INTERPOL’s annual General Assembly is underway, and by the end of Thursday, a new president of INTERPOL will have been elected. Based in part on INTERPOL’s candid responses to RNLJ’s questions regarding the organization’s funding, we await the election to learn whether, or to what extent, a member country’s indirect donations to INTERPOL might affect its influence over the organization.

INTERPOL’s rules require that its funding be transparent, and it does list its funding sources in its public reports.  However, in an in-depth report earlier this year, Sir David Calvert-Smith, along with Rhys Davies and Ben Keith, addressed the fact that one of INTERPOL’s funding sources, the  INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World, provides donations from sources with unknown origins. They noted that the sole source of those donations appears to be the UAE, but that information is not made public.  Ultimately, the report concluded that:

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World’s sole purpose is to be a channel by which to funnel cash from the UAE government into Interpol. Whether or not the channelling of this money into Interpol is an attempt to buy influence by the UAE is perhaps a different issue. Nonetheless, the links between Interpol and the Interpol Foundation are clear, as are the links between the UAE and the Interpol Foundation.

When RNLJ inquired directly with INTERPOL in September of 2021 regarding precisely who funded the Foundation, and who within the UAE provided the UAE’s donations to the Foundation, INTERPOL’s spokesperson responded, stating:

All of the funding from the Foundation to INTERPOL is from the EUR 50 million donation over a five year period (from 2017) by the United Arab Emirates …

It is the Foundation which receives the funds directly from the UAE government, and the General Secretariat does not have specific details from which Ministry or other body the donation is received each year.

[Emphasis supplied.]

The UAE made its statutorially mandated contribution as a member country in 2017, 2018, and 2019, in the amount of roughly €231,000 each year. The donation it made to the Foundation over that time period, therefore, is exponentially larger than the amount it or any other member country was required to provide.

What does the UAE obtain in return for its donation? No doubt some satisfaction in knowing that it has helped fund multiple INTERPOL projects such as anti-drug trafficking and counter-terrorism initiatives that were identified by INTERPOL’s spokesperson.

Perhaps that is all. Or perhaps the UAE’s donations to the Foundation have given the UAE other benefits, one of which may be a considerable leg up in its bid for presidency of INTERPOL.

The UAE is pressing for one of its own to serve as the next president of INTERPOL. This candidacy has raised serious concerns throughout the international community, causing established, well-respected non-governmental organizations and media outlets, such as the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, L’Action des Chrétiens Pour l’Abolition de la Torture, ALQST for Human Rights, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Association for Victims of Torture in UAE, CIVICUS, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, The Freedom Initiative, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights First, International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, International Centre for Justice and Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, MENA Rights Group, L’Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT), Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties, UnidOSC, Forbes, The Guardian, and the Associated Press to speak out regarding the potential harm that could result if he were elected.

The candidate, Ahmed Naser Al-Raisi, is Inspector General of the UAE’s Interior Ministry and has been accused in multiple instances (see links above) of either directly overseeing or being responsible for illegal and arbitrary detentions, torture, persecution of peaceful critics, forcible disappearance of lawyers, journalists, and activitsts.

INTERPOL’s nomination and election process is generally opaque, with candidates not being officially announced until the time for the vote, which is expected to occur this Thursday, the final day of the General Assembly. It was precisely this hazy-from-the-outside process that motivated Fair Trials Internationals to openly publish a letter last year, urging INTERPOL to make its election process more transparent.

With such an intense, diverse, and unified choir of voices objecting to Al-Raisi’s candidacy, it is difficult to account for what the motivation might be to allow his nomination to move forward, but the optics certainly don’t exclude a pay-to-play methodology.

INTERPOL has made significant strides in the last decade to demonstrate a commitment to improve its enforcement of human rights principles, to hold its members accountable when they have acted outside the bounds of their mutual obligations to the rule of law, and to implement substantive and procedural mechanisms needed for a legitimate law enforcement support organization to function with credibility on the international stage.

The election of a president from a member country that has consistently violated human and due process rights while simultaneously making a grossly outsized donation to INTERPOL would serve to undermine INTERPOL’s advances towards transparency, credibility, and independence.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.