The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Monday, July 23, that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) must end certain discriminatory practices against Qatari citizens residing in its territory. In particular, the UAE must permit Qatari-UAE mixed families, separated by the blockade against Qatar, to be reunited immediately. Qatar alleges that thousands of its citizens were expelled when the UAE and three other MENA countries imposed a boycott and blocked transport in June of last year.

On June 10 of this year, Qatar announced that it had filed a discrimination complaint against the UAE at the ICJ in The Hague, Netherlands, over what Qatar says is a breach of the U.N.’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). According to the Independent newspaper, Qatar claims that the “discriminatory measures directed at Qataris based expressly on their national origin” are a violation of the CERD, to which both the UAE and Qatar are signatories. The UAE, however, refutes allegations that it has committed discriminatory acts.

Qatar requested that the court impose nine “provisional measures,” and on July 23 the court adopted three in a narrow 8:7 majority decision. The three provisions stipulate that the UAE must ensure that “families that include a Qatari, separated by the measures adopted by the UAE on 5 June 2017, are reunited; Qatari students affected by the measures adopted by the UAE on 5 June 2017 are given the opportunity to complete their education in the UAE or to obtain their educational records if they wish to continue their studies elsewhere; and Qataris affected by the measures adopted by the UAE on 5 June 2017 are allowed access to tribunals and other judicial organs of the UAE.”

The judge’s ruling added that “[M]any Qataris residing in the UAE appeared to have been forced to leave their place of residence without the possibility of return,” and that “there is an imminent risk that the measures adopted by the UAE could lead to irreparable prejudice to the rights invoked by Qatar,” as reported by Reuters.

The court issued this provisional ruling, appearing to lean toward Qatar’s position in the conflict, while it considers the case in full. Meanwhile, it also ruled that both Qatar and the UAE should “refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.”

Although the Court essentially ruled in Qatar’s favor, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash nevertheless tweeted that, “[T]he judges rejected the Qatari demands and called for three procedures relating to families, students and adjudication and they are measures the UAE has already implemented according to its national regulations.”

The dispute between Qatar and the UAE stems from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain’s collective decision last June to sever diplomatic ties and impose a land, sea, and air blockade on Doha in response to the country’s alleged support of terrorism and its supposed burgeoning friendship Israel and Iran.

Qatar denies the UAE’s allegations that it supports terrorism, calling them “fake news”, and it has accused the UAE and its Gulf allies of trying to strip it of its sovereignty. The government of Qatar said in a statement on June 10, “[A]s set forth in detail in Qatar’s application to the International Court, the UAE led these actions, which have had a devastating effect on the human rights of Qataris and residents of Qatar.” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani added that the blockade was “unlawful” and has “torn apart families” that “deserve to be re-united.”

The blockade cut off transportation between Qatar and its neighbors and forced Qatari citizens to leave the UAE. This has resulted in Qataris being denied property rights as well as access to medical care, education, and other basic services in the UAE. The UAE has also banned Qataris from passing through the UAE, as well as having closed access to Qatar by both air and sea.  

Qatar’s discrimination complaint before the ICJ is one of a series of efforts the country has made to try and end the economic blockade. Efforts to resolve the conflict between Qatar and its neighbors have thus far proved ineffective. A final decision from the ICJ will likely take months or even years.