Naming Dubai police chief to top Interpol job would only enable UAE impunity

Naming Dubai police chief to top Interpol job would only enable UAE impunity
5 min read
13 Oct, 2020
Comment: Respect for human rights is a founding principle of Interpol. To name an Emirati police chief as its president would be a gross contradiction, writes Jonathan Fenton-Harvey.
UAE became a member of The International Criminal Police Organization in 1973 [Getty]
Earlier this month, Dubai's police chief Nasser Ahmed al-Raisi was nominated as the next president of the global crime control organisation Interpol, gifting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with another golden opportunity to whitewash its reputation and cover up its human rights violations.

Interpol has played an important role in facilitating greater police collaboration in order to target criminals globally, and its principles of international cooperation to fight crime and support justice are certainly laudable. Meanwhile, the UAE has also bolstered its ties with Interpol since initially joining in 1997, including hosting its annual general assembly meeting in 2018, in Dubai.

Yet the appointment of al-Raisi, if successful, would undermine the organisation's stated values, and even grant the UAE an opportunity to further exploit it for its own, pro-authoritarian agenda.

Soon after al-Raisi's nomination, criticisms surfaced - particularly from those who have suffered abuses at the hands of the UAE and al-Raisi's oversight - of such a nomination being used to whitewash the UAE's image.

Among them was British academic Matthew Hedges, who was detained and held in solitary confinement and psychologically tortured for six months in 2018, while he was held on ludicrous charges of "spying" for the British government - a close ally of Abu Dhabi.

The UAE gaining greater influence in Interpol could enable it to abuse its role in the organisation

Though Hedges was forced to "confess" his "crimes" in an Arabic statement he could not understand, his life sentence was nullified after much international pressure over his case.

"To say I'm disappointed that he is even being considered would be an understatement," he said. "[Al-Raisi] was ultimately responsible for my torture and detention... The UAE must not be allowed to have this presidency. It would undermine everything Interpol is supposed to stand for."

Ali Ahmad, a British football fan who was imprisoned for wearing a Qatar football shirt to a match in the UAE in 2019, also echoed such concerns. Ahmed was stabbed with a pocket knife in his chest and arms, had a tooth knocked out, was suffocated with a plastic bag and had his clothing set on fire while being arrested.

"I cannot believe that I need to ask an international police group like Interpol not to elect the person [ultimately] responsible for my torture to become their president," Ahmed told the Telegraph. "What I suffered in the UAE was very traumatising and it will scar me for life."

In recent years, the UAE has ramped up repressive measures and crushed any form of dissent, much to the concern of human rights organisations and advocates. The government seeks absolute control over society, as well as to prevent obstacles towards its aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa.

In the eyes of the international community, this reality is often overlooked and buried beneath the UAE's glamorous guise as a beacon of tolerance, co-existence and progress. Lobbying, PR efforts and various political moves - including the UAE's normalisation with Israel in August, have consolidated this mirage in some circles in the West.

Read more: After horrific jailing, UK academic Matthew Hedges slams UAE general's bid to head Interpol

Al-Raisi securing the presidency of Interpol would be another step towards Abu Dhabi acquiring greater global impunity and maintaining a positive image, while further drowning out critical voices of the government's true nature.

This would not be the first time Abu Dhabi has tried to curry favour in international organisations. Last December, it was revealed that the UAE previously called on the Washington-based and Abu Dhabi-affiliated communications organisation Glover Park Group to lobby two aides of Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the United Nations under Barack Obama.

This was to deflect potential criticism in the UN of the UAE's leading role in driving Yemen and Libya's wars.

With regards to Interpol, the UAE's efforts to present its domestic and foreign policy as pro-stability, pro-security, and counter-extremist, would clearly bolster al-Raisi's bid to become president.

This leads to another concern, that the UAE gaining greater influence in Interpol could enable it to abuse its role in the organisation. Other authoritarian regimes including Russia and China have reportedly used Interpol to target exiled political opponents, dissidents and journalists.

In the last few years, there has been a surge in "Red Notices", which Interpol issues to a member state's domestic force to pursue a case. For instance, Interpol issued 13,337 Red Notices in 2019, compared to just 1,277 in 2002. Many of these have come from authoritarian governments, increasing fears of a growing exploitation of Interpol.

If states like Russia and China are willing and able to manipulate Interpol, it is clear how Abu Dhabi might also want to do the same

"These institutions were not built with the internal safeguards and mechanisms to protect them against bad faith actors. Once you let them inside the gates, nothing prevents them from poisoning the well," Jonathan Reich, a lawyer helping dissidents targeted by Russia via Interpol, previously said regarding growing revelations of Moscow manipulating the organisation to target opponents.

Additionally, former Interpol chief Meng Hongwei, a Chinese citizen, resigned abruptly in 2018, though it was not clear if he did so under duress. While he was later arrested in Chinese President Xi Jinping's "anti-corruption" crackdown, there were initial fears he was used to target dissidents living abroad on Beijing's behalf.

If states like Russia and China are willing and able to manipulate Interpol, it is clear how Abu Dhabi might also want to do the same, should it succeed in getting its man as the organisation's president. After all, the UAE has hacked foreign journalists and officials' phones with spyware, tried to smear rivals and organisations it deems as unfriendly in the West, and even hired mercenaries to assassinate political opponents.

Clearly, al-Raisi's appointment would enable Abu Dhabi to further allow the UAE to whitewash its abuses and undermine the good that organisations like Interpol were founded to achieve.

The decision will be made in December. Before then, it is essential that those in power heed the words of individuals like Hedges and Ali, who have suffered first hand the cruelty of al-Raisi and his government.

Jonathan Fenton-Harvey is a freelance journalist. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jfentonharvey

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.