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NEWS

How to end the abuse of INTERPOL: insights from America and Europe

admin - December 18, 2018 - INTERPOL

This year’s INTERPOL General Assembly brought concerns over the suggestion that a Russian delegate was the favourite to succeed Meng Hongwei as its next President. INTERPOL has received criticism for how it has allowed the misuse of its alert system, with Russia one among a number of countries well known for its abuse. The election result was, in the end, a positive surprise when Kim Jong-yang of South Korea was appointed President. Despite the outcome, the risks to INTERPOL’s reputation remain, and the new presidency is an opportunity for the organisation to introduce the much-needed further reforms.

Given the heightened awareness of the abuse of INTERPOL’s ‘wanted person’ alerts by certain countries, there has never been a better time for lawyers, academics, policy makers, and civil society organisations to try to understand the challenges and find ways of addressing them.

In the United States, the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) and the Antonin Scalia Law School’s National Security Institute (NSI) organised a conference at the George Mason University on 28 November, turning the spotlight on this critical threat: The Abuse and Exploitation of Red Notices, Interpol and the U.S. Judicial Process by Russia and other Authoritarian States. Bruno Min, Fair Trials’ Senior Legal Advisor took part in a panel discussion on the abuse of Red Notices and the INTERPOL system.

The use of INTERPOL Red Notices and Diffusions has increased substantially in the recent years, and this has heightened the risk that these valuable tools for police cooperation may be misused as tools of oppression. But this is not a new phenomenon – Fair Trials has been highlighting the abuse of INTERPOL since 2012. However, the claim that things are only worsening is not strictly true: INTERPOL has shown awareness of the problems and has begun to make reforms. Those introduced are welcome, but there are still major problems with transparency, missing statistics and a simple lack of resources.

Bruno said: “We don’t actually know who the worst abuser of INTERPOL is because the statistics don’t exist, and we can’t know how many requests are refused. Also, we don’t know how effective the reforms are – if they were, we wouldn’t be hearing about these cases where requests were issued for human rights defenders.”

The solution for INTERPOL’s problems is not, however, to exclude countries, as Bruno emphasised: “We need strong international organisations to tackle international crime and keep the world safe. We don’t want countries like Russia and Turkey to become safe havens for criminals by excluding them from INTERPOL altogether.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (‘PACE’) met on 13 December to continue the work previously led by the German MP Bernd Fabritius, by monitoring how well INTERPOL has stuck to its commitment to do better. MPs gathered from across Europe to hear from Bruno Min and Mary Rodriguez, INTERPOL’s General Counsel.

This was a rare opportunity for policy-makers to hear directly from INTERPOL about how it tries to prevent the misuses of its systems. There are no doubt positive changes being introduced by INTERPOL. It was reported at this meeting that INTERPOL has embarked on a programme with the help of certain member countries to ‘clean-up’ its databases so that they can identify and delete alerts that were improperly circulated without proper review. PACE also heard that INTERPOL restricts certain countries’ access to databases if they believe that they are repeatedly and systemically violating its rules.

However, Bruno remarked that problems remain. INTERPOL faces serious capacity issues which undermines its ability to prevent the misuse of its systems, as recently illustrated in the case of Hakeem Al-Araibi, and INTERPOL needs to do a better job of persuading the public that the changes they have adopted in recent years are having an impact. It is also important that member countries play a role too, by ensuring that they are better sensitised to the risks of over-reliance on INTERPOL alerts.

Read more about our work on INTERPOL here, watch our latest short film on the topic here, and read our recent report ‘Dismantling the tools of oppression: Ending the misuse of INTERPOL’  here.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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