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UN rights body to seek information on Dubai princess from UAE

Latifa was captured from a boat by commandos. [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 February, 2021

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Following recently released footage, the UN is to question the UAE about the fate of Princess Latifa.
The United Nations’ human rights body said Wednesday it will seek information from the United Arab Emirates about a daughter of Dubai’s powerful ruler after she said in video messages that she was being imprisoned in a heavily guarded villa.

Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum tried to flee the wealthy Gulf state in 2018 but was detained by commandos in a boat off India. She had not been heard from until Tuesday, when the BBC’s “Panorama” investigative program broadcast video messages from the sheikha.

In the videos, which appear to have been recorded covertly, the 35-year-old princess says she is “worried about my safety and my life.”

“I don’t really know if I’m going to survive this situation,” she says in one of the videos. The BBC said they were recorded over months on a phone she secretly received about a year after her capture.

Marcus Essabri, a cousin who lives in England, told the BBC that the videos stopped about six months ago and there had been no word from Latifa since then.

“I fear they caught her with the phone and now I am fearful for her safety,” he said.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it would "raise these new developments with the UAE.”

“Other parts of the UN human rights system with relevant mandates may also become involved once they have analysed the new material or received specific allegations," spokesman Rupert Colville told the BBC.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the videos “very distressing” and said he supported a U.N. investigation.

Raab said Britain was “concerned,” but suggested there was little the government could do because Latifa is not a U.K. national.

Sheikh Mohammed and the Dubai royal court have said Latifa is safe in the loving care of her family. The UAE government’s Dubai Media Office did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

“The contents of the videos Sheikha Latifa recorded are chilling, and we are extremely concerned for her safety, as friends say all contact with her stopped in recent months," said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Lynn Maalouf.

“Sheikha Latifa may be detained in a ‘golden cage', but that does not change the fact that her deprivation of liberty is arbitrary and given its prolonged nature would amount to torture. She has been subjected to a catalogue of human rights violations, including abduction, forcible return and being held incommunicado for almost three years now. Dubai and the UAE must immediately ensure she is released and respect her freedom of movement," she added.

In 2018, the AP reported how a friend and an ex-French spy helped Sheikha Latifa escape by boat, only to be captured off India.

The dramatic escape attempt and its aftermath intruded into the carefully controlled image maintained by the family of Latifa’s father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Sheikh Mohammed, who rules Dubai and also serves as the prime minister and vice president in the hereditarily ruled UAE, is believed to have several dozen children from multiple wives. Some of his sons and daughters figure prominently in local media and online, but others are rarely seen. Sheikha Latifa was widely known for her love of skydiving prior to 2018.

Read more: Beyond the glitz and glam of the UAE lies a sinister cyber surveillance state

Sheikh Mohammed’s family life again became a public matter in 2020. Then, a British judge ruled that the sheikh had conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation against his estranged wife and ordered the abduction of two of his daughters, one of them Sheikha Latifa. The ruling came in a High Court custody battle between Sheikh Mohammed and U.K.-based estranged wife Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan.

Sheikh Mohammed is the founder of the successful Godolphin horse-racing stable and is on friendly terms with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. In 2019, he received a trophy from the queen after one of his horses won a race at Royal Ascot.

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