Qatar has threatened arbitration to end a long-running airspace dispute, which has seen its Middle Eastern neighbours Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates close national airspace to Qatari-registered carriers and airplanes.

In a press conference in Doha on 10 January, Qatar's foreign ministry spokesperson Lulwa Al Khater said, “We have already begun moving internationally to seek arbitration or [go to] international courts or UN institutions” to end the blockade. She added that “all options” remained on the table.

Al Khater did not specify which states or state entities would be on the receiving end of the claim brought by Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar in June, accusing the Gulf state of supporting terrorism and being too close to their regional rival, Iran. Qatar denies the allegations.

Aviation authorities in UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain issued separate statements at the time defending their decision to close airspace to Qatari carriers, while also clarifying that the restrictions did not apply to foreign carriers wishing to fly to and from Qatar. Each confirmed its commitment to the Chicago Convention, but defended the measures taken to protect national security. 

In November, representatives from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) visited Qatar, meeting with government and civil groups as well as citizens who are affected by the wider blockade. In a report released just days ago, it documented “violations” by the blockade states.

Al Khater said that the OHCHR report “came from a neutral international point of view and makes important points.” She added that Qatari nationals are suffering material damage as a result of the blockade.

Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, head of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar, said in a press release on 8 January that the report showed the blockade was not “mere diplomatic severing of relations” but “economic warfare.”

“These are unilateral, abusive, arbitrary measures that are impacting citizens and expats in Qatar," he said.

Qatar has already brought a World Trade Organization case against the United Arab Emirates over the blockade, reportedly including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in its initial complaint. The complaint filed last June triggered a 60-day window to settle issues through talks but, on 10 August, the chairman of the WTO's dispute settlement body said the UAE had refused to engage.

The Gulf state also petitioned the International Civil Aviation Organization’s governing council in June to intervene in the dispute, asking it to enact a dispute resolution mechanism set out under the Chicago Convention, which would see ICAO’s council vote on the validity of the airspace restrictions.

ICAO urged the countries behind the blockade to “to comply with their conventions in order to preserve the safety, security, efficiency and sustainability of aviation in the region.”

The UN agency held meetings with senior government officials from Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in Montreal in June, seeking a “consensus-based solution”. But Saudi Arabia’s transportation minister Sulaiman al-Hamdan told ICAO officials at that meeting that the dispute is a political problem, which the UN agency would not be able to resolve.

“This is something that’s bigger than ICAO”, al-Hamdan said at the time, according to Reuters, which cited anonymous sources present at the discussions.

Other countries that have cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar include Djibouti, Yemen and the Maldives.