Mary Robinson’s brief appearance in Tuesday’s BBC Panorama documentary about missing Emirati Princess Latifa has raised more questions than it answers.
Robinson claims to have been misled by the princess’s family and says she felt ‘horribly tricked’ when photos of a private lunch she attended at the royal household were released to the world.
However, in a prior interview with BBC Radio 4′s Today programme less than two weeks after that lunch in December 2018, Robinson spoke about having filed a report on the visit to Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, saying:
” I sent her the three photographs that I was happy would be released to help the family to allow it to be understood that this is a family matter now and that she is in the loving care of her family.”
Furthermore, she managed to set aside her feelings at being a dupe to reiterate the official family line, that Latifa was troubled, vulnerable and receiving appropriate psychiatric care.
Mrs Robinson’s refusal to answer any further questions on the matter since then, until this week’s Panorama documentary, leaves us wondering what exactly caused her to feel hoodwinked.
She had agreed to the photographs being taken as proof of life – unlike Latifa who was a reluctant participant in the photo op; she had agreed to the photographs being released by the UN to show to the world that Latifa was still alive.
Presumably, her misgivings were caused by the photos being released by the UAE foreign ministry, and a mere nine days after the lunch.
Was she, on some level, feeling sheepish about accepting free flights and accommodation to the Arab state? Was she embarrassed to be seen cosying up to an obscenely wealthy regime with poor human rights record? Or did she feel she had abused her former office as UN High Commissioner for human rights? We can but speculate.
Speaking to the Panorama team, Robinson said she had been misled by her friend Princess Haya, Latifa’s stepmother and sixth wife of the ruler of Dubai, who in turn had herself been misled.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that Princess Haya is neither a trained lawyer nor human rights activist. She is the sixth wife of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, whom Latifa accuses of snatching her from international waters in March 2018 and falsely imprisoning her since. In other words, Princess Haya had skin in the game.
Lawyers are trained to be objective, told that objectivity is a professional value, and praised for their objectivity. Robinson owed Latifa – and the world – a higher duty of care than to be fobbed off with the ‘troubled young woman’ proposition. This is after all how families got rid of their headstrong daughters in bygone times. They were locked up and died in asylums. Or Magdalene laundries.
FreeLatifa is an international movement based around securing freedom for Latifa. It was set up by a Finnish national Tiina Jauhiainen, a close friend of Latifa’s who helped orchestrate her escape from Dubai in February 2018. She was on the ill-fated yacht when it was stormed by Emirati and Indian troops off the coast of India, kidnapping Latifa and bringing her back to Dubai.
The group feels that Robinson’s intervention – in a matter that was the subject of live legal proceedings at the UN – undermined the work of Michelle Bachelet.
They are at a loss to know why anyone familiar with UN human rights protocols in cases of enforced disappearances would pay a personal visit that could be used to manipulate media perception. They go so far as to question her bona fides, claiming:
‘Mary Robinson’s unwillingness to help Latifa raises questions about how much was she paid for participating in this Dubai government propaganda and about her role in supporting Latifa’s abductors.’
Criticisms levelled at Mary Robinson over the years centre on her apparent fascination with wealth, power and privilege, her need to keep the hoi polloi at bay, her lack of ‘the common touch’. Can she really have been so bedazzled by the oil billionaires’ bling that years of learning and experience went out the window?
Only one woman can answer that.
Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. She is a former student of Mary Robinson’s at Trinity College.