Category: Governments-offenders

United States Senators Introduce a Bill Against Russia’s Abuse of INTERPOL’s Resources

United States Senators Introduce a Bill Against Russia’s Abuse of INTERPOL’s Resources

Senators Graham, Menendez, Gardner, and Cardin have recently introduced a bipartisan bill called “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018.”  In addition to promoting the strengthening of the NATO alliance, increasing diplomatic efforts, fighting against international cybercrime, election interference and other measures, the bill addresses Russia’s abuse of INTERPOL’s resources: “It is the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation has abused and misused INTERPOL’s red notice and red diffusion mechanisms for overly political purposes and activities such as intimidating, harassing, and persecuting political opponents.”  If the bill becomes law, it will be the first US law specifically targeting Russia for its abuse of INTERPOL’s channels.

The United States Capitol, Washington DC

The bill calls upon the United States Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to “use the voice and influence of the United States at INTERPOL to censure and sanction” Russia for its abuse of the organization’s resources, “including the suspension of [its] ability to use INTERPOL’s red notice and red diffusion mechanisms.”  It is important to remember that the United States, like any other member country, has only one vote at the INTERPOL General Assembly.  To address Russia’s abuse of red notices and diffusions, the United States will have to convince the majority of the organization’s member countries to join its efforts.  Although the bill largely leaves it to the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to decide on specific steps, it clearly obliges the agencies to actively seek a solution to the problem.

In addition to calling for increased efforts in the international arena, the bill contains important protections the United States would provide the victims of INTERPOL abuse: “No United States person or foreign person that is the subject of a red notice or red diffusion requested by the Government of the Russian Federation shall be denied access to any United States Government services or programs because the person is subject to such red notice or diffusion, including requesting asylum, requesting a visa, or participating in a visa waiver program or the Transportation Security Administration’s Trusted Traveler Program.”  Although a red notice or diffusion on its own should not serve as proof of any misconduct on the part of the individual and, therefore, be used to deny her or him any of the services mentioned in the bill, in practice, US officials have often mistakenly interpreted red notices and diffusions as precisely that – evidence of criminal behavior.

Reportedly, there have been cases in which United States immigration judges denied asylum-seekers bond or refugee status or both and cited red notices or diffusions as a basis for their decisions.  In such cases, immigration authorities have wrongly interpreted red notices and diffusions as evidence against asylum-seekers.  At the same time, unlike asylum cases, which are often reviewed in courts and become a matter of public record, visa denials are rarely subject to judicial review, and there is no publicly available data regarding the number of visa applications denied due to an active red notice or diffusion.  Despite the lack of comprehensive statistics, practitioners have sounded the alarm on the ever increasing number of such denials.  It is, therefore, both timely and critical for Congress to put an end to this unlawful practice and adopt a law clearly proclaiming that red notices and diffusions are not admissible as evidence against the individual in question, whether it be an extradition, asylum or any other matter.

It is also important to remember that Russia is far from being the only abuser of INTERPOL’s channels, although it is arguably among the major ones.  That is why US efforts should not be limited to specific countries.  We need to help INTERPOL prevent the abuse or, at the very least, minimize it no matter who the abuser is.  It is also important to remember that suspending the Russian government, or any other government, from issuing red notices and diffusions, as suggested in the bill, could have serious negative consequences for the security of the rest of INTERPOL’s 191 member countries.  INTERPOL’s regulations give the organization the power to suspend any country’s use of its databases if the country utilizes them for unlawful purposes.  It is not clear whether INTERPOL has ever resorted to this measure.  However, such a measure could do more harm than good by crippling legitimate international police cooperation.  If a country cannot access the INTERPOL databases, it might not be able to prevent real criminals from entering its territory and thereby escaping justice.  At the same time, if a government’s access is suspended, and it cannot put individuals on the international wanted list, other governments may not be able to identify real criminals coming from a country with suspended access and thereby unwillingly provide them shelter and the ability to continue their criminal activities in their territory.  Indeed, there are other measures that have been proposed which INTERPOL could adopt to minimize red notice and diffusion abuse without disrupting legitimate international police cooperation.


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.

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.

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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