International Court of Justice rules that Qatar can challenge airspace restrictions at the International Civil Aviation Organization

14 July 2020

The State of Qatar welcomes today’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (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).

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.

HE the Minister of Transport and Communications of the State 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 States 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.

In the dispute under the Chicago Convention, the ICJ ruled that:

  • With respect to the Blockading States’ first ground of appeal, which alleged that the ICAO Council “failed to uphold fundamental principles of due process,” the ICJ unanimously found that “the procedures followed by the Council did not prejudice in any fundamental way the requirements of a just procedure.”
  • The ICJ also rejected the Blockading States’ second ground of appeal, which claimed that the “real issue” in dispute was not their violations of the Chicago Convention and IASTA, but their blatantly false accusations that Qatar supports and finances terrorism. The ICJ once again refused to give any credence to those falsehoods and unanimously concluded that “the Council did not err when it rejected the first preliminary objection by the Appellants relating to its jurisdiction,” and that the claims brought before the Council were admissible.
  • The Blockading States’ third ground of appeal, which incredibly claimed that Qatar never made a “genuine attempt to initiate negotiations” prior to filing its claims under the Chicago Convention and IASTA, was equally unanimously rejected. According to the ICJ, “Qatar made a genuine attempt within ICAO to settle by negotiation its disagreement with the Appellants regarding the interpretation and application of the Chicago Convention.” It accordingly rejected the Blockading States’ third ground of appeal as well.

The Court reached virtually identical conclusions in rejecting the Blockading States’ appeal of the ICAO Council’s decision in the IASTA proceedings. In the words of the Court, “the competence of ICAO unquestionably extends to questions of overflight of the territory of contracting States, a matter that is addressed in both the Chicago Convention and the IASTA.”