The bitter Gulf crisis moved into the international courts on Wednesday as Qatar accused the United Arab Emirates of fostering an “environment of hate” against Qataris. And in a surprise tit-for-tat move, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi announced they too planned to file their own case at the U.N.’s top court against Doha.
The legal moves at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague come a year after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all ties with Doha accusing it of supporting terrorism and Iran. Doha denies the allegations. “Historically the people of Qatar and its neighbors have been close. For decades Qataris and Emiratis have worked together, prayed together and married into each other’s families,” said Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, Qatar’s lawyer. “Despite these close ties” the U.A.E. implemented a “series of broad discriminatory measures against my country and its people on the basis of their Qatari nationality,” he told a 16-judge bench at the tribunal. “The U.A.E. has fostered such an environment of hate against Qatar and Qataris that individuals in the U.A.E. are afraid even to speak to family members living in Qatar,” he said.
But the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia in turn announced Wednesday they will file a separate complaint at the ICJ accusing Qatar of violating their airspace.
No date has yet been set for that hearing. But ICJ judges will over the next three days hear arguments from Doha’s lawyers, with the U.A.E. to respond on Thursday. Both will talk on Friday.
At the start of the crisis last June, Qatar, a small peninsula nation, found its only land border closed, its state-owned airline barred from using its neighbors’ airspace, and Qatari residents expelled from the boycotting countries. It filed its case before the tribunal alleging that the tough measures amounted to human rights violations.
It has asked the court—set up in 1946 to rule in disputes between countries—to urgently order the U.A.E. to “cease and desist from all conduct that could result… in any form of racial discrimination against Qatari individuals and entities.”
Doha is basing its claim on the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), one of the first global human rights treaties to be adopted, to which both Qatar and the U.A.E. are signatories.
Diplomatic efforts have so far proved fruitless in resolving the crisis in what was previously one of the most stable regions in the Arab world. The diplomatic wrangling has shattered old alliances and rendered the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council practically obsolete, pushing Qatar towards Turkey and Iran.
Qatar however maintains the dispute is an attack on its sovereignty and punishment for pursuing an independent foreign policy. Doha is demanding “full reparation, including compensation for the harm suffered as a result of the U.A.E.’s actions in violation of the CERD,” it said in papers before the court.
Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt meanwhile have decided to submit their airspace case to the ICJ on the grounds that the International Civil Aviation Organization was not competent to consider the dispute, Saudi and U.A.E. state media said.
The U.A.E. has filed two complaints with the ICAO over what Qatar’s rivals say are airspace violations that threaten civil aviation. The U.A.E. accuses Qatar of sending fighter jets to intercept passenger flights and a civilian helicopter in Bahraini airspace. These accusations have been denied by Doha.
Doha’s neighbors say the ball is in Qatar’s court to end the crisis. It has been handed a list of 13 demands by its Gulf neighbors, including closing Al Jazeera, removing Turkish troops from the country and scaling back its cooperation with Iran, with which it shares the world’s largest gas field. It has not met any of them.