Tag: Russia

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.

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.

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.

Red Notice Abuse: INTERPOL’s Disclosures Fail to Identify Countries-Offenders and Their Violations

Red Notice Abuse: INTERPOL’s Disclosures Fail to Identify Countries-Offenders and Their Violations

In its annual reports, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files usually discloses the list of countries with regard to which it has received the most requests from individuals. It is important to remember that INTERPOL defines a request from an individual as a complaint, preliminary request, or request for access. The Commission prefers not to disclose the number of complaints it has received against each of the member countries, their nature, or its findings.

In its 2015 annual report, the Commission named the following member countries and the number of individual requests it had received concerning each of them:

  • Russia – 45
  • Ukraine – 24
  • USA – 23
  • UAE – 19
  • Egypt – 13
  • Italy – 13
  • India – 12
  • Venezuela – 10
  • Turkey – 9

The 2010 report is the only publication in which the Commission has publicly identified the countries against which it has received the majority of complaints. Since then, the Commission has only published the number of requests concerning individual countries without clarifying how many of those are complaints.

According to the 2010 report, Russia has been second only to India in terms of the number of requests and complaints. Between 2012 and 2015 (the 2011 annual report doesn’t contain the number of requests filed against individual countries), INTERPOL received more requests concerning Russia than any other country. At the same time, India moved to fourth place in 2013 and 2014 and seventh in 2015. In addition to Russia, the Commission has publicly identified other former Soviet Union republics with regard to which it has received individual requests, namely Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. In 2013, Ukraine was number seven. In 2015, it moved up to second place. Belarus was sixth in 2010, eighth in 2012, and ninth in 2013. The country isn’t mentioned in the 2014 or 2015 annual reports.

Among the countries that have remained on the Commission’s list since 2010 are the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and the United States. The United Arab Emirates has moved from fifth place in 2010 to second in 2012, eighth in 2013, second in 2014, and fourth in 2015. The United States and Venezuela have consistently appeared on that list too, with the United States remaining in third place since 2010.

Because these numbers reflect individual requests without specifying how many of those are complaints, their basis, or the Commission’s findings, they can’t be used to calculate how many times each member country has engaged in INTERPOL red notice abuse or understand the nature of that country’s violations. This lack of transparency has continued despite the dramatic increase in the number of individual requests and complaints in particular. The Commission should be more transparent and publish this information. It is necessary for the general public to stay informed so that it can hold INTERPOL and its member countries accountable.

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