Princess Latifa’s Lawyer: UAE and India Not Responding to UN Legal Challenge of her Disappearance

Published July 27th, 2018 - 05:06 GMT
An Emirati Princess has gone missing in the middle of the Indian Ocean. (Screenshot)
An Emirati Princess has gone missing in the middle of the Indian Ocean. (Screenshot)

Sheikha Latifa al-Maktoum, the daughter of the Emir of Dubai, has been missing since March 4th 2018 after disappearing under extremely dramatic circumstances. And now the barrister hired to represent her tells Al Bawaba that the governments accused of orchestrating her disappearance have failed to respond to legal proceedings, which were filed at the United Nations.  

It appears that Princess Latifa attempted to flee her luxurious but restrictive life in Dubai, perhaps for the second time. A video posted to YouTube in March showed Princess Latifa, 32, describing an escape attempt she made as a teenager. She said that the attempt failed, and she was brought back to Dubai where she was imprisoned, severely beaten and psychologically abused on the orders of her own family. It seems this experience further fuelled her determination to try and escape for a second time. With the help of her friend and personal trainer, Finnish national Tina Jauhianen, and former French intelligence agent Hervé Jaubert, she attempted a daring bid for freedom earlier this year. 

This involved driving to the Omani coast with Ms. Jauhianen, followed by a risky boat trip into international waters, where they climbed aboard Mr. Jaubert’s yacht, the Nostromo. They then set sail on a seven-day journey towards Goa on the coast of India. From Goa, Princess Latifa reportedly intended to travel to America and apply for political asylum. It appears that whilst they were sailing towards the Indian coast, Latifa posted a message explaining her escape attempt on her verified Instagram account. However, the account has since been taken offline with no explanation. She also contacted the British organisation Detained in Dubai, to request their help with the difficulties to come. 

However, during the journey, the UAE requested Interpol to issue a red notice warranting the arrest of those aboard the Nostromo, on charges of kidnapping. After a week of sailing, when they were only fifty miles off the coast of India, the boat was raided. It appears that the raid was conducted by Emirati forces, acting in conjunction with the Indian coastguard. Ms. Jauhianen and Mr. Jaubert described being violently restrained on deck, and then forcibly taken back to Dubai where they were interrogated before being released. They say that the last they saw of Princess Latifa was her being dragged off the yacht kicking and screaming. She has not been seen since, although unofficial Emirati sources have reported that she has been returned to her family. 

But Latifa’s friends, in partnership with Detained in Dubai, have since been campaigning for the facts around her disappearance. One of the steps they took was to hire barrister Toby Cadman from Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, in order to mount a legal challenge and to try and secure Latifa’s freedom. Earlier this year, Mr Cadman informed Al Bawaba that he would appeal to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. The legal challenge would be directed at the Government of India, as well as that of the UAE. Mr. Cadman, as well as another international legal expert consulted by Al Bawaba, believed that India had violated international law by allowing its coast guard to take part in the raid.  

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (AFP/File Photo)

In May, Mr. Cadman explained:

“The procedure of the working group is that once a communication is filed, the working group decides whether to transmit the communication to the concerned State. In this case that is the Republic of India and the United Arab Emirates. We alleged that both are responsible for the enforced disappearance of Sheikha Latifa.”

On July 24th 2018, Mr. Cadman confirmed to Al Bawaba that he had indeed filed this communication. However, neither the UAE nor India have yet given the Working Group a response, which they are meant to do in order to allow the case to proceed. Mr. Cadman explained: 

During the last session of the Working Group, which took place at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, I presented the case to the members of the Working Group and submitted a number of statements of those involved in the process, in particular statements from individuals that had been detained and beaten by Indian and Emirati officials during the attack.

As a result of my intervention at the session, the Working Group concluded that there was a credible basis to transmit the communication to the UAE and also sent the communication to India. Therefore, it is correct to say that the complaint was accepted by the UN Working Group.  The procedure is that once this decision is taken it is officially communicated to the respondent state with an invitation to respond. 

Once the respondent state responds, the UN Working Group then makes a determination, based on the law and factual background, as to whether there are sufficient elements to establish that the petitioner is a victim of an enforced or involuntary disappearance. I can confirm that the communicated was transmitted to the UAE and India, and to date there has been no response from either State.” 

It is unclear why the UAE and India have refused to respond to the challenge, which would allow the UN Working Group to make a legal decision. Because of their silence, Mr. Cadman intends to pursue further action. He continued:

In light of a failure to respond, we will be inviting the Working Group to issue a statement on the disappearance calling on the UAE and India to state publicly the fate and whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa and if she is still detained to release her.  At present we are unable to confirm whether she is still alive as there has been no acknowledgement from the UAE or India.

In addition to the action taken at the level of the UN, Guernica 37 is also advising on what civil and criminal legal actions can be taken against the UAE and India for what was an unlawful military attack on a US-flagged ship carrying civilians in international waters, the unlawful arrest, detention and torture of a number of individuals by State Security Officials of two foreign states.”

Whether the two governments can continue to avoid participating in international legal proceedings over the incident is unclear. But until they do, we may not know Princess Latifa’s fate.

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