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Top UN court orders UAE to protect Qatari citizens’ rights

International Court of Justice AFP (File Photo)

THE HAGUE: The UN’s top court yesterday ordered the United Arab Emirates to protect the rights of Qatari citizens wading into a bitter crisis which has snapped ties between Doha and its Gulf neighbors. Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague narrowly ruled in a binding decision that the UAE must allow families, which include Qatari members, to be reunited, and that Qatari students must be given the chance to complete their education in the Emirates.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and other allies severed ties with Qatar on June 7, 2017, accusing Doha of backing terrorism. Qatari nationals living in the UAE were officially given just 14 days to leave the country. But Doha denies the accusations, and last month appealed to the ICJ to impose emergency measures against the UAE accusing Abu Dhabi of breaking the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

In a hearing in late June, Qatar accused the United Arab Emirates of spreading a “climate of fear” among Qataris living there, splitting families and causing “substantial pain” during the year-long blockade. Yesterday, the ICJ judges voted by eight votes in favor and seven against that the UAE “must ensure that families, that include a Qatari, separated by the measures adopted by the United Arab Emirates … are reunited,” said presiding judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf.

Qatari students must also be given the opportunity “to complete their education” in the Emirates or obtain their educational records if they wish to study elsewhere. Qataris “affected” by the UAE measures must also be allowed “access to tribunals and other judicial organs” in the country. “Many Qataris residing in the UAE appeared to have been forced to leave their place of residence without the possibility of return,” the judges’ ruling said. “There is an imminent risk that the measures adopted by the UAE could lead to irreparable prejudice to the rights invoked by Qatar.”

Qatar welcomed yesterday’s ruling, with foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Rumaihi, saying in a tweet that his country “was not seeking to escalate the dispute with the Emirates, but to repair the prejudice imposed on its citizens”. “This is only the first step on a long road to defend our rights, but at the same time this sends an early strong signal that there will be no tolerance shown to countries that take arbitrary measures against Qataris,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Lulwa Al-Khater said in Arabic language comments published by state news agency QNA.

The UAE said it was already implementing the provisional procedures ordered by the court. “The judges rejected the Qatari demands and called for three procedures relating to families, students and adjudication and they are measures the UAE has already implemented according to its national regulations,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post in Arabic.

The court found that mixed UAE-Qatari families have been separated, Qatari students have been deprived of the opportunity to complete their education, and Qataris have been denied equal access to justice. “The court concludes that the conditions required by its statute for it to indicate provisional measures are met,” it said.

The move into the international courts came a year after the severing of ties and imposition of punitive measures, accusing Doha of backing terrorism. These also included banning Qatar Airways from their airspace and closing the country’s only land border with Saudi Arabia. The UAE had insisted the ICJ had no authority to hear Qatar’s case and stressed the situation for Qataris living in the country today is different from a year ago.

“Qatar has failed to provide any evidence of mass expulsions or deportations or any specific actions to interfere in the enjoyment by Qataris of their civil, property or business rights,” Saeed Alnowais, the UAE’s ambassador to the Netherlands, told the court last month. He accused Doha of “mounting a public relations campaign against these states that have been most critical of its policies.” The ICJ was set up in 1946 to rule in disputes against states. Diplomatic efforts have so far proved fruitless in resolving the crisis which has rendered the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council practically obsolete. – Agencies

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