An Emirati general accused of torture has been elected president of Interpol, despite the concerns of human rights organisations and members of the European parliament who fear the global police agency will be at risk of exploitation by repressive regimes.
The appointment follows generous funding by the UAE for Interpol, which is based in Lyon, France, and accusations Abu Dhabi has abused its system of “red notices” for wanted suspects to persecute political dissidents.
Gen Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi was elected following three rounds of voting during which he received 68.9% of votes cast by member countries, Interpol said in a statement.
After his election, 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”.
Complaints of “torture” were filed against the Emirati general in recent months in France and Turkey, which is hosting Interpol’s general assembly in Istanbul this week.
Raisi, head of the UAE’s security forces, will take on a largely ceremonial and part-time voluntary role for a four-year term.
The Interpol secretary general, Jürgen Stock, handles day-to-day management of the organisation. Stock was given a second five-year term in 2019.
South Korean Kim Jong-yang was president since the arrest in 2018 of his predecessor Meng Hongwei in China, where he had served as a vice-minister of public security.
The only other candidate for the post was the Czech Republic’s Šárka Havránková, a veteran officer overseeing the country’s international cooperation in police matters.
Another appointment to Interpol’s executive committee on Thursday – Chinese senior public security official Hu Binchen – similarly sparked anger.
China has come under increasing criticism from rights groups and some governments over its treatment of Uyghurs and other minority groups in the north-western region of Xinjiang. The US, Canada and others have described China’s treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide, which Beijing vehemently denies.
Swedish activist and Safeguard Defenders co-founder, Peter Dahlin, said the election was a “disgrace that will increase China’s abuse” in a tweet. “A fox is now placed in charge of watching the sheep,” Dahlin said.
The rights group World Uyghur Congress described the election as “very disheartening”.
Raisi joined the Emirati police force in 1980 and worked there for several decades.
Hiba Zayadin, Gulf researcher for Human Rights Watch, condemned the election of “a representative of arguably the most authoritarian government in the Gulf,”, describing it on Twitter as a “sad day for human rights and the rule of law worldwide”.
Three European parliament members wrote a letter dated 11 November to the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, to warn of the impact the general’s appointment would have on Interpol.
“The election of General al-Raisi would undermine the mission and reputation of Interpol and severely affect the ability of the organisation to carry out its mission effectively,” they wrote.
One of the complainants against Raisi, British national Matthew Hedges, said he was detained and tortured between May and November 2018 in the United Arab Emirates after he was arrested on false charges of espionage during a study trip.
In another complaint, lawyers for the Gulf Centre for Human Rights accuse the general of “acts of torture and barbarism” committed against government critic Ahmed Mansoor.
These complaints have not resulted in any formal proceedings against the general.
Anwar Gargash, a former UAE minister of state for foreign affairs who now advises the country’s president, described the general’s election as “a testament to our country’s achievements and efficiency in the fields of law enforcement and security”.
Gargash 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 donated $54m (£40.5m, €48m) to Interpol in 2017 – almost equivalent to the required contributions of all the organisation’s 195 member countries, which amounted to $68m in 2020.
The UAE gave or had pledged to Interpol around €10m in 2019, approximately 7% of its total annual budget.