UN warned it would raise alarm over princess’s fate

Peter O’Dwyer, Senior Ireland Reporter
March 12 2019, The Times

Photographs of Sheikha Latifa and Mary Robinson were published as evidence she was still alive

The UN warned Dubai’s ruling family that it intended to publicise concerns that a runaway princess had been killed days before photographs of her with Mary Robinson surfaced.

Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, daughter of Dubai’s ruler, tried to flee in March last year, claiming that she had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her family.

Rights groups raised concerns about her safety because she had not been seen in public or heard from since she was returned to Dubai that month.

Mrs Robinson, the former Irish president, became involved in December when she appeared in photographs with the princess, having accepted an invitation from the ruling family to visit Dubai. The pictures were the first evidence since her attempted escape that Sheikha Latifa was still alive.

Human rights groups described Mrs Robinson, also a former UN high commissioner for human rights, as a “willing pawn” for the family that rules the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after she claimed that Sheikha Latifa was a “troubled young woman” who needed psychiatric help. Correspondence seen by The Times shows that the UN’s working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances wrote to Dubai’s ruling family on December 6 with information it had received about Sheikha Latifa.

Bernard Duhaime, the group’s chairman-rapporteur, said it had received new information about the “alleged killing” of the princess, which raised “additional concern as to her fate and whereabouts”. He said reports from “reliable sources” alleged that Sheikha Latifa “may be dead” and added it was believed she was killed after the boat she was on board, Nostromo, “came under attack”.

“Serious concern is expressed over the continuous enforced disappearance and alleged killing of Ms Sheikha Latifa al Maktoum,” he wrote.

The UN working group said that the information it had received indicated that the other occupants of the Nostromo were detained at a military base for two weeks where they were “interrogated, threatened with death and forced to sign false statements”.

The group noted that they were all released except Sheikha Latifa who had “disappeared since her arrest”.

Sheikha Latifa had attempted to reach India with the help of Hervé Jaubert, 62, a former French secret agent, but the yacht was stopped off the coast of Goa by a small armada of armed ships and a helicopter, and boarded by the Indian coastguard.

In the letter sent nine days before Mrs Robinson’s visit, the working group warned that it “may wish to publicly express” its concerns and added that it was preparing to issue a press release because it believed the information to be “sufficiently reliable” to warrant immediate action.

“We believe that the wider public should be informed about these matters. The press release will indicate that we have been in contact with your excellency’s government’s [sic] to clarify the issue/s in question,” Mr Duhaime wrote.

He added that any response from the UAE would be made public on the working group’s website within 60 days. A response, which has not been put on the website, was received on December 21. The UN said it was because of its “confidential nature”.

Mrs Robinson met Sheikha Latifa at the request of Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s wives, and said that the case was a “family matter”.

Princess Haya bint Hussein said in January that Mrs Robinson had been invited after the UN had asked for “proof” that Sheikha Latifa was still alive. She said that the UN’s correspondence had a “shattering effect” on her and that the request as “absurd”.

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

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

A spokeswoman for Mrs Robinson yesterday said it was her understanding that the former president was aware “in general terms” of the correspondence but not its detail, and added that Mrs Robinson had not seen it before her arrival in Dubai. A spokesman for the Dubai government did not respond to a request for comment.

The working group said that it had not received a reply to an “urgent action procedure” sent to the UAE government months earlier on May 2.

In addition to requesting proof that the princess was still alive, the working group asked that if she was being detained that the ruling family provide evidence to that effect, including “information on the factual and legal grounds of her detention”, where she was being held and by whom she was being detained.

The former president was criticised for describing Sheikha Latifa as a “vulnerable” and “clearly troubled” young woman in need of psychiatric help.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, asked how Ms Robinson would know the difference between the princess having an existing mental health problem and her suffering from alleged ill treatment from her family.

The United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had all repeatedly sought assurances as to Princess Latifa’s safety.