Robinson defends her comments on runaway Dubai princess

Ex-president repeats claim royal is ‘vulnerable’

Peter O’Dwyer
December 29 2018, The Times

Lawyers for Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum believe that Mary Robinson’s comments that she was safe with her family are wrong

Mary Robinson has repeated her claim that an Arab princess who fled Dubai was a “vulnerable” young woman, as criticism of her comments increased.

Yesterday the former president defended her description of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 33, as a “clearly troubled” woman who needed psychiatric help.

She was “dismayed at some of the media comments” about her role in the controversy and had visited Sheikha Latifa in Dubai in “good faith”.

The princess tried to flee Dubai after claiming that she had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her family. She is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Photographs of Mrs Robinson with Sheikha Latifa were released by her family on Christmas Eve to rebut what they described as “false allegations” that she was taken home against her will. Mrs Robinson’s subsequent comments have been criticised by a legal firm representing Sheikha Latifa and a human rights group which questioned how Mrs Robinson concluded that the issue was now a “family matter”.

Mrs Robinson, a former UN human rights chief, said that she had prepared a report of her visit for Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights. “I believe future action rests with that office, with the UN committee on enforced disappearances and with the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the office of Ms Bachelet said that the UAE was not party to the convention on enforced disappearances.

Mrs Robinson said that she had agreed without hesitation to meet Sheikha Latifa when asked by Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s wives.

“On my arrival in Dubai I received extensive briefings and it was clear to me that Princess Haya had particular concern for the welfare of Sheikha Latifa, whom she described as troubled and quite vulnerable,” Mrs Robinson said. “During my time with her Sheikha Latifa presented as a very likeable young woman with a wide range of interests but her vulnerability was apparent.”

In March Sheikha Latifa tried to reach India with the help of Hervé Jaubert, 62, a former French secret agent, but a yacht they were on was boarded by the Indian coastguard after it was stopped off the coast of Goa by armed ships and a helicopter.

Human rights groups had raised concerns about Sheikha Latifa’s safety because she had not been seen in public or heard from since she was returned to Dubai that month. In a video, which she said she had recorded before the escape in case it failed, the princess said that her father had been holding her against her will.

In pictures released on Monday she was seen for the first time in months sitting beside Mrs Robinson. In a statement accompanying the pictures, the UAE foreign ministry said that Mrs Robinson was reassured that the princess was getting the “necessary care and support she requires”.

Mrs Robinson said that she had agreed to the release of the pictures, which showed her sitting beside the princess, “to help the family to allow it to be understood that this is a family matter now and that [she] is in the loving care of her family”.

Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, a law firm representing Sheikha Latifa, said: “This is not a private family matter; there are credible allegations that a number of individuals were unlawfully attacked in international waters, were unlawfully abducted, handcuffed, beaten and detained incommunicado for a lengthy period of time. Mrs Robinson fails to address this point at all.

“Further, [her comments] do not answer the questions raised surrounding her treatment that gave rise to the escape attempt in the first instance; it does not answer the questions asked surrounding the boarding of the yacht the Nostromo, nor does it answer the questions raised concerning the treatment of those that should to assist Sheikha Latifa.”

Radha Stirling, the chief executive of Detained in Dubai, said that Mrs Robinson had recited “almost verbatim from Dubai’s script” in her interview on Today on BBC Radio 4.

“Mrs Robinson suggests that the circumstances of Latifa’s escape should be investigated, but not the allegations of torture and abuse which prompted her escape, nor did she suggest that the violent capture by the security forces of the UAE and India in international waters should be investigated,” she said.