Call for wife of Dubai’s billionaire ruler to be stripped of UN status

PRESS RELEASE, Detained International


Call comes as kidnapping survivor accuses Robinson of ‘tarnished reputation’

London, 9 April 2019– Leading NGOs, human rights lawyers and campaigners working for the release of a captured Dubai princess have called on the United Nations to strip the wife of Dubai’s ruler of her status as a UN Messenger of Peace.

The calls comes on the day the survivor of a dramatic kidnapping by Emirati and Indian state troops has accused the former UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson of “siding with dictatorship and oppression of women”and betraying her status as a globally recognized humanitarian and women’s rights campaigner.

It also comes on the 400th day since the Indian Ocean kidnapping.

On 24 February 2018, Princess Latifa al Maktoum made a dramatic escape from what she calls her “gilded cage”home in Dubai’s royal palace, and was accompanied across the border into Oman by her friend Tiina Jauhiainen.

They made it to a US-registered boat which set sail for India, but on 4 March 2018 it was stormed off the coast of Goa by crack security forces of the UAE and India, with Latifa and Jauhiainen forcibly captured and taken back to Dubai. Jauhiainen was released two weeks later, after being held in solitary confinement and subjected to grave abuses of her most basic human rights, but Latifa remains in enforced detention. The UN, Amnesty, and Human Rights Watch have all condemned the kidnapping and sought explanations from both India and the UAE.

Four months ago, Latifa was the subject of a controversial PR stunt by Princess Haya bint al Hussein, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the billionaire ruler of Dubai. She invited the former Irish president and former UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson to Dubai to vouch for Latifa’s welfare and encourage the world to believe the princess was in good hands with her family – the very family she sought to escape from for almost two decades.

Robinson’s role was roundly criticized in the media, and now those behind the Free Latifa campaign, Latifa’s friends and supporters, have filed a complaint with the UN calling on Haya to be suspended from its team of goodwill ambassadors and “messengers for peace”. The complaint cites the legal basis for the suspension.

Leading signatory David Haigh, a human rights lawyer who heads the advocacy group Detained International which acts for Princess Latifa, said: “Princess Haya is a UN ambassador, yet her cheap and tawdry publicity stunt involving Mary Robinson undermines the UN’s justice and human rights work in two important ways.”

“Firstly it undermines the efforts of the UN working group on enforced and involuntary disappearances, which is trying to stop kidnappings and hostage-takings across the world. And secondly it belittles the work of the current UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who has established initiatives such as “gender champions”and said: ‘Promoting progress towards building a world that guarantees the rights of women and girls is more than a challenge. It’s a necessity and an obligation.’

“It looks to all the world as if Princess Haya has quite blatantly abused her position as a UN ambassador, and it’s hard to see how her position remains tenable, certainly unless and until a full and thorough investigation exonerates her.” Haigh continued.

“Princess Haya’s alleged actions in relation to the abducted Princess Latifa do not seem consistent with her supposed humanitarian role and responsibilities as a UN Goodwill Ambassador and Messenger of Peace. She appears to have colluded with Latifa’s incarceration and drugging against her will by the Dubai authorities. Haya should be suspended from her UN role until Latifa is able to give a full account to the UN of Haya’s actions in relation to the meeting with Mary Robinson and Latifa’s apparent unjustified house arrest,”said Peter Tatchell, Director of the London-based human rights NGO, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

The complaint has been filed on the same day that Princess Latifa’s best friend, Tiina Jauhiainen sent a sympathetic but hard-hitting letter to Mary Robinson, accusing the former president and human rights commissioner of tarnishing her reputation as a humanitarian and letting down the women’s equality cause everywhere.

Jauhiainen, who describes how she was kept in solitary confinement and threatened with the death penalty after the Indian Ocean kidnapping, wrote in her letter: “I used to have great admiration for you as one of the first female heads of state, paving the way for other remarkable women, such as Tarja Halonen in my native Finland, to break the glass ceiling. You were a great champion of human rights and equality – hence my disbelief when I saw you supported a ruthless regime in what was clearly a PR whitewashing campaign.”

“Instead of siding with dictatorship and exploitation of women by falling into your ‘friend’ Haya’s trap, you could have chosen the right side of history. You could have chosen to support Latifa. You could have inspired millions of other women that there is hope, and that there are leaders who listen.”

Haigh, a former managing director of Leeds United who himself was arbitrarily detained and tortured in Dubai over a 22 month period, added: “People’s sympathy for a princess held captive in a palace may be limited by considerations of material affluence, but there’s a vital human rights principle at stake here: whether a princess or a pauper, everyone is entitled to the most basic right of self-determination, let alone freedom from abuse and torture, which is why Latifa’s arbitrary detention is quite simply illegal. It should not matter who her father or stepmother are, or whether they are friends with Irish presidents or otherwise. Sheikh Mohammed’s wealth and connections should not be allowed to detract from Latifa’s basic human rights, and she should be freed without delay.”

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Copies of the complaint filed with the UN against Princess Haya, the United Nations Guidelines for the designation of Goodwill Ambassadors and messengers of Peace and Tiina Jauhiainen’s letter to Mary Robinson accompany this release.

About Free Latifa:
The Free Latifa Campaign is run by Latifa’s best friend Tiina Jauhiainen and human rights lawyer and campaigner David Haigh with the support of not for profit legal advocacy NGO Detained International. Updates on the campaign can be found on

Tiina Jauhiainen and David Haigh
Campaign to Free Latifa

Email: [email protected]
Telephone: +44 (0) 203 868 9995
Twitter: @freelatifa
Instagram: @freelatifa