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Interpol chooses president between two candidates, one accused of torture


The Interpol General Assembly, meeting since Tuesday in Istanbul, is to elect its president on Thursday from two candidates, one of them an Emirati general accused of torture that has caused concern among human rights defenders.

General Naser Ahmed Naser Al Raisi, head of the United Arab Emirates security forces, has been campaigning for the presidency of the police cooperation agency since last year, a position for which the Czech Sarka Havrankova is also applying.

The Interpol statutes grant the president a primarily honorary role. The management of day-to-day affairs is assumed by Secretary General Jürgen Stock, renewed in 2019 for a second five-year term.

But even so, many observers worry about Al Raisi’s candidacy.

“We are deeply convinced that the election of General Al Raisi will damage Interpol’s mission and reputation,” wrote three MEPs recently in a letter to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

In October 2020, 19 NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), were concerned about the possible election of the Emirati general, “a member of a security apparatus that systematically targets the peaceful opposition.”

In parallel, several complaints of “torture” were filed against Al Raisi in recent months in France, where the organization is based, and in Turkey, which hosts the General Assembly.

One of them, British Matthew Hedges, explained that he was arrested between May and November 2018 in the United Arab Emirates under false accusations of being a spy during a study trip.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights accuses the Emirati general of “acts of torture and barbarism” against the opposition Ahmed Mansoor, detained since 2017 in a 4 m2 cell “without a mattress or protection against the cold”, or “access to a medical, hygiene, water or sanitary facilities “.

The proceedings are not yet complete.

– “Signal to authoritarian regimes” –

Secretary-General Jürgen Stock told the press on Tuesday “is obviously aware of the accusations” against Al Raisi, but indicated that “it is up to the member states to vote.”

“The Interpol presidency is a very symbolic position (…), so Al Raisi’s dubious reputation, justified or not, is an important factor for the organization,” Mathieu Deflem, professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina (USA) and author of papers on Interpol.

The president, elected for four years, occupies his functions part-time and without pay and has an essentially protocol role.

The position is now held by South Korean Kim Jong-Yang, elected after the arrest in his country at the end of 2018 of his Chinese predecessor Meng Hongwei.

Electing General Al Raisi “would send a signal to other authoritarian regimes” that using Interpol to go after opponents abroad “is not a problem,” says Edward Lemon of Texas A&M University.

A British report in March concluded that the Emirates had used the international search system to pressure opponents.

If elected, General Al Raisi will be able to “work with governments of similar postulates to hinder reforms towards greater transparency at Interpol,” insists Lemon.

The researcher says that the United Arab Emirates donated 50 million euros ($ 56 million) to Interpol in 2017, a sum almost equal to the statutory contributions of the 195 Interpol member countries, which was 60 million euros in 2020.

Organizers of the 2018 General Assembly, the Emirates also “donated or loaned 10 million euros in 2019, 7% of Interpol’s annual budget,” it adds.

“This funding reduces the ability of other members to influence the organization,” he defends.

But Mathieu Deflem considers that, “given Al Raisi’s reputation (…), he is ineligible.”

Asked on Tuesday by AFP, the Czech candidate Havrankova also opined that these “very serious accusations” may prevent the election of her rival.

“It is up to the delegations to decide how they want the organization to be run,” he said.

rba / ach / dth / dbh / zm

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