Radha Stirling comments on the escalation of belligerent behaviour of the UAE
Upon her return from Washington D.C., having met with policy makers, academics, journalists and human rights organisations; Radha Stirling reflects on the current trajectory of the UAE’s relations with the international community:
The killing of Jamal Khashoggi
Seven months before dissident Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered, Saudi Arabia’s principle ally in the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates brutally abducted Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, the estranged and would-be dissident daughter of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai and UAE Prime Minister. Along with Latifa, the Emirates also abducted an American and a Finnish citizen, with the American reporting that they were told by authorities that he would be killed, chopped into pieces and disposed of in the desert.
Now, if we are paying attention, it certainly appears that the Saudis may have been emboldened by what they saw the UAE perpetrate – which included an illegal military raid on an American civilian vessel in international waters – without significant repercussions. In March, Latifa is forcibly disappeared, in October, the vanishing of Jamal Khashoggi is botched by Saudi Arabia, with evidence of his murder revealed to the press. What we observe is an escalating trajectory of belligerence and violence, with the two Gulf allies seemingly pushing each other to new levels of despotic behaviour.
Religious Extremism Rising
UAE officials told the American citizen whom they abducted from Latifa’s escape boat that he had been detained and interrogated, not because any actual laws had been broken, but because he had violated Islamic Law by helping Latifa flee from her allegedly abusive and tyrannical father. In other words, Sheikh Mohammed ordered a military operation, recruited Indian forces to participate, to seize an American civilian vessel in international waters, to enforce his personal interpretation of Islamic Law, well beyond his territorial jurisdiction.
This represents an intensification of religious extremism within the present government in the UAE. Officials offered a religious rationale for the attack on Nostromo, to apprehend an adult free Muslim woman, to return her to the hands of her abuser. The UAE, under the direction of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, readily flouted International Law, ignored their treaties, defied maritime law, and misused American military training and equipment to impose their own version of Shari’ah beyond their borders. Had a non-state actor perpetrated this act under the same religious pretext, we would correctly characterize it as a jihadist act of terror.
It appears that the deepening ties between the UAE and Saudi Arabia may be having the effect of encouraging a new degree of Islamic fundamentalism within the UAE government, and they seem to be moving down a path that will alienate them from the West
UAE Statement on Princess Latifa Enforced Disappearance
I find the statement highly incriminating. The UAE expressed concern and sadness about press coverage of Latifa’s enforced disappearance, but no concern about the ongoing United Nations enquiry into her abduction. They expressed no concern for the breaches of international law that were committed when they mobilised a military operation in the open seas against an American civilian vessel.
The media speculation over the fate of Latifa has occurred for one reason only, and that is the persistent refusal of the UAE to respond to queries about Latifa’s well-being presented to the government by multiple human rights organisations; and finally, by the United Nations.
Referring to the attack on international waters of an American vessel by 5 warships and the Indian Coast Guard, the abduction of all onboard, and a United Nations enquiry into enforced disappearance as a “private family matter” is simply outrageous.
The world has not been waiting for the UAE to release a statement about Latifa, we have been waiting for the UAE to release Latifa herself. Obviously, a 9 month delay in even addressing the topic is conspicuous enough, but to release a statement, without releasing Latifa, and doing so a day before BBC2 will air a one hour documentary about the case, is more than conspicuous, it is incriminating.
Attacks on the character of Herve Jaubert, and the fabrication of a demand for money by those who were assisting Latifa flee to asylum, are obvious attempts to evade the facts. When Indian Coast Guard and UAE special forces boarded her boat, guns drawn, Latifa screamed that she was seeking asylum, and begged to not be returned to the UAE. Latifa had been planning her escape for 7 years, this was not a moment of vulnerability, quite the opposite, this was a moment in her life when she decided, against all odds, to escape from the vulnerability and abuse she suffered since she was a minor.
The trend of UAE foreign relations
We have been dealing with the UAE for 10 years, and trying to encourage positive reforms to the legal system there; but over the past 1-2 years, we have noted the UAE moving rapidly in a very negative and dangerous trajectory. Cases of extortion by local business partners, fabricated evidence, false imprisonment, forced confessions, and gross violations of due process; have increased dramatically. The UAE’s abuse of Interpol, using the international policing organisation as an instrument for harassment and debt collection, has also become rampant. And then there is the growing regional belligerence and disregard for the rule of law, as seen in the Latifa case, the case of Matthew Hedges, as well as in their brutal campaign in Yemen. The government of the UAE is circumventing treaties and international diplomatic norms of procedure to pursue a radically self-centric regional policy.
We are beginning to see the West lose patience with this behaviour. The United States is now a net exporter of crude oil, and this inevitably weakens the leverage of the Gulf states, including the UAE. If the current trajectory is not corrected, perhaps by new blood rising to power in the government, the Emirates may resign itself to a path towards isolation, if not hostility, between themselves and the rest of the international community.
BBC2 will broadcast the story of Latifa’s escape this evening in a documovie that has been in production since March 2018. The movie features Hervé Jaubert, Tiina Jauhiainen & Radha Stirling who have been tirelessly campaigning for Latifa’s release since the 4th of March 2018. Toby Cadman of Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers continues to fight for Latifa’s freedom at the United Nations.
The #FreeLatifa team thanks the BBC for their professionalism and efforts to produce such a compelling presentation of what is a serious international incident and assault on human rights. BBC2 will broadcast on the 6th of December at 21:00 GMT.