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NEWS

The case of the missing president: what is going on with INTERPOL?

admin - October 15, 2018 - INTERPOL

 

The whole world has been wondering this week what happened to the (now) ex-president of INTERPOL, Meng Hongwei, who was reported as missing, and later confirmed by the Chinese authorities to be under investigation. News outlets from the Washington Post to Bloomberg have picked the case up, highlighting China’s dubious actions. For most, China’s audacity to detain a figurehead of a major inter-governmental organisation is nothing short of astonishing, especially when that organisation happens to be the world’s largest policing organisation.  

For Fair Trials, this is not entirely unexpected. For several years, we have been highlighting the ways in which various countries, including China, have been misusing INTERPOL as a tool for repression. They have shown total disregard for the organisation’s rules by issuing alerts to seek the arrest of political opponents, human rights defenders, journalists, and others in need of international protection.

For years, China used an INTERPOL Red Notice to harass, intimidate, and smear Dolkun Isa, an Uyghur activist. Despite Isa’s asylum, in Germany China used INTERPOL to request the police of some 190 countries to arrest him and send him back to China. Isa faced numerous harrowing arrests, which often took place on his way to speak about the dire human rights situation in Northwest China.

INTERPOL knows that China and other countries often attempt to use its systems as a way of exporting human rights abuses. In the past five years it has adopted several reforms, many in line with Fair Trials’ recommendations, which we applaud in our new report ‘Dismantling the Tools of Oppression, Ending the Misuse of INTERPOL’.

Now countries are no longer permitted to issue Red Notices against refugees, and individuals who wish to challenge Red Notices for human rights reasons have access to a better complaints procedure. INTERPOL has also dedicated more staff and introduced new procedures to identify requests for Red Notices that are politically motivated, or don’t respect human rights.

Despite the improvements however, certain countries, including Turkey, have succeeded in disseminating Red Notices against high-profile critics of the government. And even though INTERPOL now has procedures for checking all Red Notices, this is not happening for ‘Diffusions’, a less formal equivalent that can have equally devastating consequences, as the British-American activist Bill Browder knows only too well.

INTERPOL’s handling of the Meng’s ‘resignation’ also suggests that there is some way to go before it can show genuine commitment to fair and impartial justice. INTERPOL seems to have accepted Meng’s resignation notwithstanding the fact that (as reports suggest) he is being detained incommunicado, and his wife is under police protection due to threats made against her. Surely, INTERPOL is aware that without effective safeguards, individuals held in incommunicado detention are especially vulnerable to coercion. It would be interesting to find out what efforts INTERPOL made to make sure that Meng had indeed resigned on his own free will.

According to INTERPOL’s Twitter, it was back to business as usual by Monday. Less than 24 hours after announcing Meng’s resignation, the Secretary-General of the organisation was photographed shaking hands with Qatar’s Chief of Police at the INTERPOL Headquarters in Lyon. INTERPOL seems to be able to move swiftly on from major challenges. We hope it does not give its human rights challenges and commitment to reform the same swift treatment.

This article is an abridged version of Fair Trials’ Senior Policy Advisor Bruno Min’s opinion piece 'Interpol, China and the EU' in the EU Observer.

 

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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