Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Opinion

Interpol needs EU help to stop abuse

  • Red Notices are 'wanted person' alerts that can be used by almost any country in the world to locate and arrest individuals with a view to extradition. (Photo: Daniele Zanni)

The EU is working to prevent the misuse of Interpol, and it should be encouraged to do so.

This has been a bountiful year for controversial Interpol Red Notices, which have triggered several high-profile arrests of activists and writers living in exile in the EU in recent months.

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Red Notices are 'wanted person' alerts that can be used by almost any country in the world to locate and arrest individuals with a view to extradition.

It seems that following the arrests of Swedish-Turkish reporter Hamza Yalcin and German-Turkish writer Dogan Akhanli in Spain in August, EU member states have become more acutely aware that Red Notices can be abused by certain governments to harass dissidents living overseas.

Following the debate that took place at the European Parliament earlier this month, it would appear that both the EU and its member states are taking more proactive steps to help Interpol to protect itself from abuse.

'Profoundly worrying'

However, this approach has also been described as 'profoundly worrying', supposedly because this undermines Interpol's political neutrality.

It seems to have been suggested that, given Interpol's system of checking all Red Notices prior to circulation and its newly improved redress mechanism, the EU's interventions are inappropriate and concerns over the misuse of Interpol's Red Notices should instead be discussed in the relatively closed confines of the Interpol general assembly.

Interpol has rules and policies that are intended to strike the right balance of facilitating international cooperation whilst also ensuring that vulnerable individuals are not unfairly targeted in ways that violate their human rights.

For example, Interpol has rules that confirm its commitment to act in the spirit of international human rights standards, and to ensure that its activities are not politically motivated in any way.

But the main challenge is how these rules are enforced in practice. Does Interpol have systems in place that prevent countries from abusing Red Notices for political purposes and in ways that violate human rights?

Is there an effective mechanism that enables individuals to challenge abusive Red Notices? Does Interpol's interpretation of its own rules provide sufficient protections for individuals?

These challenges have been highlighted by Fair Trials, a UK-based NGO, since the publication of its report in 2013, which identified how weaknesses in Interpol review mechanisms were allowing Red Notices to be used by repressive states to export human rights violations.

It is very encouraging to see that, since the publication of this report, Interpol has responded to these concerns by adopting a number of significant measures to protect its systems from abuse.

These include improvements to its system of reviewing Red Notices prior to their dissemination, and the wide-ranging reforms to the Commission for the Control of Interpol's Files (CCF) - Interpol's complaints mechanism.

Work needed

It would be overly optimistic to assume that the mere adoption of these changes will by themselves result in improved protection for individuals, and work needs to be done to ensure that the reforms are implemented effectively.

The arrests of Akhanli and Yalcin strongly suggest that whatever the improvements to Interpol's review procedures might be, the system is still far from perfect, and that recognised refugees, journalists, and political activists living in exile are still being targeted through Red Notices that clearly violate Interpol's rules.

In some ways, this is unsurprising, given that reviewing Red Notices is clearly a very challenging task for Interpol.

Interpol has to review over 11,000 new Red Notices per year, in addition to around 20,000 "diffusions" (which are similar to Red Notices, but less formal).

There are also questions about how Interpol identifies abusive Red Notices, and what information it relies on to make its assessments.

While the reforms to the CCF appear to bring its procedures closer in line with international standards on due process, it is much too early to tell whether or not they have made the CCF an effective redress mechanism, given that they only came into force in spring this year.

By helping Interpol to protect itself from abuse, the EU is only helping Interpol to enforce its own rules, and to implement its reforms effectively.

Rather than seeing this as political interference, the EU's offer of assistance to Interpol should be seen as an attempt to make it a more effective international cooperation mechanism by shielding it from political abuse.

Interpol needs powerful actors to support its work and its reforms, and the EU can and should provide that positive influence.

Bruno Min is a legal and policy officer at Fair Trials, a UK-based NGO.

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