Geneva is a long way from the Arabian Gulf, but last Friday, a special closed session of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) heard testimony from witnesses and international experts about the disturbing events surrounding the abduction of Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum off the coast of India.
It's been over 6 months since Princess Latifa's distress call on the 4th of March to Detained in Dubai CEO Radha Stirling, when her yacht was brutally attacked by Indian and Emirati forces and she, along with 5 foreign nationals were kidnapped. Within days of her disappearance and denial of asylum from India, Guernica Chambers was instructed by Stirling to raise the matter at the United Nations.
Since then, Detained in Dubai has rallied support from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the public and the international press. Guernica International Justice Chambers is in the preparation stages of legal action against the UAE and India in multiple jurisdictions.
A campaign to #FreeLatifa has gained strength worldwide as her plight has come to represent what the majority of women in the Gulf suffer in their own daily lives.
The UN issued enquiries to both India and the UAE to know Latifa’s whereabouts and confirm her well-being; but these enquiries have been ignored, arousing concern as to whether she is alive or dead.
Detained in Dubai believes her to be held incommunicado and potentially subjected to the same torture described by herself in a video she recorded before her escape from the UAE.
Stirling informed the WGEID members that there has been a UK investigation into the earlier kidnapping of Latifa’s sister Sheikha Shamsa from London in 2000, Stirling highlighted the fact that a pattern developing with the UAE of lawlessness and defiance of international norms relating to state sovereignty. “Sheikha Latifa was kidnapped from international waters, her sister was abducted from the UK, and Latifa’s friend Tiina was threatened with being kidnapped from Finland, if she ever spoke about her treatment by the UAE,” Stirling noted.
Detained in Dubai’s David Haigh, himself a survivor of torture in Emirati custody, also testified before the meeting. "We are very pleased that the United Nations Working Group on Involuntary and Enforced disappearences have taken on the tragic case of our client Sheikha Latifa. It was an honour to be invited by the United Nations alongside my colleague Radha Stirling to address them in relation to her Kidnap and torture by the UAE and India 6 months ago. It is to the international community that we must now look to protect Latifa and to raise the risks of women and children traveling to and living in the UAE.
Whilst Radha and I were defending the rights of one young woman, the UAE delegation were in the same Palais De Nations in Geneva at the same time, yet choose to Ignore the requests of the UN to provide details as to the whereabouts of Latifa instead opting to continue their propaganda agenda", Haigh said.
Stirling commented, “The UAE is clearly concerned about preserving its reputation but has not done so in a logical way, rather than communicating with the UN, they have preferred to opt for a blanket censorship of all national and social media discussion of the case, further highlighting other cases of enforced disappearances for those who wish to exercise free speech.”
Detained in Dubai and Guernica Chambers held a press conference on the Latifa case in April, and the UAE issued a statement immediately thereafter declaring that any promotion of “fake news” or news that may be damaging to the reputation of the state, would be punishable by a 1 million dirham fine or imprisonment. This has caused a complete media blackout on Latifa’s case and even expat residents are afraid to comment on social media.
“The UAE's frightening cybercrime laws have caused Emirati nationals to flee the country and those who don't flee, but seek political or legal change, have been disappeared and held incommunicado,” Stirling explained.
The UN meeting in Geneva was an important step, not only for the Latifa case, but also for holding the UAE accountable to the rule of law. Stirling commented, "We were very happy with the UN's attention to this incident and impressed upon them the urgency of intervention. It is important that the UAE understand that international abductions will not go unsanctioned".
Had Shekha Latifa not contacted Detained in Dubai, and had this case not been made public, Latifa's friends and crew would likely still be in custody or even killed. Latifa’s companions have testified that they had been threatened with execution until the matter hit the press, first published by the Daily Mail.
“Had I not answered Latifa's call that evening, their chances of survival would have been slim.” Stirling observed. “Our mission continues to be to secure the freedom of Latifa and to promote freedom and human rights in the Middle East.”