Jurisdiction Question: ICJ Favors Qatar in International Airspace Dispute

Twitter: @edd1819, Instagram: @bluestar0910, Facebook: SDN — Science, Digital & Current Affairs


(SDN) — QATAR, one of the six members of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is often described in news reports as a “tiny country.”

But in a recent ruling penned by the United Nations International Court of Justice (UN ICJ), Qatar stood like a giant over four other Arab countries.

The UN top court’s ruling favored the “tiny country” against the likes of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Bahrain over an airspace dispute. But their battle is not over yet.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar along with Kuwait and Oman are the six GCC members.

The four Middle Eastern countries had questioned the authority of the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) as they filed a complaint with the ICJ regarding the airspace dispute. They maintained that only the ICJ is clothed with the authority to decide on the dispute. Nyet, the ICJ said.

It can be recalled, per the ICJ, that Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain imposed a slew of sanctions on Qatar in 2017. The sanctions covered the closure of Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia and an air blockade that prevented Qatari aircraft from entering the four countries’ airspace.

With the closure of the land border, it effectively blocked Qatari ships from docking at their ports.

UN and Qatar edit
President of the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ), His Excellency Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf. (Source: ICJ/Frank van Beek)

Why the sanctions

“The sanctions were imposed in retaliation for Qatar’s alleged support of groups that the plaintiff nations view as terrorist organizations, which, they say, violates agreements aimed at improving diplomatic relations in the region,” the ICJ recalled.

Predictably, Qatar presently headed by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, rejected the allegations of its fellow Arab and Muslim nations.

In its rejection of the allegations, Qatar argued that the air blockade runs counter to the 1944 Convention on Civil Aviation, which is the international accord leading to ICAO’s creation. ICAO is the UN’s international aviation agency.

As now widely known, Qatar did not take the sanctions sitting down, even if it was against some “giants.”

“Qatar decided to fight the blockade by taking the case to the ICAO, but the plaintiff nations complained that only the ICJ has the authority to decide on the dispute, arguing that the case goes beyond solely civil aviation matters. However, on Tuesday (July 14), that complaint was not upheld by the ICJ judges, who ruled that the ICAO is competent to hear the case,” the ICJ says.

Apparently inspired by the favorable ruling, the State of Qatar in a tweet welcomed the decision. Qatar’s Minister of Transport and Communication Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti had expressed confidence that ICAO will decide on his country’s favor.

Still from the ICJ:

“The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at The Hague responded with a tweet confirming that the country will now put its legal case to ICAO, supporting its right to close its airspace to Qatari aircraft, and the country’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Hissa Abdullah Al Otaiba, reportedly described the ICJ decision as ‘technical and limited to procedural issues and jurisdiction to address the dispute,’ which has nothing to do
with the merits of the case itself.”

While Qatar won the first round (the question on jurisdiction), the ICAO is expected to deliver its final ruling on the air blockade in 2021. (SDN)


Source: International Court of Justice and Embassy of Qatar in the Philippines.


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