Interpol appoints UAE military officer as president despite accusations of torture

He is the latest head of the international police agency to be accused of corruption.

Interpol on Saturday appointed a top commander from the United Arab Emirates to be its next president for a four-year term.

But the move to install Hisham Al Hashemi in the top post at the world’s governing body for police forces has raised eyebrows given that Al Hashemi has been named by a report as having overseen torture during his military days in a neighboring country.

Interpol said on Saturday that the 57-year-old was a retired military man, as well as an intelligence officer. He retired in 2010 after serving as commander of the UAE’s armed forces’ central zone, based in the southern desert province of Fujairah, and overseeing all police and security-related facilities across the emirate.

The UAE, like several other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has come under scrutiny for human rights violations, including forced disappearances and torture in some cases, according to the UK-based Human Rights Watch. In 2016, the NGO released a report that described mistreatment of political prisoners by UAE authorities and claims of torture by the authorities in cases in which prisoners were accused of being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The UAE is considered part of the Islamist spectrum in the Middle East and participates in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. However, the country has sought to distance itself from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over the years. In November, the UAE said it arrested more than 100 people who were affiliated with the banned group in an operation that followed days of bloody protests against the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in the country’s second-largest city, Alexandria.

International media have also pointed to the UAE’s role in regional crises with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, notably Egypt’s peace deal with the Islamist nation of Hamas, Hamas’s Gaza stronghold, in the wake of the Arab Spring.

“Hisham Al Hashemi has spent most of his career focused on intelligence and counterintelligence matters and has vast experience operating in the turbulent region of the Middle East and on the frontlines in counterterrorism efforts,” Interpol said in a statement. “As president of Interpol, he will bring years of experience and develop a strategic framework that will support the work of Interpol member states.”

International media have also pointed to the UAE’s role in regional crises with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, notably Egypt’s peace deal with the Islamist nation of Hamas, Hamas’s Gaza stronghold, in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Interpol’s office is located in Luxembourg, but the relationship is currently tense. The UAE used the same vote-buying technique that was said to have helped it win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Though many believed it was shamed into dropping its bid in the face of criticism from FIFA’s governance watchdog, the non-profit Control Sport Foundation, the group is now asking that Interpol disqualify the UAE’s Al Hashemi for misuse of votes.

The Interior Ministry, which appoints the president of Interpol, has previously said that it had done nothing wrong and slammed the international group as trying to meddle in its internal affairs.

“The appointment of Al Hashemi does not correspond to the practices of the relevant United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) decisions or those of the International Olympic Committee,” according to a statement released by the Interior Ministry. “We reiterate that as a member of the International General Assembly, the UAE shall faithfully comply with the decisions of the United Nations.”

That move isn’t sitting well with Interpol’s Board of Governors, who until this year had held a zero-tolerance policy against vote-buying, according to advocacy group Vote No UAE.

“The recruitment of an individual with a record that indicates repeated financial manipulation of the organization is a matter of grave concern,” the group said. “A president who uses his post for personal financial gain does not reflect good sense and this pattern of behavior renders all Interpol’s elected officers ‘dishonest.’”

The report also said that while the UAE hasn’t directly named the countries it reportedly tortured, there is “obvious evidence to suggest that one of the countries of the region could be the UAE.”

But Interpol said that Al Hashemi had complied with its governance rules, and said that his appointment was open to two candidates and even required two votes.

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