Robinson followed Dubai script on princess’s flight, says lawyer

Peter O’Dwyer
January 10 2019, The Times

A human rights lawyer involved in the attempted flight of an Arab princess from her family has accused Mary Robinson of abusing her position after the former president visited her family.

Mrs Robinson flew to Dubai in December to meet Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, who tried to flee from her family last year after claiming that she had suffered years of abuse.

She is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Mrs Robinson met Sheikha Latifa, 33, at the request of Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s wives and subsequently said that the case was a “family matter”. Mrs Robinson, a former UN high commissioner for human rights, was criticised by human rights groups for describing Sheikha Latifa as a “vulnerable” and “clearly troubled” young woman in need of psychiatric help.

David Haigh, a human rights lawyer and founder of Detained in Dubai, said that Mrs Robinson had “tarnished” her reputation as a global stateswoman. Mr Haigh was previously jailed for 22 months in Dubai on fraud charges and claims to have been tortured during that time. He said he was contacted by Sheikha Latifa when she was organising her escape to ask for his help.

Writing in the British newspaper The Independent, Mr Haigh said Mrs Robinson’s comments about Sheikha Latifa were “shocking” as she was apparently supporting the Dubai ruling family’s version of events, which had been questioned by human rights organisations.

“If it is the case, this is a clear misuse of her former office and undermines the work of the current UN human rights commissioner,” Mr Haigh wrote.

She had “spouted almost word-for-word Dubai’s script” on the matter, he said, adding that “by assisting Dubai’s rulers, Robinson has undermined the entire movement for fair treatment of women”.

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 has said that 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”.

She said any future action rested with the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights. The office has confirmed to The Times that Mrs Robinson had contacted them since her visit.

The UAE is not party to the UN convention on enforced disappearances.

A spokeswoman for Mrs Robinson said yesterday that the former president had released a statement on the incident in December and did not intend to comment any further.

Mr Haigh criticised Mrs Robinson for not contacting Detained in Dubai, Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch before her visit.

“Robinson was rightly revered for her life’s work, and that work is not invalidated by her totally unacceptable interference in the case of Princess Latifa. But in my opinion, her reputation has been tarnished by this, and it will take a lot of explaining for her to undo the damage she has caused both herself and the cause of human rights,” he added.