A general from the United Arab Emirates accused of complicity in torture has been elected as president of the international policing agency Interpol in the teeth of fierce objections from human rights groups.
Maj Gen Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi’s victory represents a boost to the growing diplomatic clout of the UAE, where he was appointed inspector general of the interior ministry in 2015, overseeing its prisons and policing.
Complaints of “torture” were filed against him in recent months in France and Turkey, which is hosting Interpol’s general assembly in Istanbul this week.
One of the complainants, the British national Matthew Hedges, says he was detained and tortured between May and November 2018 in the UAE after being arrested on false charges of espionage during a study trip. On Thursday he described Raisi’s victory as “a disgrace”.
“This is a sad day for international justice and global policing,” Hedges said. “I don’t know how the Interpol members who voted for Raisi don’t feel embarrassed about the choice they made, and what this will actually mean for the reputation of the organisation.”
The UAE has said Hedges was not subjected to any physical or psychological mistreatment during his detention.
Another complainant, the Sudanese-born British citizen Ali Issa Ahmad, was detained in 2019 after being accosted by security officials for wearing a Qatar football shirt. “It is really terrible that he has been given this honour,” he said. “The UAE will use it to make the world think that they are good at policing but I will always know the truth. The scars I have on my body which the UAE police left on me will always know the truth.”
Raisi defeated veteran Czech Republic police officer Šárka Havránková, who had warned before the vote that it was a test of “the credibility and integrity of the organisation”. After three rounds of voting, Raisi received 68.9% of votes cast by member countries, Interpol said of the notoriously opaque election process. No country is required to reveal how it voted.
Human rights defenders reacted to Raisi’s victory with alarm. “This election represents the beginning of a dangerous era, with authoritarian regimes now able to dictate international policing,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. “No one is safe from the abuse of Interpol and authoritarian regimes.”
Interpol has the power to issue red notices – a call by one country for the arrest of individuals in another country. Interpol has often been accused of allowing Red Notices to be used by autocratic governments to pursue political vendettas, and track down dissidents in exile.
Nabhan al-Hanshi, head of ALQST for Human Rights, which campaigns against abuses in Saudi Arabia, said:“Raisi’s election sends a chilling message that Interpol has abandoned its human rights commitments. This raises fears that existing concerns about the agency, including the use of politically motivated ‘red notices’ by abusive states, will worsen.”
US senator Roger Wicker last week said Interpol had “become a tool in the hands of despots and crooks who seek to punish dissidents and political opponents in an effort to turn other countries’ law enforcement against the rule of law”.
Anwar Gargash, a former UAE minister of state for foreign affairs who now advises the country’s president, dismissed the accusations against Raisi as an “organised and intense smear and defamation campaign” which the election had now “crushed on the rock of truth”.
The UAE has been a generous funder of Interpol, donating $54m (£40.5m) in 2017 – almost equivalent to the required contributions of all the organisation’s 195 member countries, which amounted to $68m in 2020. In 2019 it gave or had pledged to give about €10m, approximately 7% of the organisation’s total annual budget.
Sir David Calvert-Smith, the former director of public prosecutions for England and Wales, issued a report in April concluding that the UAE was “seeking to improperly influence Interpol through funding and other mechanisms”. Raisi, he added, “had overseen the increasing crackdown on dissidents, continued torture and abuses of the criminal justice system” in the Emirates.
In another complaint against Raisi, lawyers for the Gulf Centre for Human Rights accuse the general of “acts of torture and barbarism” committed against the government critic Ahmed Mansoor.
William Bourdon, a human rights lawyer who filed the complaint, said: “The great international institutions need to have at their head people endowed with integrity and probity beyond all suspicion. The election of Gen Al-Raisi is a great blow to the credibility of Interpol.”
None of the complaints have resulted in any formal proceedings against the general.
In a bid to shore up the organisation’s credibility, a new code of conduct is being introduced for the executive elections. An increase in member countries’ contributions will also make Interpol less dependent on one-off donors.
After his win, Raisi tweeted he would “build a more transparent, diverse, and decisive organisation that works to ensure safety for all”. Raisi did not address the accusations against him and the UAE, but said the “UAE has become one of the safest countries in the world”.
A spokesperson for the UAE ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation said Raisi “strongly believes that the abuse or mistreatment of people by police is abhorrent and intolerable”. Responding to questions about Raisi’s candidacy and Interpol’s election process, secretary general Jurgen Stock said Interpol did not intervene in politics.
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( Information from theguardian.com was used in this report. To Read More, click here )