Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Human rights advocate under fire in case of Arab princess who claimed abduction

  • Richard Pérez-Peña, The New York Times
    Published: 2018-12-29 15:42:52 BdST

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The daughter of Dubai’s ruler, Latifa bint Mohammed al-Makhtoum, with Mary Robinson, a well-known human rights advocate, in a photo released by Dubai. The New York Times

Mary Robinson, a world-renowned human rights advocate, stepped into the strange affair of an Arab princess this week, and found herself accused of giving political cover to rights abuses by the royal family of Dubai.

The case involves Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, a daughter of Dubai’s ruler, who left the Gulf emirate against her father’s wishes in late February, was seized and returned against her will in early March, and then was not seen by outsiders for more than nine months.

Days after return to Dubai, her friends released a video she had made before her escape in which she accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, of a range of offences, including having people killed and having her and one of her sisters locked up, tortured and drugged to keep them docile. She had been imprisoned for more than three years for a previous attempt to escape Dubai, she said, and “it was constant torture, constant torture,” both physical and psychological.

The video and the story of her dramatic escape drew enormous attention from the news media, and the video has been watched millions of times.

This week, the government of Dubai released photos of Sheikha Latifa, 33, with Robinson, a former UN high commissioner for human rights and a former president of Ireland, taken in Dubai on Dec 15. In a statement, the emirate referred to unspecified “false allegations” and said Robinson had received assurances that the Sheikha, or princess, was receiving “the care and support she requires.”

In an interview with BBC radio on Thursday, Robinson echoed the government’s statement and suggested the princess was mentally ill.

“This is a troubled young woman who has a serious medical situation, she’s receiving psychiatric care, and they don’t want her to endure any more publicity,” she said. “This is a family matter now, and she is in the care, and loving care, of her family.”

Her remarks drew sharp criticism from friends of Sheikha Latifa and human rights advocates, who disputed the suggestion of any psychiatric problems other than those caused by mistreatment, and accused Robinson of simply parroting the government’s official line. Some called her a dupe, others a willing tool of Dubai, one of the emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

Radha Stirling, a human rights lawyer who had advised Sheikha Latifa before she fled, said that Robinson’s remarks “conspicuously conform to the official narrative of the government.”

Others noted that in the 40-minute video made earlier this year, Sheikha Latifa, speaking in English, appeared calm and cogent.

On Friday, Robinson released a statement defending her comments, saying that she “made an assessment, not a judgment, based on personal witness, in good faith and to the best of my ability.”

In the BBC interview and the subsequent statement, Robinson did not address the claim that Sheikha Latifa was taken back to Dubai against her will, nor her allegations that she had been jailed, tortured and prevented from leaving the country since 2000.

She told the BBC that she had become involved in the matter at the request of the sheikh’s wife, Haya, Sheikha Latifa’s stepmother, “whom I’ve known for a long time” and who “asked me to come to Dubai and help with a family dilemma.”

In her video, Sheikha Latifa said that her half sister Shamsa had tried to leave the family while they were in Britain in 2000, but she was caught, forcibly returned and locked up, and has been detained ever since. Sheikha Latifa said that she had been kept in a jail within the palace from 2002 to 2005 after a failed attempt to get out of Dubai.

She planned her next escape for years, enlisting the help of foreigners, some of whom later spoke publicly about what happened. “She would often say this is life or death for me,” one of them, Tiina Jauhiainen, told the programme “60 Minutes Australia.”

In late February, Sheikha Latifa’s friends spirited her out of Dubai in the trunk of a car, and got her onto a boat that was to take her to India.

As they approached the Indian coast, they said, commandos boarded the boat, seized her and two friends, and took them back to Dubai. After the video was made public, the foreigners were released, but Sheikha Latifa was not.

 

© 2018 New York Times News Service