Interpol elected an Emirati general accused of torture as its new president on Thursday, despite concerns of human rights organizations that fear the agency would be at risk of exploitation by repressive regimes.
The appointment follows generous funding by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the Lyon, France-based body and accusations that Abu Dhabi has abused Interpol’s system of so-called “red notices” for wanted suspects to persecute political dissidents.
Emirati Major General Ahmed Naser al-Raisi was elected following three rounds of voting during which he received 68.9 percent of votes cast by member countries, Interpol said in a statement.
After his election, al-Raisi wrote on Twitter that he would “build a more transparent, diverse and decisive organization that works to ensure safety for all.”
Al-Raisi did not address the accusations, but said that the “UAE has become one of the safest countries in the world.”
Complaints of “torture” were in the past few months filed against the general in France and Turkey, which is hosting Interpol’s general assembly in Istanbul this week.
Al-Raisi, who heads the UAE’s security forces, is to take on a largely ceremonial and part-time voluntary role for a four-year term.
Interpol secretary-general Juergen Stock handles day-to-day running of the organization. He was appointed for a second five-year term in 2019.
Al-Raisi is to take over from Kim Jong-yang, a South Korean police official who has been Interpol president since the 2018 arrest of his predecessor, Meng Hongwei (孟宏偉), in China, where he had served as a vice minister of public security.
The only other candidate for the post was Sarka Havrankova, a veteran Czech police officer overseeing the country’s international cooperation in police matters.
Another appointment to Interpol’s executive committee — Chinese senior public security official Hu Binchen (胡彬郴) — similarly sparked anger.
China has come under increasing criticism from rights groups and some governments amid claims that actions towards Uighurs and other minority groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang amount to genocide.
The rights group World Uyghur Congress described the election as “very disheartening.”
In a letter this month, 50 lawmakers from 20 countries belonging to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China protested his candidacy.
They warned that his election would have “grave consequences for the safety and well-being of Chinese, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese and Chinese human rights activists living outside China as well as Tibetan and Uyghur diasporas.”
Al-Raisi joined the Emirati police force in 1980 and worked there for several decades.
Hiba Zayadin, a Gulf region researcher for Human Rights Watch, condemned the election of “a representative of arguably the most authoritarian government in the Gulf.”
She wrote on Twitter that it was a “sad day for human rights and the rule of law worldwide.”
One of the complainants against al-Raisi involves British national Matthew Hedges, who said he was detained and tortured between May and November 2018 in the UAE after he was arrested on false charges of espionage during a study trip.
In another complaint, lawyers for the Gulf Center for Human Rights accuse al-Raisi of “acts of torture and barbarism” committed against UAE government critic Ahmed Mansoor.
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