruling states.

The court also upheld its previous finding that pursuing a complaint before the CERD committee does not preclude Qatar from instituting proceedings in the ICJ. The UAE argued during the May hearings that Qatar was “advancing baseless accusations about the UAE to multiple international bodies.”

This was a novel approach before the court. According to legal experts, the ICJ hasn’t before handled a request for a party to be forced to withdraw from a petition in front of another legal body.

Qatar was happy with Friday’s ruling. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson called the UAE’s request for provisional measures “incoherent” and thanked the Qatari legal team for its work on the case.

There was no immediate comment from the UAE.

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