In 2019, Ali Issa Ahmad, a British football fan, traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to support his team during the Asian Cup. However, his trip turned into a nightmare when he was arrested and allegedly tortured for wearing a Qatar jersey. Now, Mr. Ahmad has been granted permission by the High Court in London to pursue legal action against Maj. Gen. Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi, the former inspector general of the UAE Ministry of Interior and current president of Interpol, among six other officials.
“This lawsuit raises important questions about the responsibilities of state officials and the role of international organizations in promoting human rights and the rule of law,” says Radha Stirling, CEO and Founder of Detained in Dubai, the first organisation to draw attention to Ahmad’s ordeal in the UAE when it occurred, “It will be up to the court to answer these questions, which is progress in and of itself. Perhaps a conclusive legal ruling will finally give weight and substance to the concept of accountability, instead of it just being used as a buzzword by governments and institutions that never actually implement it.”
The current case against Al-Raisi is not the first time he has faced allegations of human rights abuses. In 2011, the United Nations Committee against Torture received a report on allegations of torture and ill-treatment in UAE detention centres, with specific reference to Al-Raisi's role in overseeing these facilities. The report stated that "the Committee is concerned about the absence of a response by the State party to the allegations against Maj. Gen. Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi, former head of the Criminal Investigation Department."
More recently, in 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that called for the EU to suspend its cooperation with the UAE's police and intelligence services due to concerns about human rights abuses. The resolution specifically mentioned Al-Raisi's appointment as president of Interpol and called on the organization to review its procedures for appointing officials.
Stirling, who is also head of IPEX, an organisation dedicated to Interpol and extradition reform, was a leading critical voice opposing Al-Raisi’s appointment. “This is a man who oversaw policing and detention facilities in the UAE where there is undeniable, exhaustively documented, systemic abuse,” She explains, “Police investigations in the Emirates flout all norms of evidence-gathering, due process, and human and civil rights protections. Forced confessions are routine, beatings, torture, intimidation, arbitrary detention, denial of legal representation; not to mention secret prison facilities where detainees are quite literally disappeared for weeks, months, or even years at a time; all of this occurs in the UAE, and existed under Al-Raisi’s supervision. His appointment as president of Interpol is an outrageous whitewashing of UAE abuse and a devastating blow to Interpol’s credibility”
The UAE has a close relationship with Interpol, some say too close. Over the past 15 years, Stirling says, the UAE has become one of the most frequent abusers of the Interpol system; often using Red Notices as tools of political persecution of critics, and as a weapon to hound and extort foreigners involved in financial disputes in the Emirates. “Our organisation handles more abusive Red Notices issued from the UAE than from any other country,” Stirling says, “They are able to have wrongful Notices issued against innocent foreign nationals without the slightest scrutiny by Interpol; often over trivial business disputes, bounced cheques, or late loan payments. The Emirates uses Interpol as a global debt collection agency and as an instrument for expanding their de facto jurisdiction to impose punishment over private matters that most Interpol member countries do not even classify as crimes.”
One conspicuous factor, Stirling explains, is the UAE's funding of Interpol through the Interpol Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides financial support to Interpol's activities. The UAE is one of the largest donors to the foundation, contributing over $50 million in recent years.
“Obviously, this funding has raised concerns about the influence that the UAE has on Interpol's activities and priorities, particularly given the documented human rights abuses in the country,” Stirling says, “There needs to be greater transparency and accountability in the foundation's funding and decision-making processes in order to alleviate these concerns.”
The fact that the current president of Interpol is facing legal action for alleged complicity in human rights abuses only erodes Interpol’s credibility further. If Al-Raisi is found to be complicit in human rights abuses, it will potentially damage Interpol's reputation beyond repair and destroy the international community’s faith in the organization's commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
Stirling suggests that the Ahmad case also has broader implications for the UK's foreign policy and its relationship with the UAE. The UK has been widely criticized in the past for its close ties with the UAE, promoting Dubai as a safe tourist destination without adequately warning British citizens about the risks they face from an abusive legal system; accepting billions of dollars in Emirati investment in vital British infrastructure, and the UK’s support for the UAE’s military intervention in Yemen. “If the UK fails to take appropriate action in response to the allegations of human rights abuses against Ahmad and other British citizens,” Stirling says, “It risks sending a message that it is willing to tolerate such abuses in exchange for economic or political benefits.”
The Ahmad case highlights the ongoing human rights abuses in the UAE which Stirling’s organisation has long campaigned against, and draws attention to the need for greater accountability and justice for victims. “The case against Al-Raisi is just one example of the broader pattern of abuses in the country,” She explains, “We have represented thousands of victims of UAE abuse over the past 15 years, and while we have consistently been able to successfully secure their freedom and resolve their issues, when it comes to compensation for their suffering and accountability for those responsible; there has always been a stonewall against this kind of redress. It is essential that state officials are held accountable for human rights violations committed by their subordinates, particularly in cases where the abuses are systematic or widespread; this case can go a long way to ensuring that Emirati officials will be held responsible for the pervasive abuses that are normalised in the institutions they oversee. We have always viewed this as a prerequisite for the overall rehabilitation of the legal system in the UAE, and the broader Gulf region. Impunity is what perpetuates abuse and prevents systemic reform. Hopefully this case will help make the changes in the UAE and in Interpol that we have always worked to achieve, and it will open the door for thousands of other victims to finally receive justice.”
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