The U.N.’s top court on Friday rejected a request by the United Arab Emirates to take special measures against Qatar in a two-year crisis that has added to growing tensions in the Gulf.
Oil and gas-rich Qatar has faced an economic and diplomatic boycott since June 2017 by Gulf rivals who accused Doha of backing terrorism and being too close to regional rival Iran. Abu Dhabi had asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prevent Doha “aggravating” the dispute, after Qatar won a case last year over alleged discrimination against its citizens.
ICJ Chief judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said the court “rejects the request for provisional measures submitted by the United Arab Emirates” by a margin of 15 to one. The measures it asked for were temporary ones while the Hague-based court decides on a wider legal battle between the U.A.E. and Qatar over the blockade.
The legal blow for the U.A.E. comes as tensions soar in the Gulf after two oil tankers were set ablaze in an attack that Washington has blamed on Tehran.
Qatar’s representative to the ICJ said it welcomed the rejection of the “groundless” U.A.E. request. “Qatar brought this case to protect the Qatari people against the U.A.E.’s policy and practice of racial discrimination. It is the Qatari people who are the victims here, and not the government of the U.A.E.,” said Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi.
For two years Saudi Arabia and its allies the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt have barred Qatari flights from their airports and airspace, banned most Qatari visitors, cut trade and shipping links, and closed their borders, unhappy about Doha’s insistence on maintaining its own approach to regional relations.
Last June, in a case brought by Qatar, the ICJ ruled that the U.A.E. must allow families that include Qatari members to be reunited, and that Qatari students must be given the chance to complete their education in the Emirates.
But Abu Dhabi this year went back to court to seek the special measures, including to stop what it alleged was Doha blocking its own citizens from accessing Emirati websites to ease travel issues. It also asked the ICJ to order Doha to withdraw a separate discrimination case that it has lodged against the U.A.E. with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a body that upholds a 1965 U.N. treaty on equality.
The ICJ however ruled that the U.A.E.’s requests for special measures did not cover “plausible rights” that needed to be protected. “The conditions for the indication of provisional measures… are not met,” the court said in its judgment.
During a hearing earlier this year, the Emiratis meanwhile also accused Qatar of backing terrorist groups including the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, echoing one of the original allegations by the Gulf allies against Doha. They also alleged that Qatar used its state-controlled news channels and fake documents to hamper Abu Dhabi’s own efforts to damp down the row, and asked the court to tell Qatar to stop.
Doha has repeatedly denied the claims of its rivals, accusing them of seeking regime change. Qatar has maintained cordial relations with Tehran even as other Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia have cooperated with U.S. pressure campaign against Iran, but Doha is also still close to Washington.