Saturday 17 August 2019

Mary Robinson 'dismayed' at backlash over meeting with 'troubled' Arab princess

Concern: Photos released by the UAE of Mary Robinson with Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, a daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Concern: Photos released by the UAE of Mary Robinson with Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, a daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Jane Last and Amy Molloy

Former President Mary Robinson has issued a statement after she came under fire for describing a ‘missing’ Arabian princess as a “troubled young woman” following a meeting between the pair at the behest of her family to help solve a “dilemma”.

Photographs of Ms Robinson and Sheikha Latifa – the daughter of the billionaire ruler of Dubai – were issued by the United Arab Emirates government last week after they met on December 15.

Officials in Dubai said Ms Robinson was assured Latifa was in "the loving care of her family".

The photographs prompted speculation about the princess and how her meeting with Ms Robinson came to pass.

Ms Robinson spoke about the meeting for the first time yesterday on BBC radio – and said Latifa was receiving medical care.

Ms Robinson's interview attracted criticism on social media, with campaigners asking how she could make such a sound judgment on Latifa's mental health after only spending a few hours with her.

She responded to the backlash through a statement this morning, adding she would not be making any further comment at this time.

"I am dismayed at some of the media comments on my visit and I would like to say I undertook the visit and made an assessment, not a judgement, based on personal witness, in good faith and to the best of my ability," Ms Robinson said.

Explaining how the meeting came about, the former UN Commissioner for Human Rights said she visited Dubai on December 15 at the request of Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of the wives of the UAE Prime Minister.

"I have known and worked with Princess Haya for many years in her capacity as a member of the UN Global Humanitarian Forum and as a UN Messenger of Peace. I was aware of the international concern over Sheikha Latifa and that she had not been seen for many months so when Princess Haya asked me to go to Dubai to meet with both of them I agreed, without hesitation.

"On my arrival in Dubai I received extensive briefings and it was clear to me that Princess Haya had particular concern for the welfare of Sheikha Latifa whom she described as troubled and quite vulnerable. During my time with her Sheikha Latifa presented a a very likeable young woman with a wide range of interests but her vulnerability was apparent," she added.

The welfare of Latifa sparked massive concern amongst human rights groups following her failed attempt to escape the UAE in March.

Yesterday, Ms Robinson shed light on the meeting while discussing climate change on the BBC's 'Today' programme.

In the interview, she said her friend Princess Haya asked her to meet with her stepdaughter Latifa to help with a "family dilemma".

"I was asked by Princess Haya, who I've known for a long time, who's also married to the ruler of Dubai [Latifah's father], she's not directly related to the princess Latifa, but she asked me to come to Dubai and help with a family dilemma.

"And the dilemma was that Latifa is vulnerable, she's troubled. She made a video that she now regrets and she planned an escape or was part of a plan of an escape, it's under circumstances that I think need to be examined because immediately there was a very big demand note for $300m and $30m right away, and then she was taken off the boat and is now in the care of her family.

"And I had lunch with her. She's a very likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care she's receiving," Ms Robinson said.

Prior to her meeting with Ms Robinson earlier this month, Latifa was last seen in March aboard a yacht off the coast of India. A former French spy allegedly helped her to plot escape from Dubai, and seek asylum abroad.

But this plan was thwarted after Indian and Emirati security forces boarded the yacht and took Latifa back to Dubai, according to two people who were involved in the plot.

A video made by Latifa was posted online shortly after the return to her family. She recorded the video before her attempt to flee in March.

In the recording, she claimed she was tortured and imprisoned for three years after a previous attempt to flee in 2002. "If you are watching this video, it is not such a good thing. Either I'm dead or I'm in a very, very, very bad situation," Sheikha Latifa said in the recording.

When pressed if she believed she was able to have a frank conversation with the princess given the circumstances in which she met her, Ms Robinson said she believed she was.

Reassurances

"I was able to assess the situation. She wasn't with her wider family. She was with Princess Haya and some of Princess Haya's younger family and two other people. It wasn't a big number.

"I also sent a report that evening to Michelle Bachelet, the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and while I was in Dubai, I had a telephone conversation with the most recent High Commissioner Zeid who is also a good friend. These are good friends of mine."

When asked if she was able to give reassurances that Latifa was safe and well, Ms Robinson said she was able to give such assurances.

"I think it's a very complicated situation. I understand the concern. I've also been in an email exchange with Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, because I know they've been very concerned, but I think you have to bear in mind that this is a troubled young woman who has a serious medical situation."

However, Mr Roth later tweeted: "Mary Robinson says UAE Princess Latifa is 'troubled', suggesting a pre-existing condition though I'd be troubled too if I tried to escape a gilded prison and was kidnapped back. Would Robinson know the difference?"

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