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Former UN High Commissioner Responds to Criticism of UAE Visit

On 28 December 2018 the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary Robinson, issued a statement following several days of criticism for her having visited Dubai at the request of Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of the wives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.


The former UN High Commissioner states that she visited Dubai on 15 December 2018 at the request of Princess Haya with whom she has been acquainted for many years.




In her statement, Mrs. Robinson confirms that she was aware of the international concern over Her Highness Sheikha Latifa and that she had not been seen for several months, and therefore the former UN High Commissioner accepted the initiation without hesitation.

Mrs. Robinson confirms that upon her arrival in Dubai she received ‘extensive briefings’ although she does not state from whom.


Following her brief visit, Mrs. Robinson confirms that she has submitted a report to the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and that she believes “…future action rests with that office, with the UN [Working Group] for Enforced Disappearance and with the [UN] Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.”


At the conclusion of her statement, Mrs. Robinson confirms that she is “…dismayed at some of the media comments on my visit…” and that “…I undertook the visit and made an assessment, not a judgement, based on personal witness, in good faith and the best of my ability.” She concludes her statement with the remark that she not be making any further comment.


This statement comes after Mrs. Robinson spoke on Radio 4’s Today programme, an interview that sparked serious criticism of her role as a human rights advocate and women’s rights campaigner. In that interview, she stated “the dilemma was that Latifa is vulnerable, she is troubled” and that “she made a video that she now regrets, and she planned an escape, or was part of a plan of an escape”. She went on to state that the circumstances of that escape need to be examined and alleged that there was a very big ransom demand, but that she was taken off the boat and is now in the care of her family.


In the interview, Mrs. Robinson stated that she was able to assess the situation and that she was aware how troubled Sheikha Latifa was and that she had a serious “medical situation” but that she was now receiving “psychiatric treatment” and the family do not want her to “endure any more publicity”. Ironically, Mrs. Robinson approved the release of the three photographs that were subsequently published by various media outlets and have caused questions to be now asked.


The following points are of note.


First, Mrs. Robinson was aware of the situation prior to accepting the invitation to travel to Dubai and was aware that Sheikha Latifa had not been seen for several months. We have to assume therefore that she was aware of the situation surrounding Sheikha Latifa’s attempted escape and her reasons for doing so.


Second, during her interview on BBC Radio 4, Mrs. Robinson told Mishal Husain, that this was a family matter and that she is now in the loving care of her family. However, in her statement clarifying her position, she now takes the position that this is a matter for the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance and the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary Execution.


It is not clear at what stage, considering the visit took place almost two weeks ago, communication was made with the UN High Commissioner or the UN Working Group and in what form the communication takes. It is further unclear as to why Mrs. Robinson did not inform the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights or the Working Group, which was seised of the matter, prior to embarking on her trip to Dubai at the request of those persons who are alleged to have abducted Sheikha Latifa, returned her to Dubai and may have held her against her will for more than nine months.


Third, Mrs., Robinson claims in her statement that she made an ‘assessment’ not a ‘judgement’. However, when asked in the BBC interview whether she was reassured that she is receiving the necessary care and support she needs, she responded that she “was able to assess the situation” and goes on to make reference to the care she is receiving. It is unclear upon what basis such an ‘assessment’ could be made. Mrs. Robinson is very experienced in her field and has built up a reputation in the fields of human rights, women’s rights and climate change. However, she has no formal diagnostic training in any field of medicine and by her own admission spent a very short period of time with Sheikha Latifa in a controlled environment in the company of her family.


It is quite clear that Sheikha Latifa has suffered an extremely traumatic experience and now finds herself in circumstances that she herself predicted in her own video testimony prior to her failed escape attempt. Any person that had taken such extraordinary steps to escape what has been described as an oppressive and controlling environment and was subsequently abducted and returned to the same circumstances is likely to suffer serious trauma. As Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch stated following the issuance of Mrs. Robinson’s statement:


A brief interview in the presence of the family that kidnapped her, after who knows what treatment she endured in the past 9 months of incommunicado detention, is no way to determine the current mental health or desires of Dubai Princess Latifa”.

Mrs. Robinson claims to bear witness and to have made no judgement. However, in her first remarks she stated that Sheikha Latifa regretted her actions, was a troubled young woman now being cared for by a loving family. She further made reference to a ransom demand that, it is submitted, is wholly fabricated, thereby making a snap judgement on the facts as presented to her.


Mrs. Robinson is quite right that it is now for the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Special Procedures Branch to look into the matter. It is essential that Sheikha Latifa is properly assessed by an independent expert and that she is able to speak freely without any external influence. That, regrettably, is what Mrs. Robinson should have insisted upon when invited to travel to Dubai earlier this month.

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