UN now asked to intervene over Dubai princess 'detained against her will' after failed escape from UAE
The lawyers representing an Emirati princess believed to be detained in the UAE have asked the UN to urgently intervene to help secure her release.
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammad al-Maktoum – the daughter of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum – tried to escape the UAE in February before the boat she was on was allegedly intercepted off the coast of India and she was forcibly returned home.
“The whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa is currently unknown. However, given the circumstances and reports in the media, it is believed that she is in the custody of the UAE authorities, detained against her will,” Toby Cadman, of law firm Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, told The Independent.
As such, he added: “She is subject to ‘enforced or involuntary disappearance’ – and further, if it is confirmed that she is in the custody of the UAE authorities, she is being ‘arbitrarily detained’.”
Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish friend of Ms Maktoum’s, told Human Rights Watch she was also involved in the escape attempt, and that the two of them left the UAE in late February, boarding a boat belonging to French-American dual citizen, Herve Jaubert.
Guernica 37 is also representing Mr Jaubert and Ms Jauhiainen.
On 4 March the boat was intercepted by armed men, said Ms Jauhiainen, off the coast of India and they were forcibly returned to the UAE.
Upon Ms Maktoum’s disappearance, a video was released in which she said: “I’m making this video because it could be the last video I make.”
Guernica 37 has now lodged an appeal with the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
“We alleged that both [the UAE and India] are responsible for the enforced disappearance of Sheikha Latifa,” said Toby Cadman.
The UN working groups now have to decide whether to pass on the communication to those two countries, Mr Cadman said.
“Once communicated to the concerned states they will be invited to respond as a matter of urgency. They can refuse or decline to respond or they can respond to the substance of the allegations.
“We would encourage both states to respond and to clearly set out where she is being detained, why, and to release her forthwith. We will then urge the UN to take greater action in securing her immediate release.”
An Indian English-language newspaper reported that the Indian Coast Guard intercepted the boat, at the behest of Emirati authorities – something denied by both India and the UAE.
A source close to the Dubai government said in April that the princess was “brought back” to the Gulf country.
But while Ms Jauhiainen was later released, after being forced to sign a confession in Arabic, Ms Maktoum has not been let go, according to the source.
“UAE authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa, confirm her status, and allow her contact with the outside world,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director.
“If she is detained she needs to be given the rights all detainees should have, including being taken before an independent judge.”
Radha Stirling, the founder of Detained in Dubai, an international authority on UEA law, told The Independent that she last spoke to Ms Maktoum as the yacht was allegedly being raided off the coast of India, and she has not been heard from since.
“All their communications were then severed, and we believe there was electronic warfare aircraft” above the boat, blocking contact with the outside world.
And while Ms Jauhiainen and the crew members were held in the UAE for three weeks, and threatened not to speak out about the case, they are now doing so as they believe it is the only way to help Ms Maktoum be freed.
“At first they were very nervous, of course,” said Ms Stirling. “But they thought it was the only way for Latifa to have a chance at freedom.”
Ms Maktoum had previously tried to escape in 2002, she said in the video released in March, but UAE authorities stopped her at the border, returned her to Dubai and held her in a detention facility, where she was tortured, for three years.
At this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, friends in the US skydiving community flew a banner saying: “DUBAI, WHERE IS PRINCESS LATIFA?”
Ms Stirling is quietly optimistic the renewed focus on her case will mean she might soon be released.
“We are hopeful. It becomes very difficult for them when you have the UN involved and Human Rights Watch, and the whole world talking about it – it looks extremely bad for them to keep her locked up.
“She has faced torture and abuse and detention, and forced medication for years. An assurance from the government of the UAE isn’t enough – people aren’t going to stop campaigning for her absolute freedom.”
The Emirati authorities have not responded to a request for comment.
Independent News Service