Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has been granted an increasing degree of freedom after years of controversy surrounding alleged abuse and kidnappings at the hands of her father. In a statement emailed to Reuters on 23 June, Princess Latifa announced her freedom to travel. An image of Latifa was posted on the social media platform Instagram on 21 June, appearing to show her abroad in an airport in Spain.
On 11 March 2018, a video was released of Sheikha Latifa after her failed attempt to flee the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and subsequent disappearance. In the video, Latifa alleged she was fleeing from her family and made allegations of abuse by her father, Al Maktoum. In response to this video, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson met with Latifa in the presence of other royal family members in December 2018. Robinson claimed at the time that she found the princess to be in the “loving care of her family,” according to Reuters. This statement was highly scrutinized by several human rights groups that felt Robinson’s meeting was not sufficient evidence of Latifa’s well-being.
In 2019, the international advocacy campaign “Free Latifa” was founded by Tiina Jauhianen, a friend of Latifa’s, and David Haigh, the CEO of human rights non-profit Detained International and United Nations lawyer to Latifa. The organization’s mission statement reads: “We in the Free Latifa campaign are now demanding what Latifa has fought for, for years: that she be free to travel to a country of her choice, free from torture, abuse and duress, and be able to associate with whichever friends, advisors and lawyers she chooses. We demand this right of all women in the UAE.” On 5 March, 2020, a British court ruled that, on the balance of probabilities, Al Maktoum orchestrated the abductions of two of his daughters, including Latifa, and subjected his former wife, Princess Haya, to a “campaign of intimidation.” The British family court judgment served to risk destabilizing diplomatic relations with the UAE, a close Gulf ally to the U.K. Princess Shamsa, Latifa’s half-sister, was notoriously abducted in Cambridge in 2000, when she was 19 years old. Several months of private hearings in 2020 and a legal dispute detailed 20 years of international kidnappings and imprisonment.
On 16 February 2021, BBC News received a video of Princess Latifa claiming she was taken by Emirati forces on a boat in the Indian Ocean and tranquilized, then put on a private jet back to Dubai where she was held captive by her family. A month after the video was released, the UN renewed calls for the UAE to provide concrete information about the safety of Latifa. A group of independent human rights experts said in a joint statement: “We are alarmed that, following the public release in February of footage in which Sheikha Latifa reported being deprived of her liberty against her will, no concrete information has been provided by the authorities.” There had been no news from the princess following that statement.
The UAE received a global freedom status score of 17 out of 100 in the Freedom House Freedom in the World 2021 Report. The regime of Al Maktoum has been described as autocratic and authoritarian as there are no democratic institutions and internal dissent is prohibited. The 1980 Publications and Publishing Law, considered one of the most restrictive press laws in the Arab world, regulates all aspects of the media and prohibits any criticism of the regime. According to the Freedom House report, women in the UAE are generally at a distinct disadvantage under laws governing personal and social freedoms in the nation. The alleged treatment of Latifa stands as an egregious infringement upon her right to self-determination, a crucial individual right guaranteed under Article 1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although Latifa’s freedom to travel stands as a positive step forward, there must be profound action taken to ensure complete degrees of personal freedom for all, particularly women, in the UAE.