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Publication

Dismantling the tools of oppression

Ending the misuse of INTERPOL

October 4, 2018 - INTERPOL;
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This report explores the successes and failures of the reforms INTERPOL has enacted in recent years to try and combat the abuse of its systems. It follows Fair Trials' earlier report 'Strengthening Respect for Human Rights, Strengthening INTERPOL'.

INTERPOL plays an important role in the global fight against crime, but their systems have been misused by authoritarian regimes intent on targeting refugees and critics abroad. For the last few years, Fair Trials has been campaigning for simple changes to help make INTERPOL a more effective crime-fighting tool. INTERPOL can and must do better at filtering out abuses of its systems before information is sent out to police forces across the globe. When abusive ‘wanted person’ alerts do slip through the net, victims should have redress through an open and impartial process.

Whilst the majority of INTERPOL Red Notices may be legitimate, people who are subject to abusive notices should not just be seen as ‘collateral damage’. The abuse of cross-border mechanisms undermines the efficacy and legitimacy of these mechanisms, and human rights should never be seen as a ‘necessary sacrifice’ to combatting terrorism.

 

 

In 2013, Fair Trials published a report – Strengthening respect for human rights, strengthening INTERPOL – which highlighted how INTERPOL, the world’s largest police cooperation body, was vulnerable to abuse by countries seeking to use its systems against human rights defenders, political activists and journalists living in exile. INTERPOL’s Constitution requires its international wanted person alert system to operate in compliance with the principle of neutrality and human rights. In practice, however, these requirements have not been consistently complied with, undermining INTERPOL’s credibility as a tool in the fight against global crime.

Since 2013, INTERPOL has taken action to address the concerns we highlighted, and in line with our reform recommendations relating to the problems arising from:

  • INTERPOL’s interpretation of its own constitutional commitments to political neutrality and human rights;
  • the inadequacy of the systems in place to detect and prevent non-compliant INTERPOL alerts from being circulated; and
  • the ineffectiveness of the remedies available to people who believe they are subject to an unjust INTERPOL alert.

Firstly, in 2015 INTERPOL announced a new policy confirming that INTERPOL alerts in relation to individuals with refugee status are not permitted if they are requested by the country from which the individual sought asylum. Secondly, INTERPOL has reasserted control over the data published on its databases, ensuring that all INTERPOL alerts are subjected to more detailed scrutiny. In the case of Red Notices, this now takes place before they are circulated,and in the case of Diffusions, INTERPOL aims to carry out its review shortly after they have been circulated. Thirdly, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files – the body to which individuals wishing to challenge the validity of an INTERPOL alert submit requests – has undergone significant reform which we hope will enable it to operate as an efficient and transparent
redress mechanism which adheres to basic standards of due process.

While these reforms represent a major step forward in INTERPOL’s efforts to protect itself from abuse, there is still work to be done to ensure that its commitment to the protection of human rights, in the context of international police cooperation, is upheld.

We call upon INTERPOL to ensure that each of the recent reforms is implemented effectively in practice, and to collate and publish data which enables effective monitoring of their impact. Member States too have an important role to play, including by ensuring that INTERPOL has adequate resources to implement its reforms effectively.

We have also outlined a series of further reforms which remain necessary in order to ensure that INTERPOL’s systems are well-protected against abuse. We are amazed by the level of engagement and support this issue has generated, and we are delighted that there is now increased awareness of the need to prevent the abuse of INTERPOL amongst policy-makers, civil society organisations, lawyers, and journalists. We are committed to continuing our constructive and fruitful collaboration with other civil society organisations, the legal community, as well as INTERPOL itself and its Member States, in order to support the organisation in the process of ensuring effective implementation, and to pursue further reforms. We will also be trying to deepen our engagement with political bodies and to develop stronger relationships with national police agencies.

INTERPOL’s interpretation of its own constitutional commitments to political neutrality and human rights; the inadequacy of the systems in place to detect and prevent non-compliant INTERPOL alerts from being circulated; and the ineffectiveness of the remedies available to people who believe they are subject to an unjust INTERPOL alert.

Finally, we acknowledge that INTERPOL is not the only cross-border mechanism that exposes individuals to human rights violations, and that the strengthening of its systems against misuse may result in Member States using alternative mechanisms to track, harass and undermine their opponents. We will work to detect such trends and, using the INTERPOL example of emerging good practice, develop recommendations to strengthen human rights protections.
 

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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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