Interpol elected a general from the United Arab Emirates to its largely ceremonial position of president on Thursday, despite torture complaints against him and criticism over his government’s record of human rights abuses.
Maj. Gen. Ahmed Naser al-Raisi, inspector general at the UAE’s interior ministry, was elected as the international policing body’s president following three rounds of voting, according to The Associated Press.
Hu Binchen, a Chinese public security official, was elected to join the body’s executive committee — another controversial pick given accusations that China has used Interpol to track down dissidents abroad.
“Interpol is an indispensable organization built on the strength of its partnerships,” al-Raisi said after his election, according to the AP. “It is this collaborative spirit, united in mission, that I will continue to foster as we work to make a safer world for people and communities.”
The UAE is also suspected of using Interpol “red notices” to go after dissidents. The global agency has previously said that its president and executive board have no involvement in daily operations or who goes on its wanted list.
Al-Raisi faces criminal complaints in five countries, according to the AP, including accusations of torturing two Britons — a doctoral student accused of spying in 2018 and a soccer fan who claims he was abused during a tournament in 2019.
“This is a sad day for international justice and global policing,” said Matthew Hedges, the doctoral student, who says he was subjected to torture and solitary confinement during seven months in a UAE prison overseen by al-Raisi.
Human rights groups had previously blasted the Emirati general’s candidacy to lead Interpol.
“General al-Raisi’s selection as Interpol president would indicate that Interpol’s member states have no concern whatsoever about the record of the UAE in persecuting peaceful critics,” said Gulf Centre for Human Rights Executive Director Khalid Ibrahim in a joint statement with Human Rights Watch in May.
“His candidacy is yet another bid by the UAE to purchase international respectability and whitewash its deplorable human rights record,” Ibrahim added.
Al-Raisi replaces Kim Jong Yan from South Korea. Kim was a previous Interpol vice president who replaced Meng Hongwei, a Chinese official who disappeared halfway through his tenure during a trip to China. It later emerged that he was detained on bribery charges.
The elections are likely to increase concerns that the global policing body is a tool for authoritarian governments to chase down dissidents outside their jurisdiction.
“It’s not working, and it needs a fundamental overhaul,” Toby Cadman, a lawyer who represents clients trying to remove red notices, told The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s quite opaque with very few oversight mechanisms and over a number of years we’ve seen warrants being issued against activists, political opponents,” he added. “We generally get those warrants removed, but the damage is done, unfortunately.”