Former president denies being ‘willing pawn’
A stepmother of the “runaway princess” paid for the flight that brought Mary Robinson, the former Irish president, to Dubai where she pronounced that Princess Sheikha Latifa was “in the loving care” of her family.
Robinson posed for photographs alongside the princess, who had not been seen in public since March, that were later released to the media in an apparent attempt to prove she was not being held against her will.
Human rights groups described Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as a “willing pawn” for the family that rules the United Arab Emirates (UAE), after she told BBC Radio 4 last week that Princess Sheikha Latifa, one of the daughters of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was “clearly troubled” but was getting the medical care she needed from her family.
Supporters of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 33, say she has been detained against her will after an attempted escape on a yacht was foiled last March.
A spokeswoman for Robinson’s Foundation for Climate Justice yesterday confirmed that it played no role in the former president’s trip to Dubai.
“My understanding is that Mary was at a conference in Paris and was requested to go to Dubai by Princess Haya and she [Haya] paid the fare,” said Bride Rosney. Princess Haya, one of Sheikh al-Maktoum’s six wives, previously worked in Ireland and is a long-time friend of Robinson’s.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said it would be unusual for a human rights investigator to accept funding from a party involved in a case.
“Human rights investigators ordinarily would not accept funding from an interested party, but I wouldn’t suggest, and don’t believe, that Mary Robinson gave up her independence for the price of a plane ticket,” he said.
Princess Latifa recorded a video prior to her escape attempt that was only to be released if she was unsuccessful. In the video, Latifa said freedom of choice was not something she or her sisters had in Dubai and that her father would do anything to protect his reputation.
“If you are watching this video it’s not such a good thing, either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation,” said the princess, who is one of al-Maktoum’s 30 children from his six wives.
Roth yesterday tweeted that Robinson’s brief interview with Latifa in the presence of the family that allegedly kidnapped her was “no way to determine the current mental health or desires of Dubai Princess Latifa”.
Robinson said she had presented the princess with a copy of her book on climate change during her visit. She told the BBC that she agreed that three photographs of the meeting could be released to show the princess was “in the loving care of her family”.
Roth tweeted that he was concerned by Latifa’s appearance. “Presumably these are the best photos of the brief visit that they could come up with, so I’m struck by how Dubai Princess Latifa, after her escape attempt failed and she was kidnapped back to her gilded prison, isn’t reciprocating Mary Robinson’s smiles,” he said.
Robinson is due to promote her new book Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, in a public lecture on March 2 in Dubai that is run by a non-profit body under the patronage of al-Maktoum. The sheikh has interests in Ireland through horse breeding. His Darley stud and Godolphin stables have bases in Kildare, Meath and Tipperary.
Robinson said she had sent a report on her meeting to Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights. Bachelet’s office said it was “still gathering information” and could not make any comment.
Toby Cadman, a lawyer for the Free Latifa campaign, called on the UN to send “an expert delegation composed of independent medical and legal professionals” to conduct an assessment of Latifa’s wellbeing and to determine “whether she is still being detained against her will.
Robinson said she had been “dismayed” by comments about the visit. She said she took the trip and made “an assessment, not a judgment” based on “personal witness”.
The Free Latifa campaign, run by a group protesting against “injustices” in the UAE, said Robinson had brushed aside serious complaints. “This is not a private family matter,” it said. “There are credible allegations that individuals were attacked in international waters; unlawfully abducted, handcuffed, beaten and detained incommunicado for a lengthy period of time.”
The campaign asked how Robinson could claim that when Latifa boarded the yacht, a demand for $300m (€262m) was made with $30m to be paid immediately. It called this an “new and wholly fabricated allegation” that does not accord with a previous statement by the UAE government.