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Posted On: 14 July 2020 06:04 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:22 pm

Qatar can challenge airspace restrictions imposed by blockading countries at ICAO: ICJ ruling

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The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN's top court, has backed Qatar in a dispute with four neighbours which imposed an air blockade against Doha more than three years ago, according to Al Jazeera.

The Hague-based ICJ on Tuesday rejected the appeal by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against a decision by the world civil aviation body in favor of Qatar over sovereign airspace, ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said on Tuesday.

Qatar welcomes today’s ruling by the ICJ that it has the right to challenge airspace restrictions imposed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Arab Republic of Egypt (“the Blockading States”) before the UN’s aviation body – the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), according to the Government Communications Office.

Since June 2017, the Blockading States have prohibited Qatar-registered aircraft from flying to or from their airports and overflying their national airspaces, in flagrant violation of international law. In two judgements released today, the ICJ rejected all three grounds of appeal raised by the Blockading States, finding that the ICAO has jurisdiction to hear Qatar’s claims. The ICAO Council will now resume its proceedings.

His Excellency the Minister of Transport and Communications of Qatar, Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti:

“We welcome today’s decision by the ICJ that will see the Blockading States finally face justice for violating international aviation rules. We are confident that the ICAO will ultimately find these actions unlawful. This is the latest in a series of rulings that expose the Blockading Countries’ continued disregard for international law and due process. Step by step their arguments are being dismantled, and Qatar’s position vindicated.”

Since the start of the illegal blockade in June 2017, Qatar has maintained that the blockading countries have acted illegally and in violation of international law. Today’s verdict is the latest in a series of international judgements vindicating this position and finding in favour of the State of Qatar. It follows a ruling by the World Trade Organization in June that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia breached global trade rules by failing to take action against, and instead actively promoting, broadcast pirate beoutQ.

Qatar’s decision to bring claims before the ICAO follows repeated attempts to negotiate an amicable settlement, which have been consistently rejected by the Blockading States.

The judgement

According to the ICJ, in its Judgment, which is final, without appeal and binding on the Parties, the Court:

  1. rejects, unanimously, the appeal brought by the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Arab Republic of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates on 4 July 2018 from the Decision of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, dated 29 June 2018;
  2. holds, by fifteen votes to one, that the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization has jurisdiction to entertain the application submitted to it by the Government of the State of Qatar on 30 October 2017 and that the said application is admissible.

History of the proceedings

By a joint Application filed in the Registry of the Court on 4 July 2018, the Governments of Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates instituted an appeal against a Decision rendered by the ICAO Council on 29 June 2018 in proceedings brought before the Council by Qatar on 30 October 2017, pursuant to Article II, Section 2, of the International Air Services Transit Agreement (the “IASTA”). Those proceedings were initiated following the severance by the Governments of Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates of diplomatic relations with Qatar and the adoption, on 5 June 2017, of restrictive measures relating to terrestrial, maritime and aerial lines of communication with that State, which included certain aviation restrictions. According to Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, these restrictive measures were taken in response to the alleged breach by Qatar of its obligations under certain international agreements to which the States are parties, including, in particular, the Riyadh Agreement of 23 and 24 November 2013, and of other obligations under international law.

Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates raised preliminary objections before the ICAO Council, contending that the Council lacked jurisdiction “to resolve the claims raised” by Qatar in its application and that these claims were inadmissible. By its Decision of 29 June 2018, the Council rejected these objections. Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates thus decided to appeal the Decision before the Court, as provided for by Article 84 of the Chicago Convention, and filed a joint Application to that effect. In their joint Application to the Court, the Appellants raise three grounds of appeal against the Decision rendered by the ICAO Council on 29 June 2018. First, they submit that the Council’s Decision “should be set aside on the grounds that the procedure adopted by [the latter] was manifestly flawed and in violation of fundamental principles of due process and the right to be heard”. In their second ground of appeal, they assert that the Council “erred in fact and in law in rejecting the first preliminary objection . . . in respect of the competence of the ICAO Council”.

According to the Appellants, to pronounce on the dispute would require the Council to rule on questions that fall outside its jurisdiction, specifically on the lawfulness of the countermeasures, including “certain airspace restrictions”, adopted by the Appellants. In the alternative, and for the same reasons, they argue that the claims of Qatar are inadmissible. Under their third ground of appeal, they contend that the Council erred when it rejected their second preliminary objection.

That objection was based on the assertion that Qatar had failed to satisfy the precondition of negotiation contained in Article II, Section 2, of the IASTA, and thus that the Council lacked jurisdiction. As part of that objection, they also argued that Qatar’s claims were inadmissible because Qatar had not complied with the procedural requirement set out in Article 2, subparagraph (g), of the ICAO Rules for the Settlement of Differences.

What is the ICJ?

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established by the United Nations Charter in June 1945 and began its activities in April 1946. The Court is composed of 15 judges elected for a nine-year term by the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations. The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). The Court has a twofold role: first, to settle, in accordance with international law, through judgments which have binding force and are without appeal for the parties concerned, legal disputes submitted to it by States; and, second, to give
advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by duly authorized United Nations organs and agencies of the system.