Category: Political Prosecutions & INTERPOL

Bill Browder’s Case Highlights Loopholes in Relief INTERPOL Grants Victims of Red Notice Abuse

Bill Browder’s Case Highlights Loopholes in Relief INTERPOL Grants Victims of Red Notice Abuse

On May 30 of this year, acting on an INTERPOL alert, Spanish authorities detained Bill Browder, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime.  Prior to this arrest, Russia had reportedly made at least five attempts to put Mr. Browder on the international wanted list.  In the past, INTERPOL refused to cooperate, citing the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), which concluded that his case was predominantly political.  After several hours and, reportedly, the personal involvement of the INTERPOL Secretary General, Spanish police released Mr. Browder.

The full circumstances of this arrest remain unclear.  According to some reports, at the time, there was an active Russian request to detain Mr. Browder published in INTERPOL’s database.  INTERPOL, however, denied its involvement, and some commentators argued that Spain could have acted on old information in its national database, which the country failed to update timely to reflect the changes in INTERPOL’s files.  In its public statement, INTERPOL denies that there has ever been a red notice against Mr. Browder recorded in its database, but as Ted Bromund rightfully notes, the statement “is economic with the truth.”  The fact that INTERPOL has never approved a red notice against Mr. Browder doesn’t mean that there has never been a diffusion against him in the organization’s database.  Unlike red notices, diffusions aren’t subject to any screening from INTERPOL prior to their publication.  Indeed, in 2017, Russia reportedly succeeded in publishing a diffusion against Mr. Browder.  That is, after several unsuccessful attempts to have INTERPOL approve a red notice, the Russian government took the easier path of publishing a diffusion, thereby bypassing any preliminary check from the organization.

Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Moscow

Whether it was a failure to update the national database or a new diffusion that led to Mr. Browder’s arrest in Spain, both can happen to anyone who has ever been on the INTERPOL wanted list.  As long as either of these scenarios exists, any relief the CCF grants victims of red notice or diffusion abuse is limited at best.

The fact that individuals remain under the threat of arrest just because INTERPOL and its member countries have failed to ensure that national and INTERPOL databases are simultaneously updated is, quite frankly, appalling.  Objectively, this should have been the first obvious step to ensure that decisions to remove individuals from the international wanted list were enforced.  At the same time, the lack of an official public statement from INTERPOL on how it works to prevent the publication of red notices and diffusions the CCF has already declared unlawful, is yet another reason to wonder if the organization even has a plan to deal with the problem.

The public deserves to know whether INTERPOL is committed to enforcing its own decisions not to cooperate with governments in individual cases.  Does the organization monitor all incoming red notices and diffusions to make sure they are not published if the CCF has already found them to be predominantly political or otherwise unlawful?  If it is a matter of finding and implementing a reliable technology, the loophole should be easy to fix: such monitoring could be conducted via reliable computer software.  If, however, it is a matter of policy and INTERPOL allows governments to publish red notices and diffusions already found to be in violation of the organization’s rules, the problem is much more serious.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, Moscow

If INTERPOL has interpreted its rules to mean that governments can, under certain circumstances, place individuals, whose complaints the CCF has already approved, on the international wanted list, then its interpretation is wrong.  Only the CCF has the power to reverse its own decisions.  Neither the INTERPOL Constitution nor its other regulations grant any other body that power.  If INTERPOL believes it can allow a government to put an individual, already declared a victim of INTERPOL abuse, on the wanted list if the government simply brings new charges, it is hard to imagine that INTERPOL doesn’t realize how easy it is for a government to come up with new trumped-up charges.

Whether it is a technological or a policy loophole that allows governments to continue to use INTERPOL to persecute individuals the CCF has already declared victims of red notice or diffusion abuse, that loophole must be closed immediately.  If INTERPOL fails to act, there will be many more cases like Bill Browder’s.  In the meantime, Russia is already reportedly considering its next, seventh, attempt to put him on the international wanted list.

INTERPOL Red Notice Abuse: Whistleblowers Have Rights Too

INTERPOL Red Notice Abuse: Whistleblowers Have Rights Too

It has been reported that INTERPOL has refused to cooperate with Russia in the case of Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory-turned-whistleblower.  Mr. Rochenkov has publicly accused the Russian government of running a doping scheme during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.  Mr. Rodchenkov’s case may look like just another government trying to abuse INTERPOL’s resources to persecute a political opponent.  However, it stands out because the target of the red notice is a whistleblower wanted not because of his political beliefs but because as a previous insider, he witnessed and exposed the government’s misconduct.

Mr. Rodchenkov’s story prompted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to investigate the allegations.  Mr. Rodchenkov’s story is described in media reports and the Academy Award-winning documentary “Icarus.”  After Mr. Rodchenkov went public with his story, the Russian government filed criminal charges against him.  He managed to leave the country, and Russian law enforcement sought INTERPOL’s cooperation in locating him and bringing him back.

INTERPOL’s rules don’t specifically address the red notice abuse against whistleblowers.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the INTERPOL Constitution and the organization’s regulations based on it protect whistleblowers to the same degree they protect politicians, activists, reporters, entrepreneurs, and other individuals who often become victims of politically motivated criminal charges.  Mr. Rodchenkov’s case proves that to comply with its Constitution, which strictly prohibits INTERPOL from undertaking any activity of a political nature, it is crucial for the organization to protect whistleblowers from the abuse of its resources.

INTERPOL Sees Increase in Complaints from Refugees, Highlights Politically Motivated Prosecutions of Businessmen Among Main Issues

INTERPOL Sees Increase in Complaints from Refugees, Highlights Politically Motivated Prosecutions of Businessmen Among Main Issues

In its 2016, most recent, annual report, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files cites an increase in the number of complaints from refugees and for the first time in its annual public disclosures recognizes politically motivated prosecutions of businessmen among the main issues before it.  Although notable, the increase in complaints from refugees was expected.  In June 2014, the INTERPOL Executive Committee introduced a policy, which provided refugees with a somewhat simplified path to red-notice-free status.  It isn’t surprising, therefore, that more refugees have been petitioning INTERPOL to delete their information from its files.  However, that INTERPOL has finally publicly named politically motivated red notices issued against businessmen among its main issues is a very important development.

For a long time, long before the Commission’s 2016 report, entrepreneurs have been among the main targets of INTERPOL red notice abuse.  Nevertheless, INTERPOL would not admit the problem to the general public. Instead, human rights advocates and the media reported multiple individual cases.  Entrepreneurs who take on an active role in politics or find themselves in a dispute with a government or with someone closely connected to the government often become victims of corrupt prosecutions based on trumped-up charges.  Such prosecutions are regularly used to retaliate against entrepreneurs who refuse to cease their political activities, give up their business interests, or abandon legitimate civil lawsuits or administrative or criminal complaints.  Entrepreneurs who manage to leave their countries before the government restricts their freedom of movement are often arrested abroad, placed in extradition proceedings, find themselves unable to travel, do business, or simply open a personal bank account due to the red notice or diffusion recorded in INTERPOL’s files.

Article 2 of the INTERPOL Constitution requires international police cooperation to be conducted in accordance with the member countries’ national laws and in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 3 strictly forbids INTERPOL to undertake any “intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.”  An individual on the INTERPOL wanted list who believes that in the course of the criminal case the government violated the country’s laws, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or prosecuted the individual for her or his political beliefs should consider invoking Article 2 or Article 3 or both.  In addition, entrepreneurs should consider the “private disputes” provision of the INTERPOL Rules on the Processing of Data.  The provision prohibits the publication of a red notice if the offense behind it derives from a private dispute, “unless the criminal activity is aimed at facilitating a serious crime or is suspected of being connected to organized crime.”  Some of the Commission’s decisions regarding red notices and diffusions issued against entrepreneurs suggest that entrepreneurs may indeed benefit from the “private disputes” provision, for example, when a red notice or diffusion arises from a dispute of a civil, rather than criminal, nature and, therefore, must be resolved in the course of a civil, rather than criminal, trial.

The INTERPOL Repository of Practice contains very useful information about INTERPOL’s application of Article 3 to red notices and diffusions issued in a political context, including charges against current and former politicians, offences concerning freedom of expression, assembly, and association, security of the state, unconstitutional seizure of power, embargo and sanctions, and elections.  Since 2014, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files has seen an increase in the number of complaints alleging violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In this regard, INTERPOL has yet to compile a repository of practice on Article 2 of the Constitution, although the Commission has already started developing its own “case law” in this area.  Now, that the Commission has recognized unlawful prosecutions of businessmen among the main issues before it, it is time for the Commission and INTERPOL to admit  that the “private disputes” provision needs its own repository of practice.  Indeed, when engaging in corrupt prosecutions, governments often charge entrepreneurs with crimes of a business nature that may look like they are related to the entrepreneur’s professional activities and thereby lend the criminal case some appearance of legitimacy but in fact are used to illegally transform what really is a civil private dispute into a criminal case.  It is, therefore, crucial for INTERPOL and the Commission to be transparent about how they interpret and apply the “private disputes” provision and for that purpose compile, publish, and constantly update a detailed repository of practice.

Due to lack of deterrence, Russia’s INTERPOL membership is unlikely to be threatened despite numerous violations

Due to lack of deterrence, Russia’s INTERPOL membership is unlikely to be threatened despite numerous violations

The Moscow Kremlin, Russia

Bill Browder has called upon INTERPOL to suspend Russia’s membership after the country renewed its efforts to put him on the international wanted list. Despite five unsuccessful attempts, Russia’s law enforcement agencies hope to secure INTERPOL’s cooperation in Mr. Browder’s case. So far, the organization has been unwilling to cooperate and in a rare public statement about an individual case called it predominantly political. However, despite Russia’s repeated violations of INTERPOL’s rules in this and other cases, the country’s membership is unlikely in any danger.

Under its regulations, INTERPOL is authorized to suspend or withdraw any user’s access to the organization’s databases, including any of its member countries, if that user violates INTERPOL’s rules on data processing. It is unclear whether INTERPOL has ever used that power. Certain recent examples suggest that the organization would rather avoid punishing a country. For example, it has been reported that Turkey tried to put 60,000 individuals allegedly linked to the 2016 failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the INTERPOL wanted list. According to these reports, INTERPOL refused to sanction Turkey for what appears to be an unprecedented violation of the organization’s Constitution, which strictly forbids INTERPOL to undertake any intervention or activities of a political character. If INTERPOL is reluctant to punish governments for such egregious violations, is there a limit, which, if crossed, would eventually force the organization to sanction the government?

The Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, Moscow

INTERPOL’s unwillingness to suspend or withdraw access to its resources is not without reason. A country without access to INTERPOL’s databases might not be able to identify criminals wanted by other countries or inform foreign law enforcement about criminals possibly entering their territories, which could be detrimental to regional and global security. However, without a punishment effective enough to deter governments from abusing INTERPOL’s resources, the organization will always remain a tool in the hands of oppressive regimes.

On INTERPOL’s former General Counsel’s statement regarding EU calls to reform INTERPOL

On INTERPOL’s former General Counsel’s statement regarding EU calls to reform INTERPOL

On October 5, 2017, EUObserver reported that the European Union was seeking a dialogue with INTERPOL to find a way to stop the abuse of its resources by countries that use INTERPOL to persecute political opponents and other victims of unlawful criminal prosecutions. The call for negotiations followed the recent detention of Dogan Akhanli, a German-Turkish writer, and Hamza Yalcin, a Swedish-Turkish journalist. Spanish authorities detained them at Turkey’s request disseminated via INTERPOL’s channels. Akhanli and Yalcin fled Turkey many years ago and were granted refugee status in Europe.

In seeking the dialogue, the European Union leaders expressed their desire for a proper review of INTERPOL red notices. They have also indicated that the need exists for an effective redress mechanism for the victims of INTERPOL abuse.

On October 16, 2017, EUObserver published an op-ed titled ‘INTERPOL and the EU: don’t play politics.’ Its authors, Rutsel Sylvestre J. Martha, an INTERPOL’s former General Counsel, and Stephen Bailey, argue that the INTERPOL General Secretariat already conducts a proper review of red notices before their publication and an effective redress mechanism is already in place.

Indeed, INTERPOL must ensure that red notices comply with its rules. Every year INTERPOL processes numerous requests to locate and detain individuals. It would seem possible for the organization to review every red notice for its compliance with such minimum requirements as the nature of the charge behind the notice and make sure the identity particulars, the description of the facts of the case, and a reference to the country’s criminal statute and a valid arrest warrant accompany the red notice. However, taking into consideration the high volume of information INTERPOL processes on a regular basis, it cannot possibly look into all the circumstances behind each and every red notice to make sure none is politically motivated or doesn’t otherwise violate the organization’s rules prior to its publication. This is also true with regard to the compliance review of randomly selected already published red notices. In addition, the authors of the op-ed don’t mention the so-called “diffusions,” which, like red notices, may be used as requests to locate and detain individuals for the purpose of their extradition and may be disseminated among a large number of INTERPOL member countries. However, unlike red notices, governments can send diffusions via INTERPOL’s channels without any prior review by the General Secretariat. Because of the lack of oversight prior to their publication, diffusions represent a more attractive means for governments that abuse INTERPOL’s resources, and as such, they pose an even higher risk than red notices.

In claiming there is an effective redress mechanism for the victims of INTERPOL abuse, the authors of the op-ed mention the right of an individual to access, correct, and/or delete information in INTERPOL’s files. It is important to remember that the right to access the information in the organization’s databases is subject to the government’s consent to disclose such information to the individual. This is also the case with any evidence and other information the government submits to the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files, an independent body with the exclusive power to adjudicate requests from individuals seeking access to, correction, and/or deletion of information in INTERPOL’s databases. The Commission discloses the evidence or other information the government submits in response to the individual’s request if the government agrees to such disclosure.

The authors of the op-ed rightfully point to the reforms INTERPOL has recently carried out to expand the rights of individuals. However, despite the reforms, the existing redress mechanism still lacks some crucial safeguards inherent to the modern democratic due process, such as the right to a hearing and the right to appeal. In June 2014, the INTERPOL Executive Committee endorsed a new policy on refugees. According to the policy, “in general, the processing of red notices and diffusions against refugees will not be allowed if the following conditions are met: the status of refugee or asylum-seeker has been confirmed, the notice/diffusion has been requested by the country where the individual fears persecution, the granting of refugee status is not based on political grounds vis-a-vis the requesting country.” Although the policy is a significant step towards protection of refugees from INTERPOL abuse, it needs improvements. For example, the policy doesn’t grant refugees an exception to the rule that INTERPOL doesn’t disclose whether there is information about the individual in its databases without the government’s consent. As a result, refugees, like other individuals, often learn about a red notice or diffusion against them after they are detained due to the INTERPOL alert. In such cases, the rights provided in the policy come too late. This is one of the reasons why the detention of refugees like Dogan Akhanli and Hamza Yalcin continues despite the fact that the policy has been in place for several years.

Turkey and Ukraine Trying to Involve INTERPOL in Mass Prosecutions?

Turkey and Ukraine Trying to Involve INTERPOL in Mass Prosecutions?

In July 2017, Hürriyet Daily News reported that Turkey tried to put 60,000 individuals allegedly linked to the recent attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the INTERPOL wanted list. Only INTERPOL and Turkey know how many of those 60,000 people had a red notice or diffusion recorded against them. It is unclear whether INTERPOL’s efforts to rebuff the attempt to abuse its channels have been effective.

The New Mosque (Yeni Cami) in Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey is not the only country that has sought to use INTERPOL to persecute members of the same political, business, or other group en masse, although its attempt is one of the most egregious. Whether through a regular election or coup, an incoming government may decide to open a criminal investigation into the former cabinet members and use INTERPOL to locate them and seek their extradition. Ukraine is yet another recent example of a new government seeking INTERPOL’s cooperation in apprehending its predecessors.

Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in Kiev, Ukraine

It has been reported that INTERPOL denied most of Ukraine’s repeated requests to put Viktor Yanukovich, the ex-president of Ukraine, and many of his former cabinet members on the international wanted list. Ukraine has criticized INTERPOL’s unwillingness to cooperate and accused the organization of political bias. It is evident, however, that with regard to the requests from Turkey and Ukraine INTERPOL has been doing exactly the opposite: it has been trying to maintain its neutrality and avoid any involvement in politics, as Article 3 of its Constitution requires.

 

China and Russia INTERPOL Appointments: Assessing the Human Rights Impact

China and Russia INTERPOL Appointments: Assessing the Human Rights Impact

In November 2016, the 85th INTERPOL General Assembly elected INTERPOL’s new president and vice-president. Mr. Meng Hongwei, a Vice Minister of Public Security and the head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in China, became INTERPOL’s President, and Mr. Alexander Prokopchuk, the head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Russia, a vice-president. The appointments raised concerns over INTERPOL’s ability to maintain its adherence to the organization’s core principles of neutrality, non-involvement in activities of a political character, and protection of individuals from member countries that use INTERPOL’s resources to persecute political opponents and other victims of unlawful criminal prosecutions. For a long time, China and Russia have been widely criticized for human rights violations. Could these appointments affect INTERPOL’s neutrality and commitment to human rights?

Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China

INTERPOL’s President heads the organization’s Executive Committee. However, it is the General Assembly, not the Executive Committee, that has the supreme authority in the organization. The General Assembly sets the standards and principles for all INTERPOL’s activities. It is composed of delegates that represent each of the 192 member countries. Each member country has one vote in the General Assembly, and a simple majority makes decisions, except when the INTERPOL Constitution requires a two-thirds majority. The General Assembly adopted INTERPOL’s Constitution, the Rules on the Processing of Data, and other fundamental texts INTERPOL must comply with. These sources require that INTERPOL act in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, strictly prohibit the organization from engaging in any activity of a political, military, religious, or racial character, and forbid member countries to use INTERPOL’s resources to persecute individuals. Under the Constitution, the Executive Committee supervises the execution of General Assembly’s decisions. It is not within the Executive Committee’s purview to repeal or change them.

The Moscow Kremlin, Russia

The Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files guards INTERPOL’s independence and adherence to human rights too. The Commission is an independent body that ensures INTERPOL’s compliance with the Constitution and other regulations. The Commission adjudicates individual requests for access to information in INTERPOL’s files and requests to delete information from the organization’s databases. Its Statute is adopted by the General Assembly and its decisions are final and binding on INTERPOL. The Executive Committee is prohibited from interfering with any of the Commission’s activities or influencing its decisions. Tasked with overseeing the implementation of the General Assembly’s decisions, it is the Executive Committee’s obligation to ensure the Commission’s independence as guaranteed by the INTERPOL Constitution.

As described in INTERPOL’s regulations, the mechanism intended to ensure INTERPOL’s neutrality, including its independence from high-ranking appointments within the organization, looks robust. Let’s hope it works.

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