It has been a year since Major General Naser Al Raisi was elected President of Interpol at the 89th General Assembly of Interpol in Istanbul last November. Al Raisi will, in theory, serve as President of Interpol until 2025. Al Raisi’s election follows the conviction of the last elected President of Interpol, Meng Hongwei. Hongwei, China’s first head of Interpol, was convicted and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for corruption offences in 2018.
Al Raisi’s accession to the role of Interpol President was, to put it mildly, controversial. Al Raisi enjoyed a long career in the UAE’s police force, starting as officer in Abu Dhabi’s Burglar Alarm branch before rising to become Inspector General of the Ministry of Interior in the UAE. But Al Raisi’s tenure as a senior policeman has been marred by allegations of links to torture. Before his election to the presidency of Interpol, Al Raisi was accused of personal involvement in the arrest and torture of two British men, academic Matthew Hedges, and Ali Issa Ahmed who was arrested whilst on holiday in Dubai for wearing a Qatar football shirt.
The Interpol Presidential election process itself was shrouded in mystery and, although Interpol publishes voting results and percentages after the event, it doesn’t publish lists of candidates in advance. In the run up to last year’s presidential election, the only other candidate known ahead of time to be running was a Nigerian Police Commissioner. Al Raisi’s election to the top post was met with less than universal acclaim, with many rights groups expressing concern. Matthew Hedges was quoted as describing Al Raisi’s victory as “a disgrace” and “this is a sad day for international justice and global policing”.
The dismay surrounding Al Raisi’s election related, in part, to a perception that regimes with poor human rights records have sought to Interpol as a means to burnish their reputations, and to deploy Red Notices to target dissidents and opponents overseas. That Red Notices are routinely deployed by authoritarian regimes to such effect is well reported on this blog and elsewhere.
So what has changed since Al Raisi took up his position? The answer to that may be not very much, yet. However, whilst many commentators were not expecting Al Raisi’s election to cause immediate calamity, significant concerns remain at his presidency. More of the same may not necessarily be more of a good thing.
Since he was elected, the serious allegations against Al Raisi have not gone away. January saw a complaint filed against Al Raisi on behalf of human rights defender Ahmed Mansour, a blogger serving a prison sentence of a decade for “insulting the status and prestige” of the UAE and, in March, French anti-terror prosecutors opened an inquiry into allegations of torture. At the beginning of this month, lawyers on behalf of Tiina Jauhiainen filed a complaint both against the Emir of Dubai and Al Raisi, accusing them of complicity in her kidnapping and torture after she tried to help Emirati Princess Latifa flee the UAE in 2018.
Questions remain about Interpol’s direction of travel, beyond the many concerns about its new president. In a comprehensive analysis published by the Heritage Foundation in November of this year, well-known Interpol expert Ted Bromund wrote:
“The past several years have not been good for Interpol’s democratic members, which pay 66% of Interpol’s budget but comprise only 40% of its membership. As a result, the democracies are easily outvoted in Interpol’s one nation, one vote General Assembly.
Last year, the autocracies almost swept the board when the General Assembly elected a slate of new members to Interpol’s executive committee, which supervises Interpol’s operations on behalf of the assembly. By the time the voting was over, the U.S., Spain, the U.K., and the Czech Republic were the only stable democracies left on the 13-member committee.”
The concern that the Red Notice system is being abused by repressive regimes continues. United States Senator Roger Wicker remains vocal in his criticisms of the use of Interpol’s machinery by authoritarian regimes. At the end of 2021 Senator Wicker launched a blistering attack, saying that Interpol has “become a tool in the hands of despots and crooks who seek to punish dissidents and political opponents in an effort to turn other countries’ law enforcement against the rule of law”.
More recently, on 13th October this year, the Times newspaper published a leader on Interpol entitled “Undue Influence” , echoing the title of a report authored by Sir David Calvert-Smith examining UAE funding of Interpol in light of Al Raisi’s candidacy. The Times stated:
“There are longstanding concerns that the organisation is unduly influenced by repressive governments. Countries such as Russia and China, are among the largest requestors of Red Notices, often targeting political opponents, dissidents or refugees. China, in particular, has increased its use of the network while becoming less transparent, with many of the requested warrants no longer made public”.
The article went on to say:
“It’s not just the system that has been compromised but the leadership too. The current Interpol president is the UAE’s Ahmed Naser al-Raisi. He stands accused of multiple abuses of power, including the detention and torture of British academic Matthew Hedges. It required a coalition of western member states to block the appointment of a Russian interior ministry apparatchik as his predecessor at a special meeting of Interpol in 2018. Ironically, this meeting was needed because the president at the time, China’s Meng Hongwei, had just been arrested, and was subsequently imprisoned, on corruption and bribery charges.”
Thus, it seems, a year after Al Raisi’s election the chorus of criticisms of Interpol and its president remains as loud as ever. As the Times leader stated “the answer must be for democracies to become more vigilant, starting with Interpol”. Scrutiny and transparency, concepts not always associated with Interpol, are more important than ever. That Major Al Raisi has not become the figurehead of a programme of reform and improvement will surprise very few. It is thus imperative that democratic nations and civil society maintain their scrutiny of Interpol throughout the remaining three years of Al Raisi’s term of office.