Friday

15th Feb 2019

Opinion

EU should act on political abuse of Interpol

  • The EU's draft law on data privacy should pay attention to Interpol abuse (Photo: Swift)

Last week, British businessman Bill Browder spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum about his successful campaign to have the US legislature impose asset freezes and travel bans on Russian officials connected to the death of his former accountant, Sergei Magnitsky.

It may be more difficult for him to travel to attend other similar events following reports that Russian authorities, angered by his campaign, are now pursuing him through Interpol, the international police co-operation organisation.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He was almost forced to cancel a trip to a seminar in Germany next week, until the German justice minister intervened personally to guarantee him safe passage.

Sadly, this is not a unique case of abuse of Interpol’s systems.

This week, for example, Fair Trials International highlighted the case of Petr Silaev, a young Russian activist who participated in a demonstration against a controversial motorway development in the Khimki forest near Moscow.

Silaev was one of many activists targeted in a widespread police crackdown following the demonstration and fled to the European Union, where he was granted political asylum by Finland.

Despite this, late last year he was arrested and detained in Spain after Moscow investigators used Interpol’s systems to seek his arrest on a charge of "hooliganism" - the same offence used to imprison the Russian punk band Pussy Riot.

Fortunately, after the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and German Green MEP Barbara Lochbihler intervened on his behalf, Spain threw out Russia’s extradition request.

It also recognised, like the Finnish asylum authority before it, that he was the victim of a politically-motivated persecution.

But all the same, Silaev knows that his personal information has been circulated to police throughout the European Union and he cannot rule out a repeat of this experience if he travels.

Nor is the problem restricted to Russia.

Last year, Interpol admitted that its systems had been abused by Indonesia, which had sought and obtained a "red notice" designating Benny Wenda - the leader of the movement for the independence of West Papua, who has now been recognised as refugee by the United Kingdom - as a "wanted person."

The notice appeared on Interpol’s website with a photo, tarnishing the image of both Benny himself and the movement he represents.

Towards reform

That prosecutors in countries such as Belarus, Iran, Venezuela and Indonesia should seek to abuse Interpol’s networks is perhaps unsurprising given the regular political abuses of justice prevalent in those countries.

What is more concerning is Interpol’s failure to put in place effective mechanisms to detect and prevent these abuses.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has highlighted this problem, expressing its "concern about abuse of the red notice system by states whose judicial systems do not meet international standards."

The European Union should follow suit and support Interpol in developing better safeguards.

As British centre-right MEP Charles Tannock MEP recently said, "something must be done" to combat political abuses.

With the recent publication of the EU’s draft new data protection laws, guaranteeing citizens' rights to access their personal data and the "right to be forgotten" from corporate databases, the European Union ought to be particularly concerned about Interpol, which is based in France, allowing countries to use its networks to circulate information on wanted persons across the globe without its prior approval.

The case of Alaksiey Michalevic, the Belarusian opposition politician recognised as a refugee by the Czech Republic, also highlights the dangers of this.

Despite Interpol refusing Belarus' request for a "red notice" against him, he was nevertheless detained at Warsaw airport - leading Poland, embarrassed following the incident, to call for reform of Interpol.

Fair Trials International has asked Interpol to clarify how Michalevic's personal data found its way onto Polish computers against Interpol’s wishes but has, as yet, received no response.

Having discussed these issues with Interpol, and worked now on numerous cases of journalists, campaigners and human rights defenders who have come to us for help challenging wanted person alerts, Fair Trials International believes that Interpol needs to be reformed.

Simple changes could help tackle abuses and enhance Interpol’s effectiveness as a crime-fighting instrument.

Absent these reforms, Interpol’s credibility risks being repeatedly undermined by states who do not respect the rights which it has committed to uphold.

The writer is a law reform officer at Fair Trials International, a British-based NGO concerned with global criminal justice

Let Turkey into Europol, British MPs say

Turkey should be allowed to become a member of the EU's joint police body, Europol, no matter what happens with its EU membership bid, a new report by the British parliament has said.

Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?

There can be no more excuses for business. They will be held for responsible for their failure to take action to prevent the risk of human and labour rights through their supply chains.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

What does Poland want from the EU?

We propose several changes to the EU, derived from the political philosophy behind the current Polish government, and what Poles expect from the EU - this could be seen as a manifesto Poland wants the next European Commission to tackle.

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us