In November 2021, Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi was elected president of Interpol for a four-year term. Human rights groups have accused him of participating in torture and arbitrary detentions in the UAE. The UAE has refuted the allegations leveled against al-Raisi.
Prosecutors in France’s anti-terrorism court have opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of torture and acts of abuse allegedly committed by the head of the UAE’s security forces. The investigation stems from a legal complaint filed by an NGO accusing Raisi of being responsible for the torture of an opposition figure in his capacity as a high-ranking official in the UAE interior ministry.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), which holds Raisi accountable for the inhumane treatment of Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati government critic, filed a complaint in January with the anti-terror prosecutors unit, whose mandate includes dealing with crimes against humanity.
Al-Raisi won after three rounds of voting, with Interpol saying he received 68.9% of votes cast in the final round. He said: “Interpol is an indispensable organisation built on the strength of its partnerships. It is this collaborative spirit, united in mission, that I will continue to foster as we work to make a safer world for people and communities.”
The legal case
Two British citizens, Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad, who had both been detained in the UAE before al-Raisi was elected president of the France-based world police agency, on Wednesday gave evidence against him at the Paris Tribunal’s special unit for crimes against humanity and war crimes, their lawyers said.
The two Britons filed a criminal complaint against al-Raisi with the prosecutors of the Paris Tribunal in October under the principle of universal jurisdiction. In January, they filed a criminal complaint directly with the tribunal’s judges to open an investigation into claims against al-Raisi. The new Interpol president was on French territory at the time, visiting the international police agency’s headquarters in Lyon.
Hedges was a doctoral student in the UAE when he was imprisoned for nearly seven months in 2018 on spying charges. He said he was tortured and at times held in solitary confinement with no access to a lawyer. Ahmad has said he was detained and tortured by UAE security agents during the 2019 Asian Cup soccer tournament he had attended in the Gulf country. Mr Ahmad said he was electrocuted, beaten and deprived of food, water and sleep.
The specific political decision that followed Interpol is particularly problematic. Ιt is not transparent and highly questionable for the head of the organization to be charged with these crimes and to be allowed to hold such a position. The fact that the UAE does not cooperate with journalists or legal representatives simply complicates the work of justice and the suspicions of a country that has been accused of human rights violations in the past.
Al-Raisi’s election followed years of generous funding for the Lyon, France-based body by the Emirati regime and accusations that Interpol’s system of so-called “red notices” for wanted suspects has been abused to persecute political dissidents. It has also undermined the mission and reputation of Interpol and severely affected the ability of the organisation to carry out its mission effectively.
In 2017, the UAE donated $54 million to Interpol, which is nearly equal to the required contributions of all 195 member countries, which totaled $68 million in 2020. Some years after the Head of the organisation is Emirati origins. The UAE gave or had pledged to Interpol around 10 million euros in 2019, approximately seven percent of its total annual budget. Such funding reduces other members’ ability to influence the organisation while giving Abu Dhabi undue invluence.
Interpol’s rules require that its funding be transparent, and it does list its funding sources in its public reports. However, a report published last year addressed the fact that one of INTERPOL’s funding sources, the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World, provides donations from sources with unknown origins. They noted that the sole source of those donations appears to be the UAE, but that information is not made public.
Ultimately, the report concluded that: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World’s sole purpose is to be a channel by which to funnel cash from the UAE government into Interpol. Whether or not the channelling of this money into Interpol is an attempt to buy influence by the UAE is perhaps a different issue.”