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  • Ben Keith

Ben Keith writes for The Times | Syria’s re-engagement with Interpol is a cause for serious concern

Ben Keith comments in The Times on 21 March 2024.

A photograph last week depicted a meeting between Ahmed Naser al-Raisi, the president of Interpol and a senior police officer in the UAE, with Mohammad Khaled al-Rahmoun, Syria’s interior minister.

Al-Rahmoun has been sanctioned by the EU, UK, US and Canada over the alleged harshness of the Syrian government’s tactics during the country’s civil war, involving claims of torture, disappearances and murder. Al-Raisi faces accusations of complicity in torture with legal complaints filed against him in France and Austria by Matthew Hedges, a British academic, and Ali Issa Ahmed, a torture victim.

These allegations stand in stark contrast to the expectations of integrity and human rights adherence essential for Interpol.

Just before al-Raisi’s election as Interpol’s president in 2021, concerns about his candidacy emerged following torture accusations made against him. The report examined the UAE’s troubling donation of €50 million to Interpol. The agency’s silence on this report and the allegations against its president underscore a worrying disregard for accountability.

Syria’s re-engagement with Interpol — after it had been suspended from 2012 to 2021 because of the brutal repression under the Assad regime — directly challenges Interpol’s commitment to upholding international law and human rights. The meeting contradicts the agency’s principles, especially considering Syria’s past actions which warranted its suspension.

Interpol’s credibility has been a cause of concern for some time. Its issuance of red notice alerts for alleged crimes, while crucial for international police co-operation, has faced criticism for misuse by autocratic states, including Russia, China, the UAE and others. The agency’s stance that naming and shaming contradicts the spirit of international co-operation reflects a problematic approach to handling member countries’ human rights abuses. This perspective is at odds with the need for transparency and accountability in international law enforcement.

The controversy surrounding al-Raisi’s meeting with the Syrian minister underscores the urgent need for reform within Interpol. It casts a shadow on the organisation’s credibility and highlights the difficulty of preventing the agency’s exploitation by authoritarian regimes, which undermines international law and global human rights commitments.

To preserve its integrity, Interpol must implement reforms that ensure its commitment to justice, transparency, and human rights protection, free from undue influence by repressive regimes. Establishing clear and transparent procedures for vetting member states and their officials is imperative.

Without such reforms, the trust in Interpol’s operations risks being irreparably damaged. The controversy not only affects its credibility but also emphasises the broader implications of leadership decisions within the agency, stressing the importance of adhering to principles of human rights and justice.

The article was first published in The Times on 21 March 2024 and can be accessed in full here.


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