Appointment of INTERPOL’s new President, Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi
Date: 26 November, 2021
Yesterday, 25 November 2021, Major General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was elected President of INTERPOL. This deeply concerning appointment follows despite widespread criticisms from several human rights organisations as well as from members of the European Parliament.
The UAE systematic use of torture and its persistent targeting of peaceful critics, such as journalists, political activists and human rights lawyers is to a great extent overwhelming. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) even released Opinion No.31/2020 expressing concerns over the systemic problem with arbitrary detention in the UAE and how these deprivations of liberty are in violation of international law. Furthermore, the situation in the Republic of Yemen and the way in which the UAE plays an active role within the Saudi-led Coalition, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, demonstrates the UAE’s willingness to continue to endorse grave violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
However, it is remarkable that despite the UAE’s poor human rights record and the accusations concerning the use of torture by the UAE police whilst Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi was Inspector General, appear to have been utterly disregarded. One of the complainants against him was the British national Matthew Hedges, who was detained and tortured between May and November 2018 in the UAE after being arrested on false charges of espionage during a study trip.
Human rights organisations repeatedly expressed concerns over the lack of transparency and oversight in the election process, where candidates running for presidency have not been subjected to vetting procedures by State parties and civil society actors. In fact, in recent years, the election process has come under criticism for lack of transparency: for instance, the list of potential candidates is not published in advance of the General Assembly’s vote. In 2018, criticisms have considerably risen when the first INTERPOL’s Chinese President, Meng Hongwei, was arrested on suspicion of bribery and was convicted and sentenced in 2020.
It is worth pointing out that Article 3 of the INTERPOL’s Constitution expressly forbids “to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character” and that the UAE presidency effectively signifies that the Red Notice system will continue to be misused and abused for political purposes. Furthermore, what is significant is how INTERPOL has recently decided to lift restrictions imposed on Syria in 2012 and to reintegrate the country into its information exchange network. This decision was made despite numerous concerns about authoritarian regimes deploying INTERPOL as a tool to oppress dissidents.
Following his election, al-Raisi asserted that he will “build a more transparent, diverse, and decisive organisation that works to ensure safety for all” adding that the “UAE has become one of the safest countries in the world”. Certainly, this means continuing to spy on international journalists, activists and dissidents by deploying sophisticated cyberespionage tools, such as Pegasus, in order to arrest and abuse these individuals in detention for merely exercising their right to free expression.
The appointment of this new President dents INTERPOL’s image in the name of global human rights, undermining its mission as well as its reputation by seriously impacting the ability to perform in good faith, effectively contravening what Article 2 of its Constitution stipulates, ergo to “promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities within the limit of the laws existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. This sets an extremely dangerous precedent which indeed raises fears about authoritarian influence within INTERPOL, meaning that other States would be free to effectively legitimise systematic human rights abuses and to persist in primarily pursuing political dissidents around the globe.