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UN seeks meeting with UAE over Dubai's Princess Latifa and sister Shamsa

United Nations still hasn't received proof that royal is alive, despite first asking for evidence in February
The UN says a meeting has been agreed in principle with senior officials to discuss Princess Latifa (Screengrab)

The United Nations has sought a meeting with the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates in Geneva over the condition of Dubai's Princess Latifa and her sister Shamsa, a UN spokeswoman said on Friday.

UN human rights spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said at a briefing in Geneva that the organisation was "very worried" about the plight of the women, according to AFP, adding that a meeting between senior UN officials had in principle been agreed.

She added that the UN still hasn't received evidence that Latifa, the daughter of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, is alive, despite asking the UAE in February.

"We haven't got any proof of life, and we would like one, one that is clear compelling evidence that she is alive. Our first concern of course is to be sure of that, that she is still alive," Hurtado said.

Last year, a British judge ruled that Sheikh Mohammed, who is prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates, was keeping both his daughters captive and had kidnapped the two on separate occasions.

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The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) first asked for evidence Latifa is alive on 19 February, after the BBC aired a documentary showing new footage of Latifa saying her father was holding her captive.

The 35-year-old royal has not been seen in public since she tried to escape from Dubai in February 2018.

In February this year, a letter from Latifa was handed to British police urging them to re-investigate the kidnapping and disappearance of her sister Shamsa in Cambridge in 2000.

Princess Shamsa, now 39, has not been seen in public for two decades since allegedly being abducted in the UK as a teenager by men working for Sheikh Mohammed.

'I'm a hostage, I'm not free'

In February, new footage made public by the BBC showed Latifa describing her detention in clips filmed in secret on a mobile phone. 

The princess, who is seen speaking with her back to a wall in a locked bathroom, says: "I'm a hostage, I'm not free. I am imprisoned in this jail. My life is not in my hands."

The emergence of the videos was the latest twist in a string of headline-grabbing stories involving Dubai's ruling family and its patriarch, Sheikh Mohammed, stretching back several years.

'I'm a hostage, I'm not free. I am imprisoned in this jail. My life is not in my hands'

- Princess Latifa

In 2018, Latifa escaped Dubai with the help of her friend, a Finnish capoeira instructor, Tiina Jauhiainen. Eight days later, when she had got as far as India's Malabar coast, Indian - then Emirati - forces violently boarded her boat and returned her to Dubai.

In 2019, Jauhiainen was able to sneak a phone to Latifa, who then began covertly filming herself.

"I have been here ever since, for more than a year in solitary confinement," she said in the videos shared with the BBC. "No access to medical help, no trial, no charge, nothing."

The Dubai royal court has claimed she is safe and well, but friends say she has had little medical care and went over a year without a toothbrush. 

"Her family has confirmed that her highness is being cared for at home, supported by her family and medical professionals," said a statement released by Dubai after the BBC report. 

Sedated and held captive

Princess Shamsa - it was claimed and believed by a judge during a trial in the UK last year - fled her family in Britain in 2000, only to be recaptured by Emirati agents in Cambridge, sedated and then rendered by helicopter from the family's Newmarket home.

Shamsa is believed to be held captive in Dubai. Attempts by Cambridgeshire police to travel to the UAE and follow up investigations into her disappearance were blocked by prosecutors.

During a custody battle between Shiekh Mohammed and his estranged Jordanian wife Princess Haya, a British court in 2019 heard that the UK Foreign Office received freedom of information requests about this matter, which were refused on the grounds that such information could harm relations with friendly foreign countries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in February that he was “concerned” about the plight of Latifa after the BBC videos of her emerged, though Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK had no plans to raise the princess's case directly with the Emiratis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also said that the Biden administration is closely monitoring developments.

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