The UAE’s frontrunner is linked to human rights abuses and is not fit for office

Ben Keith and Rhys Davies comment in The Times, first published on Thursday 15 April 2021, you can view the original article on The Times website here.

That the next president of Interpol should not be complicit in torture should be an uncontroversial statement.

Yet the UAE’s candidate and frontrunner in the forthcoming vote, Major-General Ahmed Al-Raisi, has been linked to allegations of serious human rights abuses. Al-Raisi has been the inspector general of the Ministry of Interior since 2015, a period resulting in an increase of allegations of torture at the hands of Emirati authorities.

His candidacy is part of a co-ordinated campaign by the UAE to exert its influence over the international policing body. There can be little doubt that Al-Raisi’s election would be used by the Emirati authorities to whitewash an appalling human rights record.

In a recent report from Sir David Calvert-Smith, a former director of public prosecutions and retired High Court judge, has examined the UAE’s apparent attempts to influence Interpol for its own gain.

The report suggests that the country has sought to influence Interpol through a donation of €50 million channelled through a charity fund. To put this figure in context, the total budget for Interpol in 2020 was €135 million. Interpol’s own rules require the UAE to pay less than €250,000 in dues.

Interpol has a history of controversy regarding its presidents. In 2018, China’s Meng Hongwei, then incumbent, disappeared. Several months later he reappeared in public and confessed to charges of corruption and bribery. He resigned and was sentenced by a Chinese court to 13 and a half years imprisonment.

Elections for his replacement raised the possibility that Aleksandr Prokopchuk, head of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, would be elected. Public outcry at the prospect of Russia — a well-known abuser of the Interpol red-notice process — holding the presidency, probably prevented his election.

Interpol is an opaque, secretive organisation. The candidacy of Al-Raisi only became publicly known after the leak of printed campaign leaflets. Details of other contenders are unknown and Interpol flatly refuses to publicise the identity of candidates.

Even by Interpol’s recent standards, Al-Raisi would be a controversial choice. His tenure at the ministry has coincided with a particularly bleak period for human rights in the UAE. This includes accusations of presiding over the detention and torture of the British academic Matthew Hedges in 2018. That the UAE is also a prolific abuser of the red-notice system is of further concern.

Against this backdrop, the election of Interpol’s next president should receive proper scrutiny. The organisation should open the window on its election processes and ensure that the candidates for this important and prominent position are made public.

Moreover, Interpol now has an opportunity to choose a respected figure with the moral authority that this role requires, and not simply elect a patsy from an authoritarian regime.

Ben Keith and Rhys Davies are barristers specialising in international human rights; they assisted in the preparation of Calvert-Smith’s report.

Ben Keith is a leading specialist in Extradition and International Crime, as well as dealing with Immigration, Serious Fraud, and Public law. He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, Criminal and Civil Court of Appeal as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations.