Monday

18th Mar 2019

Opinion

Interpol and the EU: don't play politics

  • Spanish police detained Akhanli, a dissident writer, on Turkey's accusation he was a terrorist (Photo: Contando Estrelas)

On 5 October, EUobserver reported that EU member states were in talks with Interpol to help stop political abuse of the police agency.

This report followed a debate at the European Parliament on 4 October, during which the chairperson of the Council of the EU, Matti Maasikas, warned MEPs about the "possible abuse of Interpol Red Notices for political purposes".

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

  • "I thought I was safe in Europe," Akhanli, who is fighting extradition to Turkey, said (Photo: Amnesty International)

According to Maasikas, the issue "is a matter of great concern to the Council", and the presidency of the Council of the EU plans to raise the matter with Interpol at a meeting on 20 November.

This debate went by largely unnoticed. But much of the substance and tenor of Maasikas' comments is profoundly worrying.

Interpol is the world's largest international police organisation, with 193 member countries. One of Interpol's primary tools is the publication and circulation of so-called 'Red Notices.'

Red Notices are issued at the request of either a member country's national central bureau (which serves as the contact point for all Interpol activities in the field) or certain international entities with powers of investigation and prosecution in criminal matters.

The purpose of a Red Notice is to seek the location of a wanted person and his or her detention, arrest, or restriction of movement for the purpose of extradition, surrender, or similar lawful action. Plainly, the potential for Interpol to be used by a member country for political means is not altogether fanciful.

Indeed, during its early days, Interpol was commandeered by a single country. In a speech in 2008, the then Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble recalled that, in 1938, Interpol lacked clear and formal rules to safeguard the integrity and independence of its work.

The consequences were enormous.

"[W]hen the Nazi regime invaded Austria in March 1938, they had to simply remove and arrest the head of the Austrian police, who under the statutes of the organisation [Interpol] at the time was automatically the president of the organisation. Heinrich Himmler, who controlled both the SS and the Gestapo, personally appointed an ex-convict and member of the Austrian Nazi Party as the head of the Austrian police and, consequently, as the president of Interpol", Noble said.

"At that point, the organisation ceased to exist as an independent and professional international police organisation".

Interpol learned its lesson.

Today's Interpol

Its constitution now provides that the organisation's focus is on preventing and combatting ordinary law crimes, as opposed to political, military, religious, and racial crimes. Interpol also adopted formal rules and regulations to govern its operations. 

Its governance structure is now designed to ensure that no single country can dominate or dictate its activities. It is these attributes that allow Interpol to police on a global level today.

Despite these positive developments, Interpol's channels have been, on occasion, used by a member country for political purposes.

One can, for example, point to the case of Bill Browder and his treatment at the hands of Russia.

Indeed, Maasikas' complaints of abuse appear to have been precipitated by calls from a Turkish prosecutor to issue a Red Notice in respect of Can Dundar (the former editor-in-chief of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, who is currently living in exile in Germany), in addition to the recent arrests, reportedly pursuant to Red Notice requests by Turkey, of Dogan Akhanli (a Turkish-German writer) and Hamza Yalcın (a Swedish-Turkish journalist).

Maasikas indicated that talks with Interpol would focus on "possible improvements to the existing Interpol systems".

He said "it is important that the proper review should take place before Red Notices are issued … It is essential that the rights of our citizens are protected and that an effective redress mechanism exists."

These comments are curious. Very curious.

Red Notices are properly reviewed before publication. Interpol's general secretariat is responsible for checking the compliance of all Red Notice requests with Interpol's rules, and the general secretariat should only publish Red Notice requests deemed to be in compliance with Interpol's rules.

In addition, the general secretariat is responsible for ensuring that published notices continue to comply with the conditions for their publication and, to that end, the general secretariat must review published notices on a regular basis.

Likewise, "an effective redress mechanism exists."

Right of redress

Every individual has the right to access, correct and/or delete data processed in the Interpol information system.

This right is recognised and guaranteed by Interpol's basic texts and corresponds to an individual's inalienable human right to privacy as reflected in many international and regional treaties.

In fact, the Commission for the Control of Files (CCF) (an independent, impartial body, responsible for ensuring that the processing of personal data conforms to the applicable Interpol rules) received 1,047 complaints from individuals in 2016 alone.

In light of Maasikas' professed concerns, it is strange that the potential for abuse of the Red Notice procedure was not raised by EU member states at the 86th meeting of the Interpol general assembly two weeks ago.

If EU member states were unhappy with the process by which Red Notices were published or with the CCF complaints procedure, they can, as member countries of Interpol, voice their reservations before the Interpol general assembly.

Debate can then take place and, if necessary, the relevant rules can be reviewed. As a matter of fact, at its 2016 session, the Interpol general assembly debated and adopted a new statute of the CCF which created a dedicated Requests Chamber with quasi-judicial powers to handle complaints of individuals.

How did this new mechanism, effective as of March this year, operate in the cases flagged by Maasikas?

Clearly, if it cannot be demonstrated that the new mechanism failed to afford Akhanli and Yalcin a fair process, one is left to wonder why these cases caught Maasikas' attention and should be treated any differently to any other case before the CCF.

Strong-arming the law

Evidently, an individual who finds himself the subject of a Red Notice must not be permitted to use the influence of a certain region to strong-arm the general secretariat.

Such an individual should not be treated any differently to individuals with cases pending before the CCF.

In this regard, Maasikas' call for EU member states "to provide their ideas and to take this discussion further … to give ammunition to the presidency" at the meeting of 20 November smacks of a political power play.

More worryingly, it threatens to undermine the political neutrality of Interpol and the treatment of individuals who cannot enlist EU political support.

If Interpol requires reform, follow the process for reform. Don't play politics.

Rutsel Silvestre J. Martha is the founder of Lindeborg Counsellors, a law firm in London that specialises in Interpol matters, and Interpol's former general counsel. Stephen Bailey is a counsel at Lindeborg Counsellors who has advised individuals and companies on Interpol issues

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

EU must get real on Russia

The EU must call the Ukraine conflict by its true name - Russia's illegal war on its peaceful neighbour - and take commensurate action to protect peace in Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out
  2. Three killed in possible 'terror' gun attack in Utrecht
  3. Third Brexit vote this week only if DUP will support it
  4. Germany's two largest banks confirm merger talks
  5. Serbian pro-democracy protests reach 15th week
  6. 'Yellow Vest' riots leave Paris shops vandalised
  7. European woman older when having first baby
  8. Majority of Germans want Merkel to stay on

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Let's put women in charge of peace talks

We need a more meaningful representation of women in EU institutions and on EU's negotiation tables abroad. The most successful EU deal in the last years, the Iran deal, was brokered by women – Frederica Mogherini and Helga Schmid.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  2. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  5. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  6. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  7. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  9. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  10. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  12. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us