20 Jun 2015

Weekes family's ongoing battle for justice

6:18 pm on 20 June 2015

The parents of two-year-old New Zealand triplets killed in a mall fire in Doha three years ago say a United Nations report criticising the delays and lack of due process in the case should be a wake up call for the Qatari legal system.

The Weekes triplets.

The Weekes triplets. Photo: SUPPLIED

Jane Weekes said the grief suffered by her and her husband, Martin, over the deaths of their children - Lillie, Jackson and Willsher - is compounded by their ongoing battle for justice.

Nineteen people died in the Villaggio Mall, including ten toddlers and four teachers in the nursery owned by Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Bin Al-Thani, a member of Qatar's Royal family and Qatar's Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union.

Along with his wife, Iman Al Kawari, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the lack of safety and protection at the mall's nursery.

Each have been sentenced to six years in prison but have been allowed to stay in their diplomatic post while their appeal case drags on.

Mrs Weekes said the report, which highlighted the lack of due process in the Villaggio Mall case among others, should be a catalyst for change.

"We really hope that Qatar listens to that and actually pays attention to how hard it is for the victims of crime in that country and what it does to prolong the pain."

She said it was upsetting for families to hear defence lawyers describing the tragedy as "a media beat-up" and attempting to minimise their responsibility.

"We just read a news story which quoted one lawyer pointing out that not all the children died in the nursery, some died in the ambulance - like that made any difference.

"So there's still things coming out now that actually make things harder, and the inhumanity of the way the local Qatari defendants are treating victims to this day is immensely disappointing."

The UN Report found serious shortcomings in the Qatari legal system, including a lack of impartiality by judges, discrimination against non-nationals and a cavalier approach to human rights.

The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, said she was "disturbed" to learn the report of the independent expert investigation into the Villaggio Mall case was never communicated in its entirety to the parties.

This constituted "a serious breach of due process".

She said the endless postponements of hearings "without clear and fair justification" - usually because the defendants failed to show up to court when summoned - were unacceptable.

In one instance, the absence of one of the defendants was justified by his travelling despite the travel ban against him.

"Such disregard for a judicial decision is also a source of great concern to the Special Rapporteur. The result of the lack of due process followed in this case is to deny victims their right to an effective remedy. It also robs them of the possibility to come to closure with their loss."

Mrs Weekes said the recent decision by the court to suspend the appeal hearing for four months to accommodate the summer holidays was another example of this.

"We've been assured by John Key and the premier of Qatar that they're watching the judicial process closely and will ensure those responsible are held accountable and we're hoping that level of communication and transparency will ensure justice is done.

"But when this kind of thing happens, it makes it hard to trust in that process."

Mrs Weekes said it felt like vindication to have the UN confirm what they had been feeling for the last three years.

"We can only hope that the Qataris take note of this report, because it is this very system that has meant we cannot escape the horrors of 28 May 2012.

"We know, more than anyone, the inadequacies of this legal system, and the immediate need to change it."

"We remain very distressed that this system has failed us so far, and that our children's killers use that system to their own benefit including not even attending court. We are, however, resigned to it for now."

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