The International Court of Justice (ICJ), UN’s apex court, has ruled that the UAE blockade on Qatar is in violation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), thus, tantamount to racial discrimination.
The small nation of Qatar shares the only land border with Saudi Arabia. Qatar has a thriving economy which has sustained high levels of human development, highest amongst the Arab states, owing to their extensive oil and natural gas reserves.
Following Ottoman rule, Qatar became a British protectorate in the early 20th century until gaining independence in 1971. Qatar has been ruled by the House of Thani since the early 19th century. During the Arab Spring, Qatar moved away from its traditional foreign policy role as diplomatic mediator to embrace the wave of revolutionary movements.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt cut all ties with Qatar in June 2017. The countries alleged that Qatar sponsors terrorist outfits, a charge that Qatar has denied. As a result of the impasse, Qatar’s sea, air and road links have been cut off. Kuwait and USA have attempted to act as mediators in the crisis, but to no avail.
Qatar has dealt with neighbourhood hostility in the past. After overthrowing his father in 1995, King Hamad of Qatar avoided sending his country’s gas through regional pipelines, electing instead to export the bulk of it in liquefied form by sea. The resulting income has placed Qatar among the world’s richest nations on a per capita basis, with independent powers of patronage and an independent foreign policy that have riled its neighbours since.
Qatar filed a legal complaint with the WTO challenging the trade boycott initiated by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE. It has struggled to ensure that its economy does not collapse. Qatar has since used $38.5 billion of its reserve to support the economy. Turkey and Iran have become Qatar’s main partners in trade after the blockade was imposed.
The State of Qatar had filed a case against UAE over human rights violations in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 12th June.
Qatar and UAE are signatories of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). UAE expelled all Qataris from UAE, banned future entry of Qataris and closed airspace and ports to the movement of Qatari originating vessels. Qatar has deemed this act as a violation of human rights with many families separated and others facing tumultuous times owing to the blockade’s adverse economic effects. However, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain are not signatories to CERD and, therefore, cannot be taken to court for violation of the same.
The ICJ bench has voted, by 8 votes to 7, that UAE must reunite families, ensure Qatari students complete their education or obtain their education records if they wish to continue elsewhere and provide judicial relief to affected Qataris by allowing access to tribunals or other judicial organs in UAE.
They further voted, 11 to 4, that both parties must refrain from any action which might extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve (as the provisions of CERD may not allow for separate tribunals to oversee contractual issues) “Concomitance between the law and the international relations is quite close,” said Dr Mohamed Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi, Dean of Qatar University College of Law. “Qatar’s blockade is a clear violation of the systems of GCC, Arab League, and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as to the Chicago convention (Aviation), and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
Qatar's National Human Rights Committee recorded 4,105 cases of human rights violations in the last year, including 646 family reunification violations.
In the case that UAE takes the matter to the UN Security Council, there will be a number of complications. Analysts have questioned the possibility of UAE unilaterally shutting off the Strait of Hormuz. This remains unlikely as Iran, a superior naval force in the Persian Gulf, will be able to counter any move taken by the small Emirati kingdom to protect their Qatari ally.
The embargo has driven a wedge into the US-backed Sunni alliance against ISIS, while reinforcing Russian and Iranian influence in the region. It can be expected that foreign investment will inevitably be held back owing to the geopolitical atmosphere and the lack of solution-driven rhetoric.
The ICJ refused to grant any of the provisional measures specifically requested by Qatar. By a very narrow margin, the Court indicated certain measures with which the UAE is already in compliance, thus, highlighting the invalidity of Qatar’s requests.
Our assessment is that the ICJ’s provisional ruling is a very important decision that establishes the illegality of the blockade and that UAE’s actions are in breach of an international convention signed by them. We believe that the Qatar has the option to escalate the matter to the UN Security Council if UAE refuses to implement the decision of the ICJ. We feel that, as of now, it is advantage Qatar.