Monday, January 24

Interpol elects its president, two candidates including an Emirati accused of torture

Human rights defenders are standing firm: meeting since Tuesday in Istanbul, the Interpol General Assembly, which is due to elect its president on Thursday, could choose an Emirati general accused of torture.

General Nasser Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi, head of the security forces of the United Arab Emirates, has been campaigning since last year for the presidency of the police cooperation agency, with only one candidate facing him, that of the Czech Sarka Havrankova.

Interpol’s statutes grant the president a primarily honorary role. Day-to-day management is handled by Secretary General Jürgen Stock, re-appointed for a second five-year term in 2019.

However, many observers are worried about the arrival of Mr. Al-Raisi as president of the organization.

“We are deeply convinced that the election of General Al-Raisi would damage the mission and reputation of Interpol and seriously affect the ability of the organization to carry out its mission effectively,” write, in a letter. dated November 11 and addressed to the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen, three MEPs including Marie Arena, President of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Sub-Committee.

In October 2020, nineteen NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), were already worried about the possible choice of the Emirati general, “a member of a security apparatus which systematically targets the peaceful opposition”.

At the same time, several complaints for “torture” against Mr. Al-Raisi have been filed in recent months in France, where the organization is based, and in Turkey, the host country of the General Assembly.

One of the plaintiffs, British national Matthew Hedges, said he was detained and tortured between May and November 2018 in the United Arab Emirates, after being arrested on false charges of espionage during a study trip.

The NGO Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) accuses in one of these complaints the Emirati general of “acts of torture and barbarism” against the opponent Ahmed Mansoor, detained since 2017 in a cell of 4 m2 “without mattress neither protection against the cold ”, nor“ access to a doctor, hygiene, water and sanitary facilities ”.

These procedures have so far not been successful.

– “Signal to authoritarian regimes” –

The organization’s secretary general, Jürgen Stock, told reporters on Tuesday “to be obviously aware of the charges” against Mr. Al-Raisi, stressing however that “it is up to member states to vote”.

“The presidency of Interpol is a very symbolic position (…) therefore the questionable reputation of Al-Raisi, justified or not, is an important factor for the organization”, explains to AFP Mathieu Deflem, professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina (United States) and author of work on Interpol.

The president, appointed for four years, fulfills his functions part-time and on a voluntary basis. He has an essentially formal role, exercised since 2018 by the South Korean Kim Jong-yang, elected after the arrest at the end of 2018 in his country of his Chinese predecessor, Meng Hongwei.

However, the election of General Al-Raisi “would send a signal to other authoritarian regimes”, in particular that using Interpol to prosecute opponents abroad “is not a problem”, judge Edward Lemon, teaching at Texas A&M University and authoritarian regimes specialist.

A British report published in March concluded that the United Arab Emirates hijacked the system of red notices – international wanted notices – to put pressure on opponents.

If elected on Thursday, General Al-Raisi will be “likely to work with like-minded governments [aux siennes] to thwart the reforms leading to greater transparency of Interpol, “said Edward Lemon.

The researcher recalls that the United Arab Emirates donated 50 million euros to Interpol in 2017 – an amount almost equivalent to the statutory contributions of the 195 member countries of the organization, which amounted to 60 million euros in 2020.

The Emirates, which itself hosted the Interpol General Assembly in 2018 and wanted to host it again in 2020, also “donated or lent 10 million euros in 2019, around 7% of the annual budget of Interpol”.

“Such funding reduces the ability of other members to influence the organization,” notes Edward Lemon.

However, “given the reputation of Al-Raisi (…), I suspect that he will be ineligible. The voting members of the organization are not impervious to criticism from the outside”, advances Mathieu Deflem.

Asked Tuesday by AFP, the Czech candidate Sarka Havrankova also believes that these “very serious allegations” could prevent the election of her rival.

“It is up to delegations to decide how they want their organization to be run,” she concludes.

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