Huge: ICJ Rules That Qatar Blockade Is Illegal

Filed Under: Qatar

Well this is a massive win for Qatar, and in turn for state-owned airline Qatar Airways… at least on paper.

Basics of the Gulf blockade against Qatar

The Qatar blockade began in June 2017. With this, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, introduced a land, sea, and air embargo on Qatar. This has had a major impact on Qatar Airways, since the airline has been restricted from using airspace of nearby countries.

If you’ve flown Qatar Airways in recent years and have looked at the map for your flight, you may have noticed that your routing wasn’t all that direct.

Map for a recent flight from Cape Town to Doha

Qatar restrictions ruled to be illegal

Qatar Airways has been trying to battle the legality of the blockade basically since it started. While countries have the right to cut off trade and close borders with one another, under the Convention of International Civil Aviation, they don’t have the right to restrict airspace in the way that has been done.

Specifically, a clause of this states the following:

Each contracting State reserves also the right, in exceptional circumstances or during a period of emergency, or in the interest of public safety, and with immediate effect, temporarily to restrict or prohibit flying over the whole or any part of its territory, on condition that such restriction or prohibition shall be applicable without distinction of nationality to aircraft of all other States.

This seems pretty cut-and-dry, though even so, Qatar hasn’t been able to get this undone. The countries imposing the blockade have attempted to question the International Civil Aviation Organization’s jurisdiction over this matter.

Qatar has continued to escalate the situation, and it has now finally been heard in the United Nations’ International Court of Justice. Today a verdict has been issued, and it’s in Qatar’s favor. The International Court of Justice has confirmed that the ICAO has the jurisdiction to prevent these kinds of blockades.

The UAE can’t block Qatar from its airspace

What does this mean for Qatar Airways?

On the surface this should mean that Qatar Airways can resume using the airspace of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. While the airline won’t necessarily be allowed to fly to these countries, at least it can use the airspace.

What remains to be seen is whether these countries will honor this ruling, or how they’ll try to drag their feet, so to speak. They haven’t given up easily until now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that trend continue.

Qatar Airways should now be able to use airspace from blocked countries

Bottom line

The International Court of Justice has ruled that the ICAO has the jurisdiction to prevent airlines from blocking airspace. This means that the blockade against Qatar by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is illegal. This is a big victory for Qatar Airways, and in theory should have a positive impact for the airline, as it can stop taking unnecessarily circuitous routes, wasting time and fuel.

This is a big decision on paper, but now the question is whether this will actually be enforced

  1. When it comes to airspace rights or violations I think SAM speaks louder then ICJ. If I’m QR, I would still avoid flying through the blockade.

  2. ICJ rulings are rarely implemented and is widely seen as the UN’s least effective body as they cannot enforce its rulings.

  3. The ICJ did not rule that the blockade is illegal. It merely ruled that the ICAO Council has the jurisdiction to consider that very issue, i.e. whether the blockade is illegal.

  4. You have to understand that all these countries who blocked qatar are kingdoms and not democracies so only one persons opinion matters. Dont expect to change anything unless ICAO decides to take steps to block these countries access of other countries airspace.

  5. @ Rob and Eskimo…

    Agree with both. This is not huge unless the ICJ has someway to enforce it that I’m not aware. It may, but without an enforcement mechanism it’s meaningless in reality.

  6. ICJ rulings have as much teeth as a UN Security Council resolution. What are they going to do? Issue an arrest warrant? I’m sure the other Gulf states are shivering in their abayas.

  7. lol, i doubt if it’s even really gonna happen. like bruh.. and also QR would continue to fly around the UAE airspace for their safety and security (and it’s just gonna be a small diversion from them. they’ll prolly wanna use UAE airspace only when things really go wrong in Iran). But for flights to Rio de Janeiro, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Casablanca etc, Saudi airspace is really necessary for them.

  8. The asinine position of the blockading countries would be laughable if it was not so pathetic.

  9. the UN: a paper toothless bunny. i dont want to insult paper tigers.
    im sure even if qatar is to try and over fly one of the blocking countries they would send qatar massive air space charges

  10. No way QR Corporate Security would allow flights to route over contested airspace while the other states are challenging it. It would almost certainly void QR’s insurance coverage in respect of those flights.

  11. @Dealgabber …you said ” all these countries who blocked qatar are kingdoms”… really? Like Egypt …duh. The last king of Egypt was King Farouk, more than 50 years ago. You imply that countries that are kingdoms are not democracies. Ahh the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium etc etc are not democratic countries? Go back to school my friend. Study a bit harder.

  12. It is abundantly clear nobody hear understands how the UN and ICJ works… if the ICJ has ruled that ICAO can enforce Qatar’s right to fly through these airspaces, then the offending countries (UAE, etc.) must comply with ICAO or else face repercussions affecting the legal status of those own country’s airlines. The UAE is not going to risk Emirates’ ability to fly to other countries with a valid ICAO certification…

  13. There is a lot of misunderstanding in both the article and comments.

    1. The ICJ ruled that the ICAO has jurisdiction to hear the case; the ICAO case has not been settled yet and likely won’t be until next year, meaning the aviation restrictions will still be in force until then.

    2. There is nothing inherently political about this case, this is simply the ICJ ruling that the ICAO has jurisdiction to hear the case. It is simply a procedural matter.

    3. ICJ cases between states are binding and final, and can be enforced via countermeasures, although the actual decision of the ICJ case is not controversial and unlikely to cause disputes. Those mentioning the fact that ICJ rulings are often dismissed typically think of big cases brought by the General Assembly and not by states, which are generally complied with. GA cases are non-binding court opinions, whereas state v. state cases are binding.

    4. This case and the ICAO case solely refer to the civil aviation aspect of the blockade; no matter the final ruling, nothing else changes. Due to the fact that the blockade is mostly damaging due to the land and maritime restrictions, it is likely the appellants would comply with an ICAO ruling that favors Qatar should that happen as this only applies to the right to transit space.

    Please be skeptical of the many articles about this decision editorializing too much, this is a ruling on a procedural issue and not very significant in the grand scheme of things, though still a win for Qatar. It’s easy to make false assumptions from this case if you do not have a background in international law, which is all too easy to dismiss.

  14. Does the International Court of Justice have an air force (ICJAF) to escort planes through UAE and Saudi airspace on the way to Qatar?


  15. I wonder what the blocking countries would do if a Qatar passenger plane “accidentally” (real or not) use their airspace? Shoot them down? I certainly hope not. That said, I realize Qatar would rather avoid an incident like that to keep customer’s faith in the airline. On a side note, we have seen Qatar is generally okay with wasting fuel based on some of their operations lately.

  16. @stuartp

    The Gulf States are not democracies – they are kingdoms rules by ONE person. Iran is ruled by a dictator.

    Egypt is not a gulf state so ostensibly has a parliament and is a democracy.

  17. Why have we not seen such a decision with regards to flights to and from Israel which are banned from flying over most states in the Gulf ? Qatar who complains about the blockade is one a state that would not allow flights to and from Israel to fly over its air space. Hypocrites.

  18. @Azaamaral Egypt is a democracy in name only. Just because a country holds elections and has a parliament does not mean those elections are free and fair.

    There is a difference between a constitutional monarchy (eg the Scandinavian countries, U.K., the Netherlands, Japan) and an absolute monarchy like Qatar, Saudi or Oman. The former are democracies where the reigning monarch has little to no power, whereas the latter are dictatorships. Iran is a democracy on paper, but the president & parliament have limited power. Apart from Israel and to a certain extent Lebanon, none of the Middle East countries are free democracies.

  19. Don’t you get it LOL. By this ruling now, at this time, it gives the Arabs in Saudia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, UAE an opportunity not to lose face. And to prepare. They have one thing in mind, the Soccer World Cup in Qatar and if they keep misbehaving they cannot travel to Qatar for the Soccer. So they pay a few people in the right places, voila! Decision made for them without losing face.

    But if I was Qatar, I tell the Arabs to piss-off. But they won’t do that, Qatar like most of the region, have no morals, no ethics, no standards. Just ask Homosexuals, ask women, ask Christians, ask people who disagree with the Sheikhs…. strange world we live in, no more so than the Middle East.

  20. could be EASILY enforced; Turkey which is Qatar’s friend, imposes overflight restrictions on Emirates/Ethiad & Co.
    tomorrow the problem would be resolved for QR!

  21. @Azamaraal…. I agree with you re. the Gulf States, and I knew that Egypt does not form part of the Gulf States. I was commenting on @Dealgrabber”s incorrect sweeping statement when he says that ” all these countries who blocked Qatar are kingdoms ” . Egypt is one of the blocking countries that blocks its airspace to Qatar, and although it is only a democracy in name only, it is no kingdom.
    @ Wilhelm… you are correct re. a sad lack of number of democracies in that whole large geographical area of the world. ( Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the saying goes. )

  22. @SturatP: you need to get more knowledge by going to high school bcoz of level of your knowledge. Let us know who is PM/President of Saudi, UAE etc and then we will know who needs more knowldge.

  23. @Dealgrabber: if you read more carefully my reply, you will see that I only refer to Egypt as not being a kingdom. And to be more accurate re your lack of knowledge in your referring to Saudi, UAE, Qatar etc etc as Kingdoms, you can improve your knowledge ( or rather lack of ) by realizing that of the countries you call kingdoms, ONLY Saudi Arabia is a kingdom. They actually have a King who is both ruler and head of state. The others are Emirates with an Emir as ruler and head of state. Qatar is a sheikdom and also known officially as the State of Qatar.( It is not part of the Emirate States.) There is no King in Dubai and non in Abu Dhabi. In both those countries the ruler is referred to as a Sheikh and Emir. Go back to [email protected] Dealgrabber and grab some history books.

  24. @Sherif Omar Osman…..
    ATTENTION PointsPro Inc. : I believe you are the owner of this site? If so, whichever organization you contract to for the commenting guidelines, should be terminated and replaced with another company.
    How can you let slip by the comments of @ Sherif Omar Osman ? That person’s comment was inflammatory, false, bordering on subversiveness and outright lies, recognized by the United Nations and virtually every country in the world. This should not have been published by respected PointsPro Inc.

  25. Three years on, can anyone remember what the spat with Qatar was about? Probably, in reality the gulf states that imposed it have largely lost interest, but have no compelling reason to make it go away.
    This new ruling won’t, and as saving face trumps everything else in the Arab world, I expect them to dig their heels in further.
    The traditional secretive back channel diplomacy would have produced a better outcome.

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