New Delhi: Six months after India returned a runaway Dubai princess to UAE officers to protect “strategic interests”, Sheikha Latifa Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is still being held incommunicado and her whereabouts are unknown. She is one of the daughters of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai.
On March 4, Sheikha Latifa was about 50 miles off the coast of Goa, in a US-flagged yacht with five non-Emirati people when Indian commandos allegedly forcefully entered the boat and took control, eventually handing it back to Emirati officers. In a pre-recorded video, she had stated that she was fleeing Dubai to escape her father, who allegedly tortured her. The five non-Emirati on the boat were let off after being kept in detention in the UAE for around two weeks.
One of the five – Tiina Jauhiainen – speaking after her release, stated that Indian commandos had severely beaten the five, threatening to kill them.
On September 4, Amnesty International in a statement said the incident possibly entailed multiple violations of international human rights law by both India and the UAE, including arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance. It said it had written to the UAE foreign ministry on August 1 to inquire about the case, and to the Embassy of India in Abu Dhabi on August 31, but has no received any response.
The group called on the UAE to immediately disclose Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum’s whereabouts.
“If she is deprived of her liberty, she should have contact with lawyers and loved ones and access to all fair trial guarantees. If she is only held for having tried to flee the country or for any other reason incompatible with human rights standards, she should be immediately and unconditionally released and her right to freedom of movement, including travel abroad, should be respected. The UAE – a federal state of which Dubai is a constituent member – should act to ensure that Dubai respects the human rights of its citizens and all those under its jurisdiction.”
The organisation also asked India to investigate and hold to account “officials implicated in unlawful acts in the course of its raid on the Nostromo [yacht], including arbitrary detention and physical abuse. which may rise to the level of torture”.
After deciding to flee Dubai, Sheikha Al Maktoum set out by sea on February 24, 2018. She was travelling with her close friend Tiina Jauhiainen, from Finland, aboard a yacht, the Nostromo, captained by French-US national Hervé Jaubert, along with three Filipino crew members.
On March 4, 2018, as the yacht was approaching Goa Indian Coast Guard vessels, Indian commandos allegedly forcibly boarded and commandeered the boat in international waters. Witnesses on board told Amnesty that a squad of commandos deployed from the Coast Guard vessels beat Jaubert and the Nostromo crew members until they collapsed, destroyed equipment aboard the boat, threatened everyone aboard with guns, and dragged Sheikha Al Maktoum away as she screamed that she was claiming political asylum.
Jaubert and the crew members were allegedly beaten even after they had been handcuffed, and Jaubert was beaten until he was unconscious. The Filipino crew members were allegedly beaten until they collapsed and could not move. The vessels used in the raid were clearly and prominently marked as Indian Coast Guard ships, Amnesty said, adding “India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bars torture and ill-treatment.”
After the six people were subdued, Indian forces are said to have turned the ship over to Emirati officers, who began to pilot the ship to the UAE. Some of the boat’s tracking functions were not disabled, and so several days of the voyage back through the Indian Ocean were recorded in satellite-service provider databases. It was eventually left docked on the coast of the emirate of Fujairah (northeast of Dubai), at a naval facility.
On March 20, Jaubert and his crew were released, put back on board the damaged vessel and allowed to leave the UAE. Jauhiainen was released two days later and flew home to Finland. Until their release, all five individuals were reportedly held incommunicado, without legal process, in solitary confinement at an unknown prison in the UAE.