BEIRUT: An organization that apparently has been posing as a U.N. agency for years has been exposed as fraudulent and accused of providing diplomatic passports to convicts and fugitives.
Controversial herb doctor Zein al-Atat, who had been appointed goodwill ambassador by the so-called International Human Rights Commission and promised a diplomatic passport, was surprised to learn that the agency was not related to the United Nations, sources close to him said Monday.
“They told Mr. Zein that they are related to the United Nations,” the source told The Daily Star. “We were surprised also ... We’re not sure now whether [the group] is fake or not.”
Promised he would receive a diplomatic passport as part of his role as ambassador, Atat posted photographs of his new certification and preliminary diplomatic ID on his various accounts on social media.
Atat appeared on LBCI TV news Saturday and confirmed that “the head of a United Nations organization,” Dr. Mohamed Shahid Khan, who is listed as IHRC’s world chairman on the group’s website, had appointed him goodwill ambassador. The United Nations categorically denied any ties to the organization.
But the factors that led Atat to regard the group as legitimate and the “honor” bestowed on him as genuine were convincing.
The source close to Atat told The Daily Star that the doctor was convinced of the group’s legitimacy when he looked at its website and Khan showed him pictures of himself with several notable Lebanese politicians.
Photographs of Khan in a meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam in April, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk whom IHRC refers to as the culture minister – and former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss in December do in fact appear on the website. The meetings were also featured on the National News Agency.
Evidence of IHRC’s long-standing presence in Lebanon is clear as there are meetings with high-ranking politicians featured on the NNA dating back to 2012.
Head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim was also appointed IHRC’s plenipotentiary ambassador of security and peace last April.
Sources close to Salam were not available to comment on his relationship with the organization.
The group’s website details Khan’s visits with several leaders around the world and lists dozens of global ambassadors.
The management section of the website raises further question marks. Former President Emile Lahoud is listed as IHRC’s president and former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is listed as co-president, along with a variety of former and current heads of state from across Africa.
The Daily Star was unable to reach Lahoud to comment on his position within the organization.
“This organization is not related to the U.N. in anyway,” Abdel-Salam Sidahmed, regional representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told The Daily Star.
Sidahmed explained that diplomatic passports were restricted to U.N. staff a diplomats. OHCHR is the only human rights body of the U.N. and it does not have any goodwill ambassadors, he added.
LBCI claimed that the organization was issuing passports to ex-convicts and fugitives who were not eligible to receive travel documents.
IHRC does not clearly outline a purported relationship with the United Nations on its website, but the group’s insignia resembles that of the official United Nations logo and is used throughout its online content.
For instance, IHRC’s page on Ukraine – where the group claims they underwent an elections monitoring mission – is littered with U.N. logos as well as U.N. official documents, which are publically available.
The Daily Star contacted IHRC’s office in Lebanon but was informed that the number listed was not related to the organization.
In a further twist, IHRC also manages a beauty pageant titled Miss Universal Peace and Humanity Organization, which caused some controversy last year as it was planned to be held in Lebanon but never came to fruition, much to the distress of contestants.
Asra Shahid Khan, the director of the pageant and also wife of IHRC’s world chairman, announced on Nov. 25 that the pageant would be taking place in Beirut, but subsequently canceled on Dec. 10 due to security reasons and a ceremonial queen was appointed.
Critical Beauty, a pageant blog, posted several complaints of potential contestants decrying the lack of transparency and information provided by Asra Shahid Khan regarding the event.
Asra Shahid Khan is also IHRC’s senior vice chairperson and foreign affairs minister and is a graduate of the Islamabad Model School, according to the group’s website.
Maarouf Mezher, a lawyer and member of the Beirut Bar Association, said that the organization was liable if it is indeed publishing fake passports and misrepresenting itself as a U.N. body.
Mezher added that the group’s apparent political connections would not prevent its prosecution.
“We are speaking about the law, not about people, nobody is above law,” he said. “Anybody that is issuing fake documents could face imprisonment.” – With additional reporting by Elise Knutsen
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 24, 2015, on page 4.