Interpol General Secretary Jurgen Stock announced on Friday that current Abu Dhabi police chief, Lt. Gen. Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will become the organization’s new president for a five-year term. The decision has attracted intense criticism, in particular from those who accuse the oil-rich emirate of turning a blind eye to international torture and corruption during a decade of Emirati rule.
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the nomination of Sheikh Saif to Interpol’s executive committee, which makes the decision on the group’s annual presidential election. “All indicators point to him, like his father and father-in-law, ordering and carrying out abusive policies in the country,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
He is currently in Abu Dhabi in charge of Abu Dhabi’s Police Department, which has come under intense scrutiny for its role in some high-profile deaths during its crackdown on dissent and human rights. According to Human Rights Watch, Emirati forces have forced 16 of its citizens to drop dead on the Abu Dhabi streets and in airports and private prisons where prisoners are often held for months without being charged. Sheikh Saif and his father, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have a history of taking actions that put UAE citizens and others at risk in custody, such as the rendition of a 12-year-old boy who was accidentally found in possession of cannabis.
These alleged abuses took place despite the fact that Sheikh Saif took over the police force in 2015, a year before other officials were implicated in at least 17 homicides in two years.
Since then, claims have mounted of police corruption and official indifference to the torture of detainees. In 2016, Arab news outlet Al Araby Al Jadeed reported that 55 inmates had allegedly died in Abu Dhabi’s Al Raha prison during four years. The Emirati version of Amnesty International says a further 91 people died in similar circumstances in 2015 and 2016. “Abu Dhabi has caused unbearable hardship to those who they have arrested, who were tortured, and imprisoned under cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions,” the organization said. “We believe an independent international investigation is necessary.”
Detainees held in prisons run by Abu Dhabi’s prisons have also told Human Rights Watch that they have suffered violent beatings in which they had been electrocuted and beaten with rifle butts. Some inmates who claimed to have been beaten by guards said officers had watched the beating.
Despite denials from the police, organizations representing detainees continue to argue that there are adequate safeguards to ensure that the roughly 8,000 men held in Abu Dhabi’s jails are not tortured or held in cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions. However, according to a report released by Interpol in March, detainees were detained for weeks without being questioned, freed on bail only after family members paid large sums of money to secure their release, and then rearrested when they were to appear in court.
The Emirati Ministry of Interior has responded to criticism of the Dubai police by insisting that any of its citizens held in jail is there on a “specific, formal or criminal case” and not because of the UAE’s human rights record. The UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has also defended the Gulf country’s treatment of its citizens, saying, “you cannot imagine a more progressive nation than the United Arab Emirates.”