Written by Staff Writer
Raji Al Marri
Interpol’s Board of Governors selected Sheik Raji Al Marri as its new president on Thursday, overturning a decision to reject him over concerns that his role in overseeing torture had tarnished his image as a protector of human rights.
Raji Al Marri has been in charge of UAE’s National Human Rights Institution. Credit: Courtesy Interpol
Al Marri is a current member of Interpol’s Executive Committee, a decision that will open him up to criticism over the appointment, said international human rights activist Hugh Williamson, the Asia Pacific director of Human Rights Watch.
Interpol president is elected by members and overseen by the body’s Executive Committee, which consists of 12 members. Sheik Raji’s nationality and last name were only known to the Chairman of the Interpol Board, Miguel Angel Raboy, based in Madrid.
Admiral Iñaki Plaur, a member of the Executive Committee, said that the rejection of his nomination for president was due to the fact that his candidacy was not open to the general membership of Interpol, but only appointed by Plaur and the board’s Chairman of the Board.
Despite that decision, Raboy was not prepared to reverse it, and the vice president of the General Secretariat asked Plaur for permission to consider other candidates. Plaur refused. The decision by the Executive Committee was taken when the meeting ended at the end of the executive session, before consultations with the media.
In an emailed statement Plaur’s office told CNN that “Article 107 of the Interpol Charter states that the Ethics Committee of the General Secretariat can approve or withdraw the candidacy of Interpol Presidential candidates to ensure a ‘candidate representing all regions of the world’ is fielded for elections, if this were to be necessary.”
Raja Al Marri called Plaur’s decision “an internal question within Interpol.” He said that he was honored to be part of the organization and that he could be the only Sunni Muslim candidate for the presidency.
Raja Al Marri was chosen over four other candidates, including Janos Koulevo, a former President of the Azerbaijani Interpol.
However, Hassan Shateri, a Turkish general officer, was eliminated in the first round, which meant that Raja Al Marri was the only candidate from the Middle East. No other candidate was selected after Raja Al Marri was proposed.
According to an academic study released in 2016, Raja Al Marri has been responsible for overseeing extrajudicial killings of high profile opposition figures such as Hassan Nafisi and Younis al-Qaradawi, in a constitutional provision governing his leadership of the Human Rights Institution.
Other controversial actions taken by Raja Al Marri include confiscating land from political activists and relatives of those killed in police raids, attempts to infiltrate the online community and censorship of online calls for peaceful protests in Dubai, the country of which he is also a national.
Following the publication of the study, Raja Al Marri was asked to respond to the charges made against him and the institutions he led. In a response he published online, Raja Al Marri said that the University of Mauritius study was “politically and financially motivated and prepared by the media wing of a Zionist lobby group based in London, United Kingdom.”
Raja Al Marri’s appointment was condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, issued a statement on behalf of the Special Rapporteur’s office.
“The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism received information about Raji Al Marri’s reappointment as Chairman of the National Human Rights Institution in September,” she said.
“The Special Rapporteur was deeply concerned at the fact that Mr. Al Marri has been in charge of a body responsible for the protection of human rights under the UAE constitution, but also guilty of gross violations of these fundamental rights.
“The Special Rapporteur considers it of utmost importance that the human rights situation in the UAE be addressed in this context. The Special Rapporteur continues to receive reports from concerned citizens and organizations, from and about the UAE.”
Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment said in a statement, “This is another illustration of the increasingly alarming involvement of [the UAE] in torture, a clear and serious violation of all international human rights standards.
“It is even more unfortunate that there has been no response or repudiation by the state.”
— Marc Perelman contributed to this story