INTERPOL Abuse: Expulsion of Countries-Abusers from INTERPOL is Not an Answer

INTERPOL Abuse: Expulsion of Countries-Abusers from INTERPOL is Not an Answer

INTERPOL Headquarters, Lyon, France

Over the last several years, INTERPOL has carried out important reforms to its mechanism of adjudicating complaints from individuals challenging government use of the organization’s resources.  However, despite the reforms, abuse continues on a very large scale.  It does not mean, however, that the reforms have failed. In fact, the majority of them have proven to be steps in the right direction, bringing the mechanism closer to providing individuals due process.  The situation around INTERPOL abuse has not significantly improved because the organization has failed to carry out all the necessary reforms.  For example, individuals challenging abusive red notices and diffusions still do not have the right to a hearing, examine evidence produced by governments and appeal decisions denying their requests to delete information from INTERPOL’s files.  Even if INTERPOL carried out all the necessary reforms, it is unlikely that abuse would stop completely and forever.  Governments with no respect for the rule of law would almost certainly carry on with their attempts to misuse its channels, although it would be much harder for them to succeed.  At the same time, if INTERPOL does not implement all the necessary safeguards and fails to guarantee individuals due process, there is very little hope that abuse will decrease; on the contrary, in all likelihood, it will keep growing.

There have been many ideas on how to fight INTERPOL abuse, one of which is a harsh punishment for abusers.  The proposal to strip countries-offenders of their INTERPOL membership and, as a consequence, deny them access to the organization’s resources, has become very popular among commentators in the media and on social networks.  However, some lawyers and human rights advocates who specialize in defending victims of red notice and diffusion abuse have already come out strongly against the idea.  I have always belonged to the latter group.

At first glance, expulsion of governments which use INTERPOL for political or other unlawful purposes may seem like an effective remedy.  After all, a government without access to INTERPOL’s channels cannot misuse them.  This proposal has a major downside.  The expulsion of just one country may negatively affect the remaining members of the organization.  A government without access to INTERPOL’s databases might not be able to identify criminals wanted by other countries or inform foreign law enforcement about criminals entering their territories.  This could be detrimental to regional and global security.

It is not just the information about individuals wanted for criminal prosecution that is stored in INTERPOL’s files.  The organization helps its members exchange information crucial in their criminal investigations.  This includes forensic information that can help solve crimes, identify missing persons and rescue crime victims.  In this regard, INTERPOL places special emphasis on victims of child abuse and helps fight international child sexual exploitation.  In addition, INTERPOL’s databases contain information about stolen and lost travel documents, counterfeit documents and documents that help identify stolen property (vehicles, vessels, works of art etc.).  INTERPOL’s information also helps governments identify illegally trafficked firearms, investigate organized crime networks and fight maritime piracy.  Denying a government access to any of these data may impede legitimate investigations and punish crime victims.  Such a measure cannot be considered balanced or responsible.

It has been suggested that instead of suspending or terminating countries’ INTERPOL membership we should be punishing government officials responsible for unlawful prosecutions behind abusive red notices, diffusions and other requests submitted to INTERPOL.  I agree with that view.  Even if such punishment is not imposed on the global level, that is, by all INTERPOL members, the national laws of just one country may prove to be a serious punishment and deterrent.  For example, the U.S. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act empowers the President of the United States to impose sanctions on “any foreign person” who “based on credible evidence:

(1) is responsible for . . . gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country who seek (A) to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials; or (B) to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms . . . ;

(2) acted as an agent of or on behalf of a foreign person in a matter relating to an activity described in paragraph (1);

(3) is a government official, or a senior associate of such an official, that is responsible for, or complicit in, ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, acts of significant corruption, including the expropriation of private and public assets for personal gain . . . ; or

(4) has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, an activity described in paragraph (3).”

Among the sanctions described in the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act are ineligibility to receive a visa to enter the United States, revocation of an already issued visa, and blocking all transactions in all property the sanctioned person has interests in.  Other countries have followed the United States’ example and either already implemented or started debating their own versions of the Global Magnitsky Act.  Taking into consideration the significant efforts some individuals affected by the Act have engaged in to lift the sanctions, it has proven to be a serious response to their conduct.

Therefore, we must remember that there is at least one way to hold those who engage in INTERPOL abuse accountable without disrupting legitimate international police cooperation.  We should be working towards achieving this balance.

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