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Princess Latifa’s Lawyer on India’s Alleged Unlawful Military Assault in International Waters

SAGAR - 22 December 2018


In March 2018, a video of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al Maktoum talking about fleeing the United Arab Emirates surfaced on Youtube. Latifa is the daughter of the Emirate of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. She cited her father’s dictatorial control on her life as the reason behind her bid to escape. The princess claimed that after her first bolt for freedom in 2002, her father had her tortured and jailed for three years and four months. Latifa said, “…It could be the last video I make.”

In February this year, she made her second attempt to escape with the help of Harvey Jaubert, a French businessman and former spy who had himself fled the UAE, and her friend Tiina Jauhiainen. They planned to reach the United States via India. According to her associates, on the evening of 4 March, when the three were on a yacht off the coast of Goa, UAE commandos and the Indian Coast Guard boarded the vessel. Latifa reportedly called Radha Stirling, co-founder of Detained from Dubai—a London-based non-governmental organisation that helps people negotiate UAE’s legal system. Jaubert and Jauhiainen said the forces ransacked the yacht, beat them and threatened to kill them, before abducting them. Latifa has not been publicly seen since, though the Court of the Ruler of Dubai claims that she is alive and well.

The incident raised questions regarding the legality of India’s involvement in the operation, since the alleged incident took place in international waters. While the Indian government has not commented on whether the operation took place or not, a Business Standard report, relying on “highly placed government sources,” stated that the alleged operation involved three coast guard ships, helicopters and a maritime surveillance aircraft. Following the alleged abduction, Detained in Dubai approached Toby Cadman to take up the case of Latifa’s alleged abduction. Cadman is the co-founder of Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, a London-based organisation that promotes transnational accountability through litigation in national courts. Cadman reached out to the United Nation’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to demand the physical presence of Latifa and prosecute Indian authorities for raiding her yacht in international waters.

In an interview over email to Sagar, a staff writer with The Caravan, Cadman spoke about the alleged abduction, India’s involvement in the case and how it would affect the country’s image internationally.

S: What are the accusations against Indian authorities? TC: It is alleged that Indian coast guards, in concert with UAE authorities, unlawfully attacked a US-flagged yacht, the Nostromo, in international waters without any warning. It is alleged that they unlawfully detained Sheikha Latifa and the five other persons on the boat—Tiina Jauhiainen, Herve Jaubert and three crew members—beat them, ransacked the yacht and stole personal items. Sheikha Latifa pleaded with them to let her go. She pleaded for asylum, but they ignored her pleas. She was handed over to the UAE authorities and has not been seen since.

S: Is there any evidence of India’s involvement in the alleged military operation? Has the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances taken cognisance of the operation and ordered an inquiry? TC: Due to the fact that the investigations remain ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to summarise the evidence or go into detail about the nature of the allegations. What I can say is that the evidence is compelling and reliable and from a number of different sources. The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance has communicated the complaint to both the UAE and India. This has been met with complete silence. The matter has now been referred to the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary or Involuntary Execution as there are indications that Sheikha Latifa is no longer alive.

The statement [by the Court of the Ruler of Dubai] is deeply disturbing for a number of reasons, but most importantly it is a clear admission that Sheikha Latifa was taken back by the UAE authorities although she has not been [seen] since her attempted escape.

S: When and how many times have you contacted the Indian authorities regarding the alleged abduction of the princess? Have they responded to you? TC: The group that instructed me as their counsel has written to the Indian authorities on a number of occasions, as has the United Nations Special Procedures Branch. They have not responded to a single request. If the Indian authorities are concerned by the implications of their actions, I would advise them to engage with the United Nations and/or respond to our requests for information.

Sagar: How did this case come to you? Why did you decide to take it up? Toby Cadman: I was approached in March 2018 by David Haigh [a co-founder of Detained in Dubai], whom I represent in relation to his own period of arbitrary detention in Dubai. Mr Haigh alerted me to the situation involving Sheikha Latifa al Maktoum on the evening of her abduction. I was later instructed by the organisation Mr Haigh runs with Ms Radha Stirling to take the case to the United Nations and to look at bringing civil and/or criminal action [against] persons responsible.

S: India is signatory to six core conventions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How do these allegations affect its status and credibility? TC: The fact that India is a signatory to a number of international human-rights treaties and a member of the United Nations [and] yet it disregards general principles of human rights in relation to this matter is deeply disturbing. The fact that India frequently portrays itself as the world’s largest democracy and an advocate for the rule of law is not consistent with its conduct in relation to this unlawful military assault in international waters.

S: At least two media reports also suggest that the extradition of British national Christian Michel from UAE to India was a quid pro quo for India’s alleged help with the kidnapping of the princess. TC: That has been suggested in the media and is a matter that will be disclosed in the fullness of time.

S: Can Indian authorities be prosecuted over this? TC: There are a number of legal options that are being pursued by our group at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers. It would not be appropriate to discuss the legal actions that are being pursued at this time. The Indian and UAE authorities will be informed in due course.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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