Interpol lawyers are warning those who have been successful in removing politically motivated Red Notices of the possibility that they may still be stopped at borders under arrest warrants issued by the Arab Interior Ministers' Council.
Recent instances of abusive extraditions in the Middle East, North Africa, and Gulf regions have exemplified how both the Arab Interior Ministers' Council (AIMC) and Interpol's initiation of arrest and extradition processes can lead to violations of international human rights standards. This includes the infringement upon the principle of non-refoulement, as outlined in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention against Torture, and Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On 6 February 2023 Hassan Muhammad al-Rabea, a Saudi national who belongs to the country’s Shia minority was extradited from Morocco to Saudi Arabia despite the UN imposing interim measures to stay his extradition for fear of politically motivated reprisals. Al-Rabea was extradited on an arrest warrant issued by the Arab Interior Ministers’ Council.
Al-Rabea’s family has faced persistent persecution in Saudi Arabia for links to political activism with some relatives having been executed and others on death row. Al-Rabea was extradited from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, both AIMC member states, less than a month after his arrest having had only a single court hearing and despite the United Nations Committee Against Torture imposing interim measures to stay his extradition. Al-Rabea’s case increases concerns over the lack of due process and human rights protections within the AIMC and its member states.
Established in 1982, the AIMC is a specialised body comprising the Interior Ministries of its 14 member states. The stated objective of the AIMC is to foster collaboration among Arab nations in matters of security and the prevention of crime. One notable function involves expediting the apprehension of individuals sought by law enforcement agencies through the dissemination of arrest warrants. Interpol and the AIMC serve as the primary channels for international cooperation in the Middle East and North Africa region, including the Arab Gulf states.
The AIMC derives its legal authority from the Riyadh Arab Agreement for Judicial Cooperation, commonly referred to as the "Riyadh Convention," and the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism. Notably, these instruments permit politically motivated extraditions, a practice explicitly prohibited by the Arab Charter on Human Rights.
Arab nations that are signatories to the Riyadh Convention recognise and enforce foreign judgments with the condition that they adhere to certain regulations, including Shariah law. Article 41 of the Riyadh Convention outlines various exceptions that restrict the execution of extradition requests, including when the requested extradition is related to a crime deemed political under the laws of the requested party.
However, the Convention specifically excludes specific offences from being categorised as political, such as assaults on kings and presidents, and certain robberies.
The AIMC, with its legal foundations in the Riyadh Convention, lacks any oversight body specifically tasked with filtering out abuses within its systems. Moreover, targeted individuals are not afforded the opportunity to file access requests or request the removal of disseminated arrest warrants.
A close collaborative partner with Interpol, the AIMC entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Interpol in 1999 which encompasses the exchange of information, mutual consultation and coordination, access to databases, and technical cooperation in criminal and other relevant matters.
Under the MoU the two organisations agree to ‘promote co-operation and enhance the competence of both organisations for the execution of their respective mandates through mutual consultation and co-ordination, exchange of information and technical co-operation, for the purpose of combating crime and the pursuit of criminals’. The agreement further states that the AIMC carries out its aims and directives by ‘emphasizing the role of the police authorities in maintaining law and order with due respect for human rights’.
According to Interpol, it and the AIMC maintain separate databases and legal frameworks and that there is no direct collaboration between them on notices or diffusions. The reference to "technical cooperation" in the MoU simply reflects standard language for memoranda of understanding and agreements. However, there is no transparency as to the day-to-day working relationship that was established by the MoU.
The extradition of Al-Rabea highlights a troubling pattern reminiscent of two previous incidents. In 2021 Morocco extradited another Saudi national, Osama al-Hasani, on the back of an Interpol Red Notice. Despite a request from the UN Committee Against Torture to suspend al-Hasani's extradition pending a review of his case, he was hastily extradited via a privately chartered plane arranged by Saudi Arabia. On September 3, 2021, the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court sentenced al-Hasani to four years of imprisonment, even though he had previously been cleared of any wrongdoing in the case as early as 2018.
Then there’s the case of Ahmed Jaafar Mohamed Ali, a Bahraini labour rights activist, who in 2022 was illicitly ‘extradited’ from Serbia to Bahrain using a UAE registered private airline following an Interpol Red Notice.
In 2019, senior law enforcement officials from 17 states, including those from the Arab Interior Ministers Council, met in Morocco for Interpol’s Meeting for Chiefs of Police from the Middle East and North Africa. In his opening remarks, Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock, described the occasion as one for reflecting on ‘how we as law enforcement can collectively address some of the threats that undermine the stability of our societies and threaten the well-being of innocent citizens across the region’.
Arguably one of the greatest threats facing the region is the corruption of the rule of law. Repeat breaches of international human rights standards in the region occur notwithstanding Interpol’s constitution which is designed to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in part by preventing the issuance of Red Notices for political crimes. Meanwhile the AIMC actively chooses not to uphold the Arab Charter on Human Rights and instead utilises the exceptions laid down by the Riyadh Convention.