Last year, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade upon Qatar that resulted in severe economic, diplomatic, and civilian issues. The blockade was established based on accusations of Qatari ties to terrorism in the region but is regarded as a power move by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Qatar was condemned for its collaborations with Iran, an enemy of many in the region, and Hamas, a pro-Palestine “terrorist” organization. In the past, the nation has been under suspicion of funding groups such as ISIS, claims that Qatar has consistently denied.
A series of demands were paired with the blockade, one being the shutting down of Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is a news outlet which the UAE claims is biased propaganda promoting an Islamic perspective, though Al Jazeera receives no funding from Qatar and has been considered by other international news organizations to be genuine journalism. Therefore, this demand appears to be an attempt at condemning freedom of the press.
The more serious impacts of the blockade, which has now been in place for over a year, are the effects on civilian lives. Air, land, and sea travel were shut down, and Qatari citizens living or studying in any of the nations which agreed to the blockade were given two weeks to return home. Citizens of the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia who were residing in Qatar were also forced to return. There are many families of mixed heritage who were devastated by this law. Many have lost their jobs, been made to pause their education, and lost contact with their loved ones. Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee has recorded 13,000 people impacted by the blockade, 646 of which were family reunification violations.
All these issues resulted in Qatar filing a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that requested family reunification and reparations. Just last week, the ICJ ruled in favour of Qatar that the blockade needed to be classified as an example of discrimination based upon race. This is a major victory for Qatar, one which validates the traumas felt by many Qatari citizens who had family, property, and lives in the UAE. However, the case only applies to the UAE’s involvement, not the other three nations. The court decision relies on the fact that both Qatar and the UAE signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), but Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt did not. CERD states that the intention of such an agreement is “reaffirming that discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic origin is an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations.”
As part of the ICJ’s ruling, the UAE will be required to reunite families and permit students to complete their educations. The ruling stated that the UAE must “ensure that families, which include a Qatari member, separated by the measures adopted by the UAE … are reunited.” If the UAE refuses to comply with the ICJ’s decision, Qatar would need to raise concerns to the UN Security Council. The UAE Minister of State Anwar Gargarsh tweeted that the “three measures concerning families, student and access to litigation…the United Arab Emirates has executed in accordance to its national regulations after the steps taken by the four nations against Doha,” indicating that the UAE has already begun the process of reconciliation and will follow what is instructed by the ICJ. Prior to the decision, the UAE had stated that they believed the ICJ did not have the right to listen to Qatar’s case, leaving it unclear to what extent the racial tensions would be resolved.
However, it is important to note that the state of Qatar has significantly improved in the past year. Without trade from the four influential nations near them, Qatar reached out to other countries and supported their own businesses, resulting in extreme economic improvements. Despite the blockade’s goal of destabilization, Qatar has proven triumphant, and this ruling further aids them in this diplomatic dispute.
Qatar’s foreign ministry spokeswomen spoke optimistically of the ICJ’s decision, “This is only the first step on a long road to defend our rights, but at the same time this sends an early strong signal that there will be no tolerance shown to countries that take arbitrary measures against Qataris.”
With a clear court ruling on their side, hopefully, both the physical and emotional barriers created by the boycott will be eradicated.
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