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NEWS

INTERPOL announce reforms at 85th General Assembly

editor - November 25, 2016 - INTERPOL

Last week, INTERPOL held its 85th general assembly. This is the international policing organisation’s annual get together, where they set their agenda for the coming year, make rule changes, and elect a new executive committee. This year’s conference, held in Bali, Indonesia, had as its focus ‘identifying and meeting member countries’ security needs in the face of an ever-changing threat landscape’.

You might have read about the assembly because of their decision to appoint Meng Hongwei as the new President of INTERPOL’s Executive Committee. The appointment was criticised by leading news outlets on both sides of the Atlantic. Amnesty International’s East Asia director, considered “the appointment of Meng Hongwei is alarming given China’s longstanding practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad.”

For those that don’t know, a word on INTERPOL themselves. Unlike their depiction in film and books, there aren’t crusading INTERPOL agents who storm in to arrest the bad guys. But that is not to say that they don’t have a really important part to play in keeping the world safe. INTERPOL are the world’s largest international policing organisation and they play a vital role in fighting crime, connecting police forces across the globe to facilitate the arrest and extradition of people wanted for serious crimes. However, for the last few years Fair Trials has been documenting how INTERPOL had left themselves open to misuse.

 Interpol

INTERPOL’s systems -particularly its international ‘wanted person’ alerts (“Red Notices”) are being abused by countries around the world in order to persecute refugees, journalists and peaceful political demonstrators, at huge personal cost to these individuals. In this context, it’s understandable that there are concerns about the new President being from a country with a questionable rights record, isn’t it?

I suspect China saw the appointment of Meng Hongwei as a PR victory – evidence of China’s growing influence on the international stage. Rightly, the occasion was instead used as an opportunity to highlight the country’s issues. And to an extent, the criticisms were accurate: China is one of many countries that have misused INTERPOL’s wanted person alerts to pursue dissidents across the globe.

It is wrong, however, to suggest that Hongwei’s appointment will allow China to do this more often and more easily because the Committee he leads doesn’t deal with operational decisions about whether to circulate Red Notices to the world’s police. These decisions, with enormous implications for the people they affect, are made by INTERPOL’s secretariat, headed by Jurgen Stock (the real leader of INTERPOL’s operations).

What the appointment also did, however, was distract from a further announcement made at the assembly, that of substantive reforms to the way that INTERPOL operates its Red Notice system.

In recent years, under Stock’s leadership, INTERPOL has started the long-overdue task of creating safeguards against the kinds of abuse suffered by Uyghur activists pursued by China. Even last week, Stock announced further much-needed reforms to maintain ”the confidence and trust of national law enforcement and wider society in INTERPOL”. Without seeing the detail of these reforms (which haven’t yet been published), it’s hard to know exactly how effective they’ll be in giving effective redress to people whose lives are turned upside down by Red Notices. Nevertheless, we are hopeful that they will be a welcome step in the right direction.

Ultimately, INTERPOL should be judged not so much by the nationality of its honorary President; but by whether it continues to allow its systems to be used as a tool of persecution. If it fails to rise to this challenge, it will not only remain complicit in human rights abuse; but will also fail to meet the “highest legal standards” that it’s outgoing President last week recognised as crucial to its “credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness”.

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. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page. FB iconClick to share this story on Facebook

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