UAE general unsuitable for role of Interpol chief, says UK report

Election of Ahmed Naser Al-Raisi would serve to validate UAE’s record on human rights, ex-prosecutor says

Interpol headquarters in Lyon
File photo of the entrance hall of Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon. Photograph: Laurent Cipriani/AP
File photo of the entrance hall of Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon. Photograph: Laurent Cipriani/AP
Diplomatic editor

Last modified on Wed 7 Apr 2021 09.52 EDT

An Emirati general linked to human rights abuses is unsuited to head Interpol and his possible appointment may be seen as a “reward” for donations to the agency, according to a report by the UK’s former director of public prosecutions.

The process of electing a president of Interpol, which is due to happen later this year, is “shrouded in secrecy and opaque”, Sir David Calvert-Smith wrote.

“Not only would an Emirati president of Interpol serve to validate and endorse the [United Arab Emirates’] record on human rights and criminal justice but, in addition, Maj Gen [Ahmed Naser] Al-Raisi is unsuitable for the role,” he wrote. “He sits at the very top of the Emirati criminal justice system. He has overseen an increased crackdown on dissent, continued torture, and abuses in its criminal justice system.”

Raisi has not formally announced his candidacy, although he is widely believed to be running.

Allegations in the report represent a dilemma for the UK government since it is politically close to the UAE and has refused to say whether it believes Raisi is a suitable candidate to head Interpol, the body responsible for issuing international arrest warrants.

Raisi, the general inspector of the UAE interior ministry since 2015, is well known to the British Foreign Office as he played a key role in the arrest and nine-month detention of a British academic, Matthew Hedges. The affair led to a near breakdown of relations between the UK and the UAE amid allegations that Hedges was tortured and forced into a confession over spying.

Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, said on Tuesday that her husband “for months was kept in a soundproofed prison somewhere in Abu Dhabi, heavily drugged in solitary confinement and as clueless about his destiny as I was. He was not allowed consular access.”

She added: “It terribly worries me that the man that presided over my husband’s extrajudicial detention and torture is now being considered to run Interpol.”

Her husband still suffers from severe depression and regular panic attacks, she said. “I cannot put into words what we went and continue to go through.”

Interpol’s secretive methods have been the subject of widespread criticism by human rights groups that claim its red notice system – an international wanted persons list – is abused by authoritarian regimes eager to capture political opponents or dissident businesspeople travelling abroad.

Although red notices are not supposed to be issued in political cases, in practice very few notices are withdrawn each year. Subjects of a red notice have no mechanism of appeal in any international or national court, a point that has been criticised by the Council of Europe.

Based in Lyon, France, Interpol is a relatively small information-sharing bureau with only 1,000 staff and a budget of €142m in 2019.

The body agreed in March 2017 to accept a €50m donation over five years from a Geneva-based organisation called Interpol Foundation for a Safer World, which is entirely funded by the UAE, making the foundation Interpol’s third largest external funder.

Calvert-Smith said: “The contribution at least creates the impression that the president of the organisation may be seen as a reward for a financial contribution.”

He also referred to the closed trial of the Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansour, his subsequent solitary confinement and sentencing to 10 years in jail for criticising the UAE’s human rights record.

“The public-facing images of Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, are internationalist and westernised. Nonetheless, it remains the case that there is a wealth of evidence that suggests that there continue to be significant, sustained and systematic breaches of human rights in the UAE,” the report said.

Chris Jones, who is in charge of relations with Interpol at the Home Office, told the Commons foreign affairs select committee in February that it was too soon to say how the UK would vote in the Interpol presidency.

He said: “Obviously the UK will look to support candidates who have a history of observing high standards in a rules-based international system, and we will look at that later in the year once the full field of candidates comes forward.”

The Hlcarpenter.com has asked for details of who commissioned Calvert-Smith’s report, which was written with assistance from the UK-based International Human Rights Advisors. The UAE embassy in London has been contacted for comment.