Mary Robinson ‘dismayed’ at comments on visit to Emirates princess

Former president defends visit after she was described as ‘willing pawn’ in UAE PR battle

Former Irish president Mary Robinson is "dismayed at some of the media comments" on her visit to the 'troubled' Emirates princess which she undertook in "good faith".

The former UN high commissioner for human rights issued a statement on Friday after she came in for criticism from some rights campaigners.

Photographs of Mrs Robinson with Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum were released by her family on Christmas Eve to rebut what they described as “false allegations” that she was taken home against her will.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme on Thursday Mrs Robinson described the princess who went missing earlier this year as a “troubled” and “vulernable” young woman who has a “serious medical situation” and was “in the loving care of her family”.


However Mrs Robinson faced intensive criticism on Thursday from rights campaigners, with one alleging she had been “used as a willing pawn in the PR battle between the UAE ruling family and the rest of the world”.

The princess, a daughter of Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, had not been heard from since she was seized from a yacht off the coast of India in March.

In a video that she instructed friends to release in case an attempt to escape Dubai went wrong, Latifa said she spent seven years trying to flee a gilded prison and feared torture if captured.

Personal witness

In a statement released on Friday, Mrs Robinson said “I am dismayed at some of the media comments on my visit and I would like to say I undertook the visit and made an assessment, not a judgement, based on personal witness, in good faith and to the best of my ability.”

Mrs Robinson said she visited Dubai to meet the princess at the requst of Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of the wives of the Sheikh.

“I have known and worked with Princess Haya for many years in her capacity as a member of the UN Global Humanitarian Forum and as a UN Messenger of Peace. I was aware of the international concern over Sheikha Latifa and that she had not been seen for many months so when Princess Haya asked me to go to Dubai to meet with both of them I agreed, without hesitation.”

Mrs Robinson said she received “extensive briefings” in Dubai.

“It was clear to me that Princess Haya had particular concern for the welfare of Sheikha Latifa whom she described as troubled and quite vulnerable. During my time with her Sheikha Latifa presented as a very likeable young woman with a wide range of interests but her vulnerability was apparent.”

Mrs Robinson said since her return she had written a report to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

“I believe future action rests with that office, with the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances and with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” she said.

Sceptical reaction

There had been a sceptical reaction from Human Rights Watch (HRW), which was mentioned during a BBC interview on Thursday with Mrs Robinson. “The dilemma was that Latifa is vulnerable, she’s troubled. She made a video that she now regrets and she planned an escape, or was part of a plan of escape,” said Mrs Robinson on Thursday who told how she had lunch with Latifa, Hayat and others and was able to “assess the situation”.

Mrs Robinson said the princess was receiving psychiatric care, adding: “She’s a very likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care that she’s receiving.” She said the family “did not want her to endure any more publicity”.

Mrs Robinson, said she had been in touch with Ken Roth, the executive director of HRW.

Mr Roth said he had an email correspondence with Mrs Robinson after he learned she had visited Princess Latifa. He sent her a link to reporting on the case by HRW, which has documented numerous incidents of enforced disappearances by UAE authorities.

“Mary Robinson said in the BBC interview that Princess Latifa is ‘a troubled young woman’, though I would be troubled too if I had tried to escape a gilded prison and was kidnapped back into it,” said Mr Roth.

“I’m not sure that Mary Robinson during such a short visit would be capable of discerning the difference. A brief interview in the presence of the family that allegedly kidnapped her, after who knows what treatment she had been subjected to during the past nine months of incommunicado detention, is no way to find out.”


Mr Roth said HRW would welcome the opportunity to speak about the case with Princess Latifa as well as with UAE government officials.

Radha Stirling, the chief executive of the Detained in Dubai group, said listeners to the interview with Mrs Robinson would have been "astonished at the extent to which Mrs Robinson appeared to be reciting almost verbatim from Dubai's script".

Lawyers instructed by two people who were on the yacht when it was seized also challenged the account given by Mrs Robinson, accusing her of “brushing over” credible allegations about unlawful attacks and abductions in international waters.

“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. It is unclear on what basis Mrs Robinson considers herself qualified to do so,” said Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers.

Aisha Ali-Khan, a UK-based rights campaigner, also criticised Mrs Robinson, saying: “It seems clear to me that Robinson has been used as a willing pawn in the PR battle between the UAE ruling family and the rest of the world.”– Additional reporting Guardian