President Accused of Torture Addresses Interpol General Assembly
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
Today Major General Al-Raisi addressed the 90th Interpol General Assembly for the first time since he was elected President of the organisation in 2021. The General Assembly, hosted this year by India in New Dheli, is the supreme governing body of the world’s largest international police organization.
In his opening remarks to more than 700 delegates representing Interpol’s 195 member countries, Major General Ahmed Nasser Al- Raisi highlighted the powerful role played by members of the pre-eminent police organisation, saying:
“The future of Interpol is decided in this room. And by proxy, the future of law enforcement. The voice of every single member will be heard. I look forward to our discussions. And with the work of all of our governance bodies, we will take the resolutions made here and put them into action.”
Sadly, the future of Interpol is not in safe hands. In October 2021 two British nationals filed a complaint against Al-Raisi, alleging his ultimate responsibility for gross human rights violations and torture against them while detained in the United Arab Emirates.
Al-Raisi has served as Inspector General of the UAE Interior Ministry since 2015. Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmed claim that Al-Raisi was therefore directly responsible for their detention and torture which occurred in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The complaint was filed in France under the principle of universal jurisdiction which allows states to prosecute serious crimes even if they were committed on foreign soil by non-nationals.
Matthew Hedges, a British academic, was detained in Abu Dhabi from 5 May 2018 to 26 November 2018 on suspicion of espionage. Hedges claims he was held in solitary confinement for nearly seven months in a windowless room with no bed, no contact with the outside world and that he was interrogated for months, sometimes up to 15-hours a day, without access to a lawyer.
Ali Issa Ahmed, a British security guard, was detained in Sharjah between 23 January and 12 February 2019, after he wore a Qatari football shirt to a match in Abu Dhabi between Qatar and Iraq. Ahmed claims he was subjected to racial and psychological abuse and torture, including being beaten, electrocuted, cut, and burned.
All attempts to see justice served in the UAE were thwarted and lawyers for Hedges and Ahmed filed lawsuits in different jurisdictions. In May 2021 they each issued civil proceedings in the High Court in London against senior UAE officials, including Al-Raisi, claiming damages for assault, false imprisonment and the intentional infliction of psychiatric injury during detention.
While Al-Raisi was on the campaign trail for Interpol's presidency election, Hedges and Ahmed filed charges against him in Sweden, Norway, Turkey and France, with the view that an investigation would be opened and he would be arrested upon arrival to one of those countries.
Other victims of torture in the UAE are also seeking justice and in 2021 universal jurisdiction lawsuits were filed against Al-Raisi on behalf of Ahmed Mansoor, a well-renowned Emirate human rights defender who has been arbitrarily detained, almost entirely in solitary confinement, since 2017. Under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, prolonged solitary confinement constitutes torture.
Mansoor's treatment has received widespread criticism from the international community and the European Parliament passed a resolution in September 2021 calling for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Ahmed Mansoor. The UAE responded by saying the allegations were “factually incorrect” and that the parliament had ignored “all of the UAE’s significant achievements in the human rights field”.
Mansoor's first two universal jurisdiction lawsuits were dismissed in 2021 on competency grounds by French prosecutors who said they could not prosecute unless the accused resided in France permanently or temporarily. However, a third complaint used Al-Raisi's twitter activity to show he had been in France in January and March 2022 and that French prosecutors could open an investigation.
Despite widespread outcry and criticism, Al-Raisi was elected as the President of Interpol following three rounds of voting during which he received 68.9 percent of votes cast by Interpol member states. Following his appointment, Al-Raisi was required to visit Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, France, which enabled prosecutors in Paris to proceed to investigate universal jurisdiction complaints against him.
Subsequently, French prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry into Al-Raisi's role in the torture and acts of barbarism against Mansoor. In March 2022 French police interviewed the Executive Director of the Gulf Centre of Human Rights, Khalid Ibrahim, who has spearheaded litigation on Mansoor's behalf.
Hedges and Ahmed's complaint was forwarded to the Investigating Judges of the Specialised Judicial Unit for Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes of the Paris Tribunal and in January 2022 a criminal complaint was issued to the specialised Tribunal. The investigation opened in March 2022, and in May a hearing took place at which Ahmed and Hedges gave live testimonies. At the time, Al-Raisi was in France.
In a statement Hedges said:
"Given the human rights record of the UAE it was incredible that Al-Raisi was even elected as president. The torture that myself, Ali, and countless other people in the UAE have suffered is unfortunately the norm in the UAE"
The UAE has rejected the allegations as "baseless and unfounded", in comments made to Reuters a UAE spokesperson said:
"At all times, the UAE and its officials treated Mr Hedges and Mr Ahmad with respect, and not once did it subject either to any torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment"
French Investigating Judges must decide whether to press charges against Al-Raisi, and whether or not he benefits from diplomatic immunity. Under a 2008 convention between France and Interpol, members of Interpol have immunity from prosecution in France except in road accidents or 'in the case of a crime of flagrante delicto'. However, William Bourdon, the French human rights lawyer acting for Ahmed Mansoor, has said Al-Raisi could not claim diplomatic immunity because his alleged crimes occurred before he joined Interpol. Bourdon also argued that the convention did not apply to “the greatest international crimes” such as torture.
Investigators will likely have regard to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) and its recent conclusions following a review of the UAE conducted in July 2022, to which Hedges and Ahmed submitted testimonies.
There are serious concerns that Interpol is directed by man allegedly complicit in torture, from a country with no respect for the rule of law or human rights. This means that Interpol’s credibility remains severely tarnished while he remains in charge.