Sunday

21st Apr 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.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us