“We were told by spokespeople for the Dubai royal family, by Princess Haya, and by Mary Robinson that Princess Latifa was in the safe and loving care of her family following her capture off the coast of India as she tried to escape the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed has persistently defied the United Nations inquiry into her welfare with the same assurances. We have seen now exactly what the ‘safe and loving care of her family’ means. It means house arrest, armed guards, and absolute captivity. Once again, Princess Latifa has demonstrated her courageous will to be free, to expose the truth about her father, and to continue struggling against the oppression she and millions of women in the region suffer.
What is the world going to do now? How many times does Latifa have to escape? How many times does she have to smuggle out recorded messages about her plight, before the international community responds, intervenes, and demands her freedom?
When footage was released of Latifa’s meeting with Mary Robinson, we condemned it as a ruthless PR stunt in which Princess Latifa was clearly an unwilling participant. We have consistently called upon the United Nations to pursue our complaint on Latifa’s behalf, and insisted that Latifa be free to speak for herself in a safe jurisdiction outside of the UAE. The fact that the latest recording appears to have been made in 2019, and there has been no word from Latifa since then, is deeply concerning. The UAE must release her immediately and unconditionally. The Emirates has shown itself time and time again to be untrustworthy in their assurances about the rights and freedoms guaranteed by international law, not only with regards to foreign citizens in the country, women of all nationalities, but also to members of the ruling family themselves.
False imprisonment, forced confessions, torture and intimidation are standard procedures in the UAE, and even deaths in custody. Yet the UAE continues to enjoy the favourable media coverage, access to investment and Western tourism, and the political privileges normally granted to nations that comply with global norms of due process and human rights protections.
From the beginning of her story, Latifa has been emblematic of the subjugation of the rights of women in the Emirates and the broader region, and the inability or the unwillingness of the international community to resolve her case and to address the dismal reality of women in the Middle East is a damning indictment of our institutions. Furthermore, Latifa’s case illustrates the top-down corruption of the UAE government which prevents the possibility of genuine legal and social reforms. If this is the treatment a princess is afforded, what then of the average woman?
We have British, American, and European citizens currently engaged in legal actions against the UAE government over allegations of torture, wrongful detention and other grave human rights violations; Princess Latifa, if she is indeed still alive, remains unlawfully imprisoned; hundreds of innocent foreign nationals have had their lives turned upside-down through the UAE’s shameless abuse of the Interpol Red Notice system, and many more are suffering false prosecutions inside the country. Simultaneously, however, the UAE can still promote itself as a holiday destination, can still be touted as a modern, liberal oasis in the Middle East, and as a hub for foreign investment. This has to change.
There were no serious consequences for the UAE when they ordered an illegal raid of Latifa’s vessel in international waters; no serious consequences then occurred for Saudi Arabia over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The continued captivity of Latifa and her sister Shamsa (abducted over a decade earlier) has not negatively impacted the UAE’s relations with the West or prompted any significant criticism that might lead to improvements in the policies of the government or reforms in the society. Our silence has emboldened what can only be characterised as a despotic regime in the UAE, and our willingness to look the other way when case after case of legal abuse and violations of human rights present themselves, only increases the risks to our own citizens whom we still encourage to visit the Emirates, and only discredits our advocacy of the rights and freedoms we know very well are systematically denied in the UAE.
The United Arab Emirates has not embraced international standards on human rights, and should not be embraced by the international community until it does. Insofar as Princess Latifa is a symbol of women’s oppression in the region, the UAE has the opportunity to advance that broader cause by granting Latifa what every woman in the Arab world deserves: freedom.”
Founder & CEO at Detained in Dubai