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Strengthening INTERPOL: An update

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In 2013, Fair Trials published a report – Strengthening respect for human rights, strengthening INTERPOL – which highlighted how INTERPOL, the world’s largest police cooperation body, had become vulnerable to abuse by countries seeking to use its systems against human rights defenders, political activists and journalists living in exile.

INTERPOL’s Constitution requires its international wanted person alert system to operate in compliance with the principle of neutrality and human rights. In practice, however, these requirements have not been consistently complied with, undermining INTERPOL’s credibility as a tool in the fight against global crime.

Since 2013, INTERPOL has taken action in response to our recommendations which addressed the problems arising from:

  • INTERPOL’s interpretation of its own constitutional commitments to political neutrality and human rights;
    the inadequacy of the systems in place to detect and prevent non-compliant INTERPOL alerts from being circulated; and
    the ineffectiveness of the remedies available to people who believe they are subject to an unjust INTERPOL alert.

Firstly, in 2015 INTERPOL announced a new policy confirming that INTERPOL alerts will not be published in relation to individuals with refugee status granted to protect them from persecution in the country which has requested publication of the alert. Secondly, INTERPOL has reasserted control over the data published on its databases, ensuring that all INTERPOL alerts are subjected to more detailed scrutiny and, in the case of Red Notices, this now takes place before they are circulated. Thirdly, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files – the body to which individuals wishing to challenge the validity of an INTERPOL alert submit requests – has undergone significant reform which we hope will enable it to operate as an efficient and transparent redress mechanism which adheres to basic standards of due process.

While these reforms represent a major step forward in INTERPOL’s efforts to protect itself from abuse, there is still work to be done to ensure that its commitment to the protection of human rights in the context of international police cooperation is upheld. We call upon INTERPOL to ensure that each of the recent reforms is implemented effectively in practice and to collate and publish data which enables effective monitoring of their impact. We have also outlined a series of further reforms which remain necessary in order to ensure that INTERPOL’s systems are well-protected against abuse. We are committed to collaborating with other civil society organisations and the legal community to supporting INTERPOL in the process of ensuring effective implementation and pursuing further reforms.
Finally, we acknowledge that INTERPOL is not the only cross-border mechanism that exposes individuals to human rights violations, and that the strengthening of its systems against misuse may result in Member States using alternative mechanisms to track, harass and undermine their opponents. Fair Trials works with civil society partners to detect such trends and, using the INTERPOL example of emerging good practice, develop recommendations to strengthen human rights protection.

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