Defending theHuman Rightto a Fair Trial
February 19, 2016
Paramjeet Signh, second from the right, being welcomed home.
On 12th February, the Portuguese Minister of Justice decided that an extradition request for an Indian national with refugee status in the UK was inadmissible. For Paramjeet, this brought an end to two months living in detention and uncertainty as to whether he would be returned to India to face the persecution from which the UK was supposedly protecting him. But questions remain to be answered, especially on how one EU Member State could be persuaded to arrest someone recognised as a refugee in another, and what steps should be taken to prevent this in future.
Paramjeet Singh was granted asylum in the UK in 2000 having fled India in fear of his life, due to what he describes as continuous harassment and torture by the Indian police in response to his support for Sikhs’ right to self-determination. With indefinite leave to remain in the UK, Mr Singh proceeded to build a new life for himself and his family, including his four children who are all British citizens. During a family holiday in December 2015, however, the blanket of protection, which he believed to cover him throughout the EU, began to unravel when the Portuguese authorities, acting on an INTERPOL Red Notice, complied with India’s international request for Mr Singh’s arrest.
The public INTERPOL Red Notice, which was issued against Mr Singh in 2012 at the request of the Indian government, related to his alleged involvement in murder and terrorism offences committed when he was already living in the UK. These matters were investigated in a joint operation by the British and Indian police, who concluded in 2011 that there was no evidence with which to charge Mr Singh.
INTERPOL simply cannot identify in every case whether the offences referred to in Red Notice requests could actually have been committed by the person concerned. But in its new refugee policy introduced in early 2015, INTERPOL acknowledged that steps must be taken to prevent its systems from being used to pursue individuals recognised as refugees in accordance with international standards. Mr Singh’s experience some nine months later highlights, however, some of the challenges in the implementation of the policy.
It will undoubtedly take some time for INTERPOL to identify those individuals already subject to Red Notices who should benefit from this policy, but it is not clear what steps are being taken, if any, to do so. How many more refugees will suffer the same fate as Mr Singh in the meantime? Can INTERPOL be expected to take positive action in this regard, or is the onus on affected individuals to make notification? And what of those individuals who do not even know there is a Red Notice to be challenged on this basis?
In INTERPOL’s defence, once it was notified by Fair Trials of Mr Singh’s refugee status, it did act promptly to remedy the situation. Within a matter of days, the Red Notice had been blocked and in less than three weeks, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files confirmed (also on 12th February) that all data relating to Mr Singh had been deleted from INTERPOL’s files. While it is encouraging to see that the CCF is able to act quickly in what it described as “exceptional circumstances”, such prompt action should be the rule rather than the exception given the serious human impact which a Red Notice can have. But the work of the CCF continues to be characterised by delays. Fair Trials still awaits a response from the CCF in relation to a recognised refugee from Belarus, currently residing in Lithuania, for whom a deletion request was originally submitted in September 2013 and a subsequent request seeking application of the new refugee policy was submitted in September 2015.
An internal working group which is currently examining the need for CCF reform will present its conclusions to the 85th INTERPOL General Assembly in late 2016. We hope that, amongst other issues, the delays in CCF responses to both requests for access to data and deletion of Red Notices will be addressed in line with Fair Trials’ recommendations. We also hope to see progress in INTERPOL’s plans to implement its refugee policy, and to ensure that individuals deemed worthy of protection, like Paramjeet Singh, are not subjected to arrest and detention on the request of the country from which they have fled.
If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +44 (0) 7950 849 851.
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