ICJ delivers judgement in air blockade case, rules in favor of Qatar

Felicity Salina, International Law Officer

The International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’) rejected the appeal of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) against the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding jurisdiction over an air blockade dispute against Doha on Tuesday the 14th of July. The ICJ held that the case was admissible and could be heard by ICAO, bringing Qatar one step closer to securing a final ruling on the blockade, which it claims is in violation of the 1944 Convention on Civil Aviation.

The case emerges from a set of Saudi-led sanctions imposed on Qatar in mid-2017 which encompass air, land and sea embargo. The sanctions were imposed in retaliation for what the blockading countries allege to be “Qatar’s support for terrorist organizations”. Qatar instituted proceedings against all four of the currently appealing countries before the ICAO, arguing that the blockade unlawfully interfered with the free passage of its passenger aircraft across foreign airspace. In 2018, the ICAO decided that it had jurisdiction over the matter.

The blockading countries quickly fought back and brought the case to the ICJ, requesting the Court to declare the ICAO decision as null and void. All three grounds of appeal were rejected in the ICJ’s judgement last Tuesday. Qatar’s Minister of Transport and Communication, Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti, took to Twitter to welcome its victory, stating that the country is confident the ICAO will find the blockade to be in breach of international law.

The ambassador of the UAE to the Netherlands, Hissa Abdullah Ahmed Alotaiba, responded by describing the ICJ decision as “a technical one [that] was limited to procedural issues, and did not consider the merits”. She stressed that crisis can only be resolved when Qatar is “willing to play a constructive role in the region”.