Saudi-led blockade of Qatar continues, in flagrant violation of international law

A coalition of states led by Saudi Arabia including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrein, and Egypt (as well as Libya, and the Maldives) continues its blockade of Qatar in flagrant violation of international law.

Reuters, “Four Arab States Leading Qatar Boycott Say Initial Demands Void, Vow More Measures,” July 6, 2017 (6:48 P.M. E.D.T.).

Fahad Bin Mohammed al Attiya (Op-ed), “Qatar Stands Up to the Neighborhood Bullies,” New York Times, July 6, 2017. (Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiya is Qatar’s ambassador to Russia.)

“Saudi Arabia coalition boycott of Qatar appears to violate principle of non-intervention in international law; competing legal arguments,” The Trenchant Observer, June 19, 2017.

The Saudi coalition’s legal arguments were flimsy at best, before the content of its 13 demands on Qatar became known. When they did become known, it became apparent that the demands were illegitimate. Any legal case the coalition might have had then quickly collapsed, in the face of what was obviously an unprecedented case of intervention in internal and external affairs of Qatar.

On the principle of non-intervention in international law, see

“Saudi Arabia coalition boycott of Qatar appears to violate principle of non-intervention in international law; competing legal arguments,” The Trenchant Observer, June 19, 2017.

“Russian intervention in U.S. elections is flagrant violation of international law principle of non-intervention, giving rise to right to adopt countermeasures including strong economic sanctions,” The Trenchant Observer, December 15, 2016.

Russian economic pressures and actions to force Ukraine not to ratify EU treaty violate international law principle of non-intervention, The Trenchant Observer, November 26, 2013 (Updated November 27, 2013).

Alexandra Hofer and Luca Ferro, “Sanctioning Qatar: Coercive interference in the State’s domaine réservé?” EJIL: Talk! (Blog of the European Journal of International Law), June 30, 2017.

U.N. General Assembly Resolutions

The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar appears to constitute intervention in the internal affairs of Qatar in violation of the principle of non-intervention now established in customary international law. See

(1) U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2625 (XXV) of 24 October 1970, (A/RES/25/2625) containing the Declaration of Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, provides as follows:

The principle concerning the duty not to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, in accordance with the Charter

No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are in violation of international law.

No State may use or encourage the use of economic political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure from it advantages of any kind.,,,

Every State has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State.

Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as reflecting the relevant provisions of the Charter relating to the maintenance of international peace and security.

(2) In addition, the U.N. General Assembly “Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States,” Resolution A/RES/36/103), adopted on December 9, 1981, specifically provides:

1. No State or group of States has the right to
intervene or interfere in any form or for any reason whatsoever
in the internal and external affairs of other States.

2. The principle of non-intervention and
non-interference in the internal and external affairs of States
comprehends the following rights and duties:


(k) The duty of a State, in the conduct of its
international relations in the economic, social, technical and
trade fields, to refrain from measures which would constitute
interference or intervention in the internal or external
affairs of another State, thus preventing it from determining
freely its political, economic and social development; this
includes, inter alia, the duty of a State not to use its
external economic assistance programme or adopt any
multilateral or unilateral economic reprisal or blockade
and to
prevent the use of transnational and multinational corporations
under its jurisdiction and control as instruments of political
pressure or coercion against another State, in violation of the
Charter of the United Nations;


While the exact limits of the principle of non-intervention in the internal and external affairs of another state are not completely defined, in the present case where Saudi Aabia and its coalition partners have implemented economic measures with a drastic effect on the Qatari economy, the measures would appear to be well over the line and to constitute a clear case of intervention in the internal or external affairs of the Qatar in violation of customary international law.

The blockade of Qatar is a crude attempt to subordinate the sovereign will of an independent country to the demands of its neighbors, including demands to curtain freedom of the press and shut down news organizations such as Al Jazeera.

If international law still matters, and if we want it to matter in the future, the intervention of Saudi Arabia and its partners should be firmly condemned by all nations interested in upholding international law and the United Nations Charter.

In an earlier time, the United States would be outspokenly demanding that the blockade be ended immediately and that international law be respected. Indeed, the U.S. would have made it absolutely clear to the Saudis that such actions could not be tolerated. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia. seems to have encouraged or supported the blockade.

Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister of Germany, has traveled to the region and tried to help resolve the crisis. He has stated clearly that the current crisis must be resolved on the basis of respect for Qatar’s sovereignty, i.e., international law.


“Konflikt mit Katar: Gabriel ruft Blockadestaaten zu Dialog auf; Nach dem Treffen mit Katars Außenminister appelliert Amtskollege Sigmar Gabriel an die Blockadestaaten in der Golfregion, den Dialog zu suchen. Laut dem deutschen Politiker bestehen dafür die Voraussetzungen,” Handelsblatt, 05 Juli 2017 (01:21 Uhr).

“Außenminister Gabriel zur Katar-Krise “Es kann schwierig werden”; Das Ultimatum von vier arabischen Ländern gegen Katar ist abgelaufen, jetzt geht es um neue Sanktionen. In Kuwait soll Außenminister Gabriel vermitteln – und warnt vor einer Verschärfung der Krise.”Der Spiegel, 5. Juli 2017 (15:50 Uhr).

There are strong reasons to believe that the Saudi decision to initiate the blockade was related to internal struggles within the Saudi government. In what amounted to a coup d’etat within the royal family, the king has now elevated the deputy crown prince, his son, to the position of crown prince, and sent his experienced predecessor home where he remains under house arrest.


Aya Batrawy and Vivian Salama (AP), “Tale of 2 princes: Trump, Saudi king rely on son, son-in-law
Both president and monarch prefer to receive key support and advice from within the family, The Times of Israel, June 25, 2017 (12:43).

This folly has all the marks of a rash decision undertaken by an inexperienced Saudi leadership.

In any event, Sigmar Gabriel is correct. The conflict must be resolved on the basis of respect for the sovereignty of Qatar and ompliance with international law.

Donald Trump and Jared Kushner apparently helped spawn this folly. The sooner it is brought to an end, the better it will be for all.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.