The UN’s top court on Tuesday backed Qatar in a bitter row with four Middle East nations that imposed an air blockade against Doha after accusing it of backing radical Islamists and Iran.
The decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) covers a key part of the acrimonious standoff that erupted three years ago pitting Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Qatar.
Qatar Airways seeks damages over ‘illegal’ air blockade
Qatar Airways said it will seek compensation for losses sustained from an “illegal airspace blockade” imposed since 2017 by four Middle East nations.
The announcement came a day after the International Court of Justice ruled Qatar could challenge airspace restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt over three years ago before the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
“Qatar Airways will pursue its case for appropriate compensation of the financial injuries inflicted on Qatar Airways as a result of the illegal airspace blockade,” the airline said in a statement.
The four Saudi-led blockading nations severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017 and imposed a land, sea and air embargo, accusing Doha of backing radical Islamist groups and forging close relations with Iran.
Qatar repeatedly denied the allegations and sued the four countries before the ICAO.
“The arbitrary and abusive measures that these four states have taken against us have devastated our carefully planned decades-long programme for investment and growth in those countries,” Qatar Airways said.
“They have arbitrarily prevented us from serving hundreds of thousands of passengers, and transporting tens of thousands of tons of cargo to and from each of these countries annually.”
Qatar Airways is the second largest airliner in the Middle East after Dubai-based Emirates, operating a modern fleet of 250 aircraft. Since the start of the air blockade, the national carrier has posted losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Blockading states face justice
Qatar said after the decision that its rivals would “face justice”.
Minister of Transport and Communications said: "We welcome today’s decision by the ICJ that will see the Blockading States finally face justice for violating international aviation rules. We are confident that the ICAO will ultimately find these actions unlawful." #QNA
— Qatar News Agency (@QNAEnglish) July 14, 2020
“We welcome today’s decision by the ICJ that will see the blockading states finally face justice for violating international aviation rules,” Qatar Minister of Transport and Communications, Jassim Saif Ahmed al-Sulaiti, said in a statement
The president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said The Hague-based court unanimously “rejects the appeal” by the rival states against a decision by the world civil aviation body in favour of Qatar over sovereign airspace.
The court also “holds that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has jurisdiction” in the case, by 15 judges to one, Yusuf said.
The ICAO in 2018 ruled it had the jurisdiction to handle a dispute brought by Qatar, which accused its neighbours of violating a convention that regulates the free passage of its passenger planes through foreign airspace.
‘Null and void and without effect’
But the four allies disagreed, saying the ICAO was not the right body to judge in the dispute and that its decision to do so was “manifestly flawed and in violation of fundamental principles of due process and the right to be heard.”
They had asked the ICJ to declare the aviation body’s ruling “null and void and without effect.”
The Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and other allies abruptly severed ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing the gas- and oil-rich country of backing radical Islamists and Iran.
They imposed wide-ranging punitive measures including banning Qatari planes from their airspace, closing Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia and expelling Qatari citizens. Doha strongly denies the allegations.
On Tuesday the UN’s top court backed #Qatar in a dispute with #SaudiArabia, #Bahrain, #UAE and #Egypt, which imposed an air blockade against Doha in 2017.
Read this article for more details👇https://t.co/Y0p53Z17hF pic.twitter.com/63sXfpqNiq
— Doha News (@dohanews) July 14, 2020
The countries justified the moves against the Gulf peninsula state saying it was their sovereign right to protect their national security.
Qatar fiercely rejected the claims that it had violated a series of agreements inked with its neighbours in 2013 and 2014 aimed at settling years of diplomatic rancour.
Last year the ICJ — set up in 1946 to rule in disputes between UN member states — rejected a request by the UAE to take special measures against Qatar, after Doha won a case at the ICJ in 2018 over alleged discrimination against its citizens.
Doha in June again accused the Saudi-led alliance of refusing to engage with efforts to resolve the crisis that it said were backed by the United States.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk