The dramatic finding by a UK family court that the ruler of Dubai organised the abduction of two of his daughters turns the focus again on a controversial intervention by Mary Robinson in relation to one of the women 15 months ago.
The former president and former UN high commissioner for human rights said after a visit to Dubai in December 2018 that she understood concerns that Sheikha Latifa, one of the daughters of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was being held against her will.
However, she said it was a “complicated” situation and that Latifa was “troubled”.
Mrs Robinson, who was attending an event in Dublin on Thursday evening to mark the 250th anniversary of Trinity College's Historical Society, declined to comment on the UK court's ruling. A spokeswoman for TCD said the university's former chancellor was attending the event to speak solely on the subject of climate change and sustainable development.
Mrs Robinson travelled to Dubai at the invitation of her friend and Latifa's stepmother, Princess Haya, the youngest of the sheikh's six wives.
Details of the sheikh's campaign of intimidation against several female relatives only emerged after Princess Haya, who lived in Ireland in the 1990s, subsequently fled Dubai for London in April 2019 and initiated the legal action that resulted in the court ruling made public on Thursday.
The Free Latifa campaign accused Mrs Robinson of showing “errors of judgment” in her decision to travel to Dubai at the request of Latifa’s family.
Mrs Robinson was pictured having lunch with Princess Latifa (34), whom she described at the time as "a troubled young woman" who was "in the loving care of her family".
The picture was the first confirmation to human rights campaigners that Latifa was still alive after she had been seized by Indian army commandos in the Indian Ocean in March 2018 and forcibly returned to Dubai.
In a BBC Radio 4 interview Mrs Robinson said Latifa had regretted making a video in which she said she was being tortured and held against will. She also said the princess’s family did not want her to endure any more publicity.
Mrs Robinson said she had sent a report on her Dubai visit to Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights and had also contacted Ms Bachelet's predecessor, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein of Jordan and Kenneth Roth, the chief of Human Rights Watch.
One campaigner, Aisha Ali-Khan, said the former president had allowed herself to be used as a “willing pawn” in a PR campaign by the Dubai authorities, who claimed photographs of Latifa with Mrs Robinson demonstrated the princess was not being held against her will.
Mrs Robinson’s visit was criticised by several organisations including Human Rights Watch and Detained in Dubai, with the latter stating that she appeared to be “reciting almost verbatim from Dubai’s script”.
In response to such comments, Mrs Robinson insisted she had travelled to Dubai “in good faith”.
Last July, Mrs Robinson said she had never been friends with the rulers of Dubai and the UAE except for Princess Haya, whom she said remained a friend.