| Interview

Dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours continues at Palais Wilson

Suisse OHCHR Palais Wilson (KEYSTONE/Patrick Aviolat)

In the summer of 2017, tensions between the countries bordering the Persian Gulf reached a climax. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other states imposed a boycott on Qatar, which they accuse of playing into Iran's hands. The situation on the ground partly returned to normal, but the battle continued in Europe. First in The Hague, where Qatar filed a case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing the United Arab Emirates of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).  Hearings resumed in The Hague on 31 August. Geneva has turned into another battleground, where the small gas emirate is challenging its opponents before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) at the Palais Wilson.

Why are we talking about it? The ICERD has been in existence for almost 50 years and is the oldest UN human rights treaty. However, 2018 marked the first time an inter-state communication procedure had been received by a UN human rights body. Three procedures were then initiated, including two by Qatar. These procedures are still ongoing.

Samantha Besson, professor of international law at the University of Fribourg and the Collège de France and author of numerous publications on human rights, tells Geneva Solutions how the inter-state communications work.

GS - What is an inter-state communication?

Samantha Besson: UN human rights treaty bodies, such as the CERD, have a number of procedures to monitor compliance with these treaties. Following an alleged treaty violation by a State Party, two types of communication or complaint procedures within the ICERD are foreseen. One of them is the inter-state communication procedure. Following such a procedure, the CERD may establish an ad hoc Conciliation Commission which will clarify the facts at the origin of the dispute and issue recommendations for a friendly settlement. The report of this commission may subsequently be communicated to all States Parties. In the ICERD system, the particularity of inter-state communication is that it is a compulsory procedure for all States Parties. Its outcome, however, is subject to the consent of the States parties to the dispute

Qatar has also filed a case before the International Court of Justice. What is the interest for a State to conduct proceedings before both the ICJ and the CERD ?

For the requesting State, the multiplication of international procedures for the settlement of a dispute also potentially implies the multiplication of its chances of success in one of them and the possibility of influencing the one by mentioning the other. It is one of the characteristics of international dispute settlement in general that, with few exceptions, there is no hierarchy or subsidiarity of settlement mechanisms. The possibility of conducting several such procedures in parallel has always existed, but in practice their multiplication in such a constellation dates back some ten years. In the case in point, the procedures are not of the same nature. Before the ICJ, the procedure is judicial and therefore binding in its outcome, whereas it is political before the CERD. Secondly, they do not deal with exactly the same legal issues and, above all, will not have the same legal consequences. [The ICJ may, for example, order the cessation of the wrongful acts or order reparations].

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