August 17, 2023
This analysis was initially published on March 9, 2023, and was updated on August 17, 2023.
Founded in 1982, the Arab Interior Ministers’ Council (AIMC) is a specialised Ministerial Council of the League of Arab States made up of the Interior Ministries of its signatory states. The AIMC enables the cooperation of Arab countries in the fields of internal security and prevention of crime, notably by facilitating the apprehension of wanted individuals through the diffusion of their arrest warrants. The AIMC’s legal basis, found in instruments including the Riyadh Arab Agreement for Judicial Cooperation and the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, notably allows for politically motivated extraditions to take place, which are explicitly prohibited by the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Contrary to INTERPOL, which it collaborates with, the AIMC does not appear to have an oversight body destined to filter out abuses of its systems, nor does it grant targeted individuals the possibility to file access requests or to demand the removal of arrest warrants diffused against them. Recent cases illustrate how the AIMC’s triggering of wanted individuals’ arrest and extradition processes contributes to violating international human rights standards such as the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in article 3 UNCAT and article 5 UDHR. Overall, the AIMC raises serious human rights issues which must be adequately addressed and remedied.
2. AIMC: mandate, structure and functioning
The Arab Interior Ministers Council (AIMC) is a specialised Ministerial Council of the League of Arab States. The AIMC aims to develop and strengthen cooperation and coordinate efforts between Arab countries in the field of internal security and prevention of crime. It notably lays down the general policy in order to develop joint Arab action in the field of internal security, approves joint Arab security plans to implement this policy, and establishes the necessary bodies and agencies to implement its aims. The AIMC essentially acts as a link between its member states for judicial assistance regarding security and criminal matters.
The AIMC’s head, Secretary General Dr. Mohammad bin Ali Kuman, is appointed by Member States for a renewable three-year term. Mr Kuman, who obtained academic degrees in Saudi Arabia and in France, has held this position since 2001. The General Secretariat is located in Tunis, Tunisia, and acts as AIMC’s technical and administrative body. It is divided into five specialised offices located in five member states, namely: the Arab Office for Supporting Security Services Affairs (Baghdad, Iraq), the Arab Bureau for Drugs and Crime Affairs (Amman, Jordan), the Arab Bureau for Civil Protection and Environmental Affairs (Rabat, Morocco), the Arab Office for Security Awareness and Media (Cairo, Egypt) and the Arab Office for Combating Extremism and Terrorism (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia). It is through these bodies that the AIMC’s decisions, notably regarding counter-terrorism, are implemented. Furthermore, each member state has a communication division which enables coordination between states and with bodies of the AIMC and facilitates cross-border cooperation.
Regarding the practical functioning of the AIMC, when a wanted person has not yet been arrested and their whereabouts are unknown, often because they have left the country, the state in which the person is wanted can file a request to the AIMC. The AIMC can then transmit the state’s arrest warrant to all Arab League Member States by circulating it between its communication divisions, amplifying its effectiveness and the likelihood of apprehending the wanted person. As the AIMC is made up of Interior Ministries operating as organs of the Member States’ governments, it has the ability to locate individuals within the country without having to wait for the wanted persons to present themselves to the authorities at, for example, an airport or border crossing.
In order to facilitate the tracking and apprehension of wanted individuals, the General Secretariat reportedly holds a database containing information on individuals wanted for alleged criminal activities across its Member States, including acts of terrorism. This database, notably populated with data from Member States, contains wanted individuals’ personal information as well as alleged insights into the methodologies employed for acts of terrorism, among other crimes.
The AIMC reportedly established a Legal Committee tasked with reviewing Member States’ requests to issue search warrants, assessing their alignment with approved standards and mechanisms, and addressing objections raised against search warrants issued by countries, the individuals being sought, or their legal representatives.
The responsibility of circulating the search warrants lies with the Department of Criminal Prosecution and Data within the General Secretariat. This department is tasked with various counterterrorism functions, including facilitating cooperation among Arab nations to apprehend fugitive terrorists, coordinating the exchange of terrorism-related information between Arab countries, managing incoming and outgoing search requests for individuals accused or convicted of terrorist offenses who have fled their home countries, regularly updating and sharing the list of individuals involved in planning, executing, or financing terrorist acts with Member States, enriching the General Secretariat's database of terrorist operatives with pertinent data, and making this database accessible to Member States for collaborative efforts in addressing the issue alongside other Arab nations.
In 2016, the Department of Prosecution and Criminal Data reportedly issued over a thousand search warrants reported to the AIMC by Member States, including 80 warrants aiming to locate individuals wanted for terrorist acts. In 2017, Secretary-General Dr. Muhammad bin Ali Koman announced that AIMC had developed a new application introducing an electronic mechanism for generating search warrants in an effort to locate wanted individuals, this streamlined process aiming to minimise the search duration upon data input.
3. Legal framework
3.1 AIMC’s Basic Laws
The AIMC’s Basic Laws was adopted by the League of Arab States in 1982. The text does not make reference to any human rights standards, nor does it grant individuals the right to file an access request or to demand the removal of arrest warrants diffused against them. Similarly, it does not mention standards of procedure regarding the circulation of arrest warrants or human rights standards.
Nevertheless, the AIMC held an international conference on challenges to security and human rights in the Arab region in its headquarters in 2015, during which the implementation of human rights obligations through guidelines of security institutions was addressed. Furthermore, AIMC’s official website includes a section dedicated to human rights, which includes a video of an arrested person being made aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in which various human rights such as the right to counsel and habeas corpus are respected. The website of the OHCHR is also listed as one of their ‘important links’.
3.2 Riyadh Arab Agreement for Judicial Cooperation
The Riyadh Arab Agreement for Judicial Cooperation (hereinafter “Riyadh Convention”) was adopted and endorsed by the Council of Arab Ministers of Justice in 1983 with the aim to facilitate judicial cooperation between its signatory Arab countries. It notably foresees the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgements provided that they do not violate certain rules including the fundamental principles of Shariah law.
Regarding the matter of extradition, article 41 of the Riyadh Convention contains several exceptions under which extradition cannot be carried out, including if “the crime for which extradition is requested is considered by the laws of the requested party as a crime of a political nature”. Despite this prohibition of extradition for political offences, the Convention excludes a number of offences from being defined as political, notably assaults on kings and presidents as well as robberies committed against individuals or authorities.
3.3 Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism
The Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, the implementation of which is monitored by the AIMC, was adopted by the AIMC and the Council of Arab Ministers of Justice in 1998 as a component of the AIMC’s Strategy against terrorism. According to article 1 of the Convention, terrorism is defined as “any act or threat of violence, whatever its motives or purposes, that occurs in the advancement of an individual or collective criminal agenda and seeking to sow panic among people, causing fear by harming them, or placing their lives, liberty or security in danger, or seeking to cause damage to the environment or to public or private installations or property or to occupying or seizing them, or seeking to jeopardise a national resource”.
The 1998 Convention affirms its commitment to the UN Charter and stresses its promotion of peace and advocacy for the protection of human rights. With regards to extradition, although its article 6(a) prohibits extradition for offences regarded as having a political nature under the laws in force in the requested State, similarly to the Riyadh Convention, article 2(b) excludes from these offences a list of conducts such as attacks on heads of states and destruction of public property, as well as all acts falling within the scope of the Convention’s definition of terrorism.
4. Cooperation with International Organisations
4.1 Relationship with INTERPOL
Aside from bilateral treaties on judicial assistance in criminal and extradition matters,
In 2011, INTERPOL signed a cooperation agreement with Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS), AIMC’s academic branch, in view of “cooperating to strengthen the training activities for police officers”. In 2022, INTERPOL and AIMC adopted a cooperation agreement in view of broadening their scope of cooperation, avoiding a duplication of effort in the implementation of their respective mandates and projects and establishing a clear legal framework for the exchange of data between the two organisations, in order to facilitate the prevention and suppression of ordinary law crimes in the Arab region and globally.
According to INTERPOL’s spokesperson,
4.2 Relationship with the UN Counter-terrorism architecture
In 2022, the AIMC adopted a new Arab counter-terrorism strategy aiming to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism in the Arab region. The strategy was developed with the technical support of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Center (UNCCT) within the United Nations Office of Counter-terrorism (UNOCT) in order to align with the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GCTS) and comply with relevant international obligations and human rights standards. UNCCT/UNOCT have affirmed their commitment to continue supporting AIMC in developing the strategy’s implementation. UNCCT signed an MoU with AIMC in 2018, as well as an MoU with Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS) in 2021, the academic branch of AIMC, to enhance cooperation in areas of common interest to combat terrorism and prevent extremism.
5. Individual cases
The extent of AIMC's involvement in extradition proceedings is unknown. However, we would like to highlight two recent politically motivated extradition proceedings involving AIMC.
5.1 Sherif Osman
Sherif Osman is a U.S.-Egyptian political commentator who posted a video on his YouTube channel in which he called for a peaceful protest during the visit of U.S. President to Egypt to attend COP27. Likely due to this video, during a family visit to Dubai, Osman was arrested on November 6, 2022. As a consequence, he faced extradition to Egypt, where he risked being subjected to torture.
On November 8, he was brought before the Public Prosecutor, who informed him that he was arrested on the basis of a red notice issued by INTERPOL at Egypt’s request. The Prosecutor vaguely referred to Osman’s videos dating back to 2019. However, it was later clarified that the warrant was circulated through the AIMC. The Public Prosecution gave Egypt 30 days to submit a comprehensive extradition request. On November 30, 2022, Osman’s detention was extended for another 30 days. Since his arrest, Osman was denied the right to challenge the legality of his detention and faced numerous impediments to his right to access a lawyer, who could not visit him in prison.
Although he was allowed to leave the UAE and went back to the United States on December 27, 2022, it remains unclear whether the UAE formally rejected Egypt’s extradition request. After a complaint regarding this matter was filed to them, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression submitted a communication to the Egyptian Government, who provided a response which is presently pending official translation.
5.2 Hassan al-Rabea
Hassan Muhammad al-Rabea is a Saudi national from the Shi’a minority whose family has faced a long history of persecution, with several of his relatives executed or on death row. Fearing persecution himself, Mr al-Rabea left Saudi Arabia and arrived in Morocco in June 2022. On October 19, 2022, Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution Office issued an arrest warrant against Mr al-Rabea, stating that Mr al-Rabea is suspected of “collaboration with terrorists by having them agree and collaborate with him to get him outside of Saudi Arabia in an irregular fashion”. Such acts, according to the arrest warrant, fall under article 38 of the 2017 Law on Combating Terrorism Crimes and its Financing, which carries a prison sentence of between 10 to 20 years.
On November 22, 2022, AIMC circulated a request for provisional arrest against Mr al-Rabea upon Saudi Arabia’s request. Following a five-month stay in Morocco, he was arrested at Marrakech airport on January 14, 2023. After his first and only hearing on February 1, 2023, the Rabat Court of Cassation ruled in favour of Mr al-Rabea’s extradition to Saudi Arabia, where he risks being subjected to torture, on the basis of the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, more specifically its articles 5 and 23. He was effectively extradited on February 6, 2023.
5.3 Khalaf al-Romaithi
Khalaf Abdul Rahman Abdulla Humaid al-Romaithi is a member of the “UAE 94”, a group of 94 Emirati scholars, activists, lawyers, doctors, and human rights defenders who were tried in 2013 after signing a petition that asked for democratic reforms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On July 2, 2013, he was convicted in absentia to 15 years in prison based on vague national security-related charges by the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, following a grossly unfair trial. In 2013, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued Opinion No. 60/2013, in which it found that the detention of the 61 individuals convicted in the UAE94 trial was arbitrary.
On May 7, 2023, based on a request by the UAE, he was arrested in Amman airport, Jordan, while he was travelling for a short visit. He was informed that there was an arrest warrant issued by the Arab police department at the request of the United Arab Emirates. The same day, he was brought before a judge, a hearing was set for May 21, 2023, and he was released on bail. However, the following day, on May 8, 2023, he was arrested in a coffee shop in Amman by four members believed to be from the General Intelligence Directorate. They told al-Romaithi that the release decision had been cancelled and that the hearing date had been brought forward to May 16, 2023. According to al-Romaithi’s lawyer, the AIMC contacted the judge overseeing Romaithi's case, expressing concerns about him being a potential flight risk and suggesting that he should not have been allowed to post bail.
On May 9, 2023, al-Romaithi was able to meet with his lawyer during his court session. The lawyer was surprised that the Public Prosecutor had obtained approval from the judge to cancel the bail, and thus the release decision, hours before his second arrest. According to his lawyer, the authorities claimed that the address given for payment of the deposit was different from his actual address where he stayed in Jordan. On the same day, another session took place and he was transferred to Marka prison immediately after. He was supposed to be detained there until his next session on May 16, 2023. However, on May 10, 2023, his lawyer discovered that a decision to release al-Romaithi was issued, without any notification. When his lawyer tried to meet with him in Marka prison, the prison’s administration asked him to report to the Arab and International Police Department / Interpol. However, this department refused to give him any information about his whereabouts. The same day, the lawyer was informed by the same judge who issued the release decision that the Public Prosecutor decided to refer al-Romaithi to the governor of Amman, who decided to deport him outside of the country. He did not specify where he was deported, and whether it was to Turkey or the UAE.
On May 12, 2023, al-Romaithi’s family was informed informally by a Turkish official that he had been extradited to the UAE. On May 12, 2023, Jordanian authorities extradited al-Romaithi to the UAE despite the Amman court's rejection of the UAE's extradition request. Emirati state media claimed al-Romaithi is a 'terrorist' charged with the creation and establishment of a secret organization affiliated with the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. The process of extradition was reportedly conducted under the legal and judicial cooperation of the AIMC.
The AIMC’s dissemination of arrest warrants raises issues regarding international human rights law standards. The Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism’s definition of “terrorism” has been criticised for many of its elements being undefined and for generally being too broad, leaving space for wide interpretation and abuse. For instance, this definition allows for the simple threat of an act to be constitutive of terrorism. “Threat” being undefined in the Convention, this may lead to the criminalisation of acts of freedom of expression consistent with international law. The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms expressed concern over the impact of such a broad definition on restricting the freedom of expression, human rights defenders and critics of the state. The restrictive interpretation of political offences found in the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism as well as in the Riyadh Arab Agreement for Judicial Cooperation enable the AIMC to trigger the extradition of individuals on political grounds, which is inconsistent with international human rights standards. These concerns are of particular importance as the AIMC is made up of ministers who have the power to carry them forward at the national level.
The OHCHR has expressed concern over the “serious challenges to human rights and the rule of law posed by States’ counter-terrorism measures”, notably through “repressive measures (...) used to stifle the voices of human rights defenders, journalists, [and] minorities”, as well as by the return of “persons suspected of engaging in terrorist activities to countries where they face a real risk of torture or other serious human rights abuse, thereby violating the international legal obligation of non-refoulement”. As demonstrated through the cases of Sherif Osman and Hassan al-Rabea, the AIMC’s systems are being used to persecute peaceful political activists and persecuted minority members putting them at risk of torture and other human rights violations in the requesting states. We believe that the issuance of politicised arrest warrants without any prior and continuous oversight may lead to violations of the rights to freedom of belief, opinion, expression and peaceful assembly enshrined in articles 18, 19 and 20 UDHR, 18, 19, 21, 22 ICCPR as well as articles 24 and 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights. It is important to note that article 28 of the Arab Charter explicitly prohibits the extradition of political refugees. Should a review mechanism be established, it would be undermined by the lack of reference to human rights standards in the AIMC’s basic laws.
We also find it concerning that, despite all member states of the Arab League being parties to the UN Convention on Torture, which guarantees that no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, the Riyadh Convention does not refer to the non-refoulement obligation enshrined in article 3 UNCAT and article 5 UDHR.
The Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files can, at the request of individuals, remove a red notice if found to be in violation of INTERPOL’s constitution and rules, it is deleted from the organisation’s systems. Similarly, the Notices and Diffusions Task Force, an institution established by INTERPOL’s Secretary General in 2016, may also unilaterally review red notices on the basis of all available information, including information received from member countries other than the requesting country, and media monitoring. With AIMC, the mechanism for listing individuals and entities as terrorist, in addition to the adopted criteria, appear to be unclear. Moreover, although the Legal Committee's scope suggests the possibility of an individual's right to challenge an arrest warrant, the actual process for doing so is uncertain and seems to lack accessibility. Further, the composition of this Legal Committee includes representative from Member States, giving rise to apprehensions about the impartiality and independence of its functioning.
With AIMC’s meetings being closed, their meeting agendas not being announced in advance and their documentation not being accessible on their website, there is no accessible information regarding measures implemented to check and filter out abuses of its systems and it is generally very difficult for human rights organisations to engage with them.
7. Communication of the UN Special Procedures
On June 23, 2023, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues issued a communication to the Arab League raising their concerns about the AIMC. In this communication, the UN experts asked the League of Arab States to provide information on how the definition of terrorism in the Arab Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism is narrowly construed to guarantee that measures taken pursuant to it do not unduly interfere with human rights while complying with the principle of legality; explain how [arrest warrant diffusion system] of the AIMC ensures the access of wanted person, including for terrorism charges, to legal and procedural safeguards, when detained pending extradition; what risk assessment is required from Member States requesting the extradition of an individual, to ascertain that persons are not being accused or convicted for offenses of political nature and are not at risk of being tortured or subjected to an unfair trial, if extradited, provide detailed information on the review and oversight system, within the AIMC, allowing wanted persons to access their criminal file and submit a request to review or remove an arrest warrant issued against them. To this day, neither AIMC nor the Arab League have responded to the Special Procedures’ communication.
8. Conclusions and requests
In light of the foregoing, MENA Rights Group and Freedom Initiative call on the AIMC to:
- introduce human rights standards in AIMC’s Basic Law;
- provide clarification on the mechanism allowing individuals the right to file an access request or to demand the removal of arrest warrants diffused against them;
- shed light on the process to conduct compliance checks on arrest warrants requests from every AIMC member country
- Respond to the questions contained in communication No. OL OTH 71/2023 sent by the UN Special Procedures on June 23, 2023.
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 Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin - Mission to Egypt, 14 October 2009, UN Doc. A/HRC/13/37/Add.2, par. 11; 52, https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/a-hrc-13-37-add2.pdf (accessed 15 February 2023).
 Open Society Foundations, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, The League of Arab States Human Rights Standards and Mechanisms: Towards Further Civil Society Engagement - A Manual for Practitioners, 30 November 2015, p. 26, https://cihrs.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/league-arab-states-manual-en-20151125.pdf (accessed 15 February 2023).
 OHCHR, Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism, 1 July 2008, Fact Sheet 32, https://www.ohchr.org/en/publications/fact-sheets/fact-sheet-no-32-terrorism-and-counter-terrorism (accessed 9 February 2023).
 OHCHR, OL OTH 71/2023, 23 June 2023 4 https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=28070 (accessed 15 August 2023).
 Open Society Foundations, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, The League of Arab States Human Rights Standards and Mechanisms: Towards Further Civil Society Engagement - A Manual for Practitioners, 30 November 2015, p. 26, https://cihrs.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/league-arab-states-manual-en-20151125.pdf (accessed 15 February 2023).
 OHCHR, OL OTH 71/2023, 23 June 2023, https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=28070 (accessed 14 August 2023).