Updated June 19, 2017
Habib Toumi, (Gulf News Bureau Chief), “Measures on Qatar taken after exhausting all possible means, say Gulf countries,” Gulf News, June 16, 2017 (19:10).
“Qatar submits legal files on blockade,” The Peninsula (Qatar’s Daily Newspaper), June 17, 2017 (10:07).
“US’ Mattis: Qatar blockade ‘very complex situation’; Defence secretary Mattis says Qatar ‘moving in the right direction’ but common ground needs to be found in crisis,” Al Jazeera, June 13, 2017.
“Interview with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani; Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar, discusses Middle Eastern states’ attempted political and economic isolation of Qatar for its alleged support of terrorism, Charlie Rose program, June 12, 2017.
“Qatar’s blockade violates GCC charter, international law (quoting former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister HE Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani),” Gulf Times, June 14 2017 (10:19 PM).
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain cut ties to Qatar; Qatar calls decision by Gulf nations and Egypt ‘unjustified’, saying allegations against Doha have ‘no basis in fact’. Al Jazeera, June 6, 2017.
Saudi Arabia and a group of Arab states have initiated a land blockade of Qatar, an air blockade of Qatar aircraft entering their airspace, and the expulsion of Qatari diplomatic staff and citizens from their countries with very short time frames.
President Trump has apparently led or encouraged the actions.
These actions appear to be in open violation of the basic principle of non-intervention in international law. The governments responsible for the blockade (land entry) or boycott appear to base their legal case on the claim that the actions were in effect “retorsions” under international law, that is, lawful actions that they were authorized to freely take. Much of their justification seems to rest, however, on an argument that they were lawful countermeasures (non-forcible reprisals) taken in response to Qatar’s violations of international law.
The countries led by Saudi Arabia allege without providing evidence that Qatar has been supporting terrorism. Even if individual Qataris (or Saudis, for that matter) have funded terrorist organizations in the past, there remains the legal challenge of demonstrating that the government of Qatar was complicit and that therefore the actions constituted “state action” for which the government of Qatar acquired state responsibility under international law.
The Saudi-led coalition has failed to provide specific details and evidence of the charges. If the collective action of a group of states, without warning and without resort to the dispute resolution provisions of the Charter of the Gulf Community States, or other dispute resolution mechanisms, constitutes intervention in the internal and external affairs of Qatar in violation of the international law principle of non-intervention, then their actions are unlawful and themselves incur state responsibility including liability for damages.
Given the geographic features of the countries involved in the ground blockade, and the ganging up on Qatar by boycotting its airlines and sea communications, a very strong case of illegal intervention may be presented.
The only possible justification for such actions in that case would be if they were adopted as what is known in international law as “countermeasures”, which must follow strict conditions in their adoption, including the principle of proportionality to the alleged violations of international law, and the objective of bringing such violations to a halt.
If the blockade and boycotts are not promptly lifted as the result of mediation efforts led by Kuwait and/or others, the dispute should be submitted to one or more international tribunals for binding resolution.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have not offered any persuasive legal justification under international law for the adoption of these actions.
Pending such justifications — which must hold up to legal scrutiny — the blockade and other actions must be regarded as extremely serious violations of international law.
The Trenchant Observer