Campaigners say Mary Robinson's comments to BBC fail to answer key questions about Sheikha Latifa's disappearance
A former UN human rights commissioner and Irish president has been accused of “reciting almost verbatim from Dubai’s script” following her meeting with an Emirati princess who disappeared in March.
Princess Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, recorded a video ahead of an apparent attempt to escape the emirate in which she said she was fleeing after being imprisoned and tortured by her family for years.
She was reportedly picked up by Emirati and Indian forces as she attempted to reach the coast of Goa with accomplices on a yacht.
Mary Robinson told BBC Radio 4 on Thursday that she had lunch with the 33-year-old at the request of one of Maktoum’s wives to help with “a family dilemma”.
What we heard today was Mary Robinson essentially reciting for BBC Radio listeners the content of the statement issued by the Dubai Ruler’s Court
- Radha Stirling, Detained in Dubai
Robinson, who served as president of Ireland in the 1990s, said the princess regretted the video she had made and was “a troubled young woman”.
“She is a very likeable young woman, but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care that she is receiving,” Robinson said. “She’s receiving psychiatric care and they don’t want her to endure any more publicity – that was the dilemma.”
The former president’s interview came after Dubai’s ministry of foreign affairs released a statement on Monday saying that Robinson was “reassured” Latifa was receiving the care and support she needed.
A whitewashed version
However, human rights campaigners have criticised Robinson, saying she failed to answer critical questions lingering over the princess’s nine-month disappearance and meanwhile gave credence to a whitewashed version of events.
“What we heard today was Mary Robinson essentially reciting for BBC Radio listeners the content of the statement issued by the Dubai Ruler’s Court,” said Radha Stirling, CEO of the UK-based activist group Detained in Dubai.
“She stated that Latifa is currently under ‘psychiatric care’. Latifa has previous described this ‘care’ to include forced medication that caused her sister Shamsa to be sedated to the point that her personality was crushed after she was abducted from the UK and forcibly brought back to Dubai.”
Stirling added: “Latifa phoned me on the night of her abduction, pleading for my help. Given what she has conveyed to me, this meeting in no way satisfies me that she is free from the abuse that she told me she had suffered for years.”
Toby Cadman, a lawyer at the London-based Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers which represents Latifa on the instruction of Detained in Dubai, questioned Robinson’s qualifications to assess the princess.
“Mrs Robinson appears to have spent a couple of hours with Sheikha Latifa and despite having no formal medical or psychiatric training, has somehow diagnosed her condition and concluded that she is receiving appropriate treatment,” he said.
Latifa’s lunch with Robinson took place less than two weeks after the BBC ran a documentary detailing the princess’ failed escape attempt in March, aided by Herve Jaubert, a French ex-spy, and Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish capoeira instructor, whom she had come to know in recent years.
According to the documentary, Jauhiainen and the princess drove to neighbouring Oman and then jet-skied to an inflatable boat where they were picked up by Jaubert on a yacht.
Several days later, according to the BBC, the boat was raided about 50km off the coast of Goa.
During the interview on Thursday, Robinson told BBC Radio 4 "there was a very big demand note for $300m and $30m right away" - details which have never been made public before.
Cadman said Robinson’s claim was a “wholly fabricated allegation” and “an attempt to undermine the credibility of those that assisted Sheikha Latifa with her escape, individuals that were detained and and tortured by the State Security Authorities of the UAE”.
Instead, he said, there has been no explanation about why a yacht was boarded by armed forces in international waters, why people on the boat were imprisoned and tortured or why Latifa is still prevented from speaking publicly.