UN High Court Rules in Qatar-UAE Case

A year since the blockade against Qatar, the Gulf nation has for the first time taken the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) over what it described as human right violations.

The boycott, which has been in effect since June 2017, is led by Saudi Arabia with the support of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – all previous partners of Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – and Egypt.

In June, Qatar’s government put forward a case, seeking reparations by arguing that the UAE enacted a series of measures that discriminate against Qataris. The measures include expelling Qataris from the UAE, prohibiting them from entering or passing through the UAE, ordering UAE nationals to leave Qatar, and closing UAE airspace and seaports to Qatar.

Qatar’s government argues that these actions were in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – including discrimination on the basis of nationality. A tactical move by Qatar as the UAE and Qatar are the only Gulf signatories to the convention.

In response, the UAE offered a defence to Qatar’s case, citing similar allegations that were leveled against Qatar when the diplomatic row broke out last year. The UAE’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Saeed Al-Nuwais, has dismissed Qatar’s discrimination case as baseless and rejected all allegations.

However, on Monday, the ICJ ruled in favour of Qatar. The vote, albeit a narrow one with eight judges in favour and seven against, ruled that the measures put in place by the UAE amounted to racial discrimination and must immediately reunite Qatari families affected by the blockade and allow Qatari students to continue their education in the UAE. The ICJ’s decision, whilst provisional is nonetheless binding and a further proceeding is expected to be scheduled at a future date.

Despite the difficulties, Qatar overcame the economic impacts of the blockade – maintaining healthy growth. The blockading countries were already under economic hardship as a result of low oil prices, and have themselves suffered from cutting economic trade with Qatar. Energy-rich Qatar tapped into its massive wealth reserves to absorb the initial impact on its economy and secured alternatives means of trade for food supplies and maritime routes and ports.

This is a small victory for Qatar, who still remains isolated and estranged from neighbouring countries. A political solution to the Gulf crisis seems further far afield, as neither Qatar nor the blockading nations have shown any signs of backing down.

Raising the (White) Flag?

A week ago the Palestinian state flag was raised for the first time in the rose garden of the UN, fostering hope and symbolising the refusal to abandon a Palestinian homeland. The flag honours those lost in the fight for statehood, those in jails, those killed at checkpoints and those occupied in Gaza.

However, the raising of the flag will not lead to the restarting of the peace process. Mahmoud Abbas’s statement that Palestine would no longer be bound to the Oslo Accords has confirmed the death of the 1990’s Peace Process. Just as Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Israel would “fiercely reject attempts to impose international dictates” on peace, weeks before severed Israel’s ties to peace. Such statements alongside rising tensions in the West Bank means that the peace process is now a distant memory. The flag has not rectified these issues. If anything it has created further ruptures within the already fragile relationship.

The past week has seen several people killed from clashes in the West Bank, with many more injured. These deaths have emerged from the frustrations which have developed due to a lack of a foreseeable solution. Although the flag has highlighted issues with the Peace Process, it has also galvanised the tense situation in the West Bank. The raising of the Palestinian flag has not addressed any relevant issues but rather papered over their cracks.

Whilst the UN may have willingly raised Palestine’s flag and accorded the state non-member observer state recognition, it has not come close to a solution for the conflict. As the Palestinian flag flew over the UN, Israeli Settlements deemed illegal by the UN continued to be built near the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The UN did not condemn such acts. Without UN support Palestine shall not gain statehood, nor secure the control of its towns and cities. These continual violations of marked borders have not been resolved through the raising of a flag. Nor has the flag settled the violence which erupts from these land disputes.

The fact that the Palestinian flag now flies over the UN of course represents hope. However, it also overshadows the real issues at the heart of this problem. We must take the flag at face value. As for now, there is no Palestinian state, no Peace Process, nor a solution, there is merely a flag. A flag which represents hope to many but does little to improve the lives of those within the conflict, who remain in despair.

The Futility of the ICC in Sudan

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The relationship between the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has continued to deteriorate since the decision in December 2014 to shelve Darfur war crimes probe. The ICC ruled that Sudan had failed to arrest Omer Hassan al-Bashir over alleged war crimes in the western region of Darfur and passed the case to the Security Council to take “the necessary measures they deem appropriate”. This request came three months after the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she was suspending her criminal investigations of Darfur atrocities because they could not make progress without cooperation from Sudan and coercive pressure from the Security Council.

The pre-trial chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that Sudan failed to cooperate with the court by not arresting and surrendering president Bashir to the Court. The chamber stressed that “if there is no follow up action on the part of the UNSC, any referral by the council to the ICC under chapter VII of the UN Charter would never achieve its ultimate goal, namely, to put an end to impunity.”

Sudan is not a state party to the ICC Rome Statute and has no obligation to cooperate with the ICC. Sudan cooperated with the court until the first arrest warrant against Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb and former state minister for interior Ahmed Haroun were issued in 2007. Despite findings of non-cooperation being referred by ICC judges to the UNSC, the council has declined to take action mainly over China’s likely move to block any resolution that would compel Sudan to cooperate.

Following this, Sudan’s information minister Ahmed Bilal Osman stated that, “The decisions of the ICC are not in any way binding to the Sudanese government and raising Sudan’s case with the Security Council reflects the failure of the ICC.” He also went on to claim that “The ICC knows it doesn’t scare Sudan at all.” This clearly indicates the ICC’s standing in Sudan with Bashir and his fellow cronies continuing to thumb their noses at the court.

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber I issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir, on 4th March 2009 on charges of genocide and war crimes in Darfur, along with defence minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, former state minister for interior Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb. The chamber claimed there were reasonable grounds to believe that Bashir is criminally responsible for five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. The same chamber, albeit with a different composition, issued a second warrant of arrest for Bashir on 12 July 2010, for three counts of genocide.

UNSC referrals have proved the most contentious route to achieving ICC jurisdiction, as has been the case with Sudan and Libya. Therefore the controversy with ICC referrals by the UNSC is that they may be regarded as a violation of State sovereignty and non-intervention, two principles enshrined in international law.

Inaction by the UNSC may be due to the strong outrage from the African Union and controversy surrounding the arrest warrant for a standing Head of State. Following intense criticism from members of the international community, the UNSC should have perhaps chosen to pursue reconciliation in Sudan, rather than further exacerbate the problem by facilitating the prosecution of Bashir.

The biggest flaw of the ICC is that its effectiveness depends on the cooperation of governments. It is not the independent judicial body it pretends to be. Its jurisdiction can be dictated at the say-so of the Security Council. In the last six years, all the ICC and UNSC have done is pass the Sudan case back and forth between themselves with not one single suspect in custody.

Many experts are beginning to say that the ICC is a failed experiment. Given that the ICC operates in a hostile political environment with its personality clashes and poor management, it was only a matter of time before it faced serious obstacles. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to launch a campaign to discredit the legitimacy of the ICC, following its announcement that it would pursue a war crimes probe against Israel over its 50-day attacks on Gaza last year.

Is the lack of backing from the US, Russia and China the reason for its lack of credibility and failure to be taken seriously as an international organisation? More than a decade after its creation, the ICC is still struggling to find its foothold, jeopardising its already fragile reputation as a truly global court.