Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Qatari case crumbles at ICJ over travel ban claims

The isolated country's lawyers admitted that Doha blocked a website set up to assist with travel to the UAE

Judges enter the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. AP
Judges enter the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. AP

Qatar admitted to the UN's highest court on Wednesday that it had blocked a travel website set up by the UAE to assist those affected by the boycott of the country.

Lawyers for Doha told the International Court of Justice that the website was banned in January this year. It was set up to provide travel authorisation to Qataris with UAE links.

A test invalidating Qatar’s security concerns over the website was conducted by Doha's experts in April, but a document submitted to the court said officials took no action to lift the ban.

Cyber-security considerations, such as those applied by Qatar’s Communications Regulatory Authority, were called "a term of art" in the submission made by one of the lawyers.

Despite claims to the contrary, no laws or regulations have been introduced in the UAE to expel Qatari citizens since diplomatic and transport ties were cut on June 5, 2017.

After the endorsing provisional measures pending a full hearing at the court last year, the UAE set out to ease any problems that some Qataris were experiencing with logistics.

The website-based form for travel clearance was established after the boycott of Qatar began.

It was imposed after Doha failed to comply with undertakings in the 2014 Riyadh Agreement to sever ties with terror groups including ISIS and Al Nusra Front.

Detailed submissions on the pattern of deceit in Qatar’s representations were laid before the court.

Lawyers for Doha asked asked the judges to set aside the "charge of fabrication" until a full hearing was under way.

At that point, the court was told that the merits of Qatar’s argument could be heard.

The lawyers said there was no need to act on complaints against simultaneous procedures under way at the court and the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, or Cerd, in Geneva.

The Qatari complaints to international bodies claimed that the UAE was discriminating against its citizens on racial grounds and that people who had residential or other travel requirements between the two states were at a disadvantage.

The UAE denies all of Qatar's claims and said these fuelled tension, harming efforts to resolve the dispute.

“Qatar has fabricated a case that seeks to invoke the interpretation of the Cerd Convention to disguise its attempts to force the UAE to return to the pre-existing diplomatic status quo,” the court heard.

After the case, Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, tweeted his take on Qatar’s defence.

“The Qatari defence explained the government's deliberate blocking of the site concerned with accepting requests for visits by Qatari nationals to the UAE," Dr Gargash tweeted.

"How do you claim violations of your citizens' rights while you are blocking sites that guarantee their freedom of travel?”

Other arguments were heard by the judges, including those against the National Human Rights Committee in Doha, which has a long record of inflammatory interventions against the UAE.

Among the accusations not answered was that Qatar had relied in evidence carrying the official insignia of the British Parliament and even the monarch's coat of arms.

In one instance, the College of Arms, the body of heraldry in the UK, was asked to authenticate a set of documents purportedly from the 19th century.

It turned out that they carried the seal of Queen Elizabeth II, the current ruler.

Updated: May 9, 2019 01:14 AM