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NEWS

Appointment of new CCF Chair prompts hope of INTERPOL reform

editor - October 1, 2014

INTERPOL-slim1-356x10242Earlier this month, responding to growing international pressure, INTERPOL announced that Nina Vajić, a professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Zagreb in Croatia and a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, has been appointed Chairperson of the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF). Ms Vajic takes on the role with the CCF facing a confidence deficit.
The existence of the CCF, a body to handle complaints against INTERPOL ‘wanted person’ alerts ought to be a positive thing. As our INTERPOL campaign has showed, these alerts are being used to pursue human rights defenders, journalists and refugees to face politically-motivated charges, and those affected need an avenue of challenge. But the CCF’s falls so far short of essential standards expected of such bodies that its value is now doubted.
This is shown by the remarkable, worrying process followed in the case of Petr Silaev, the refugee from Moscow whose extradition to face ‘hooliganism’ charges relating to his involvement in a demonstration was refused by a Spanish court on the basis that they were politically-motivated. In May 2013, Fair Trials wrote the CCF a 28-page letter, with a stack of video, documentary and other evidence explaining why the alert that led to his arrest was a breach of INTERPOL’s rule against political uses. We asked it to recommend – for it has no binding powers – that the alert be deleted.
We know the CCF, as a result of this application, had a discussion with the Russian authorities. What was said? What information, what documents, did the police investigators the Spanish courts had been so suspicious of supply to the CCF? We do not know, as the CCF never let us see this material. Instead, we learned – when the Russian Interior Ministry announced it on its website – that the CCF had decided it would leave the alert against Petr in place. Only later, on our request, did the CCF send a one-page letter confirming this. No reasoning, no facts, just the unhappy news.
Mr Silaev was, in due course, ‘amnestied’ (the criminal proceedings against him were closed) in accordance with the law adopted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution. With that goes the underlying basis for the alert against Petr, so we have today written to the CCF to ask it to permanently remove that alert. But even if it does so, the process followed to date has unfortunately done lasting damage to the CCF’s credibility as an independent oversight body.
The Legal Affairs and Human Rights (AS/JUR) Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) had already raised concerns about the CCF, and Petr’s case specifically, in a January 2014 report (more here). Mr Kimmo Sasi, a member of the AS/JUR Committee, even wrote to the CCF personally, explaining that since Petr’s case raised important freedom of speech issues, the CCF should explain its decision in order to restore some faith in its work. Sadly, no response was ever forthcoming, so doubts will now linger indefinitely unless Ms Vajic can steer the CCF towards more transparent decision-making which external observers can have confidence in.
But in any case, the appointment of Ms Vajic cannot alone solve the problem. By the time a complaint gets to the CCF, the alert has usually had significant human impact, unjustifiably if it is a politically-motivated abuse. Bahar Kimyongür, wanted by Turkey for a demonstration in the European Parliament 15 years ago, was arrested in three countries and was deprived of his liberty for over 100 days before matters were looked at by the CCF. Ultimately, the real problem lies upstream with INTERPOL, which facilitates the arrests in the first place.
Mr Sasi, and other members of the AS/JUR Committee, will be speaking today at a side-event in the fringes of the part-session of PACE to discuss these issues and PACE’s role in resolving them. There would seem to be an opportunity for dialogue as INTERPOL is expected to announce the creation of a working group to review its operations at its General Assembly next month, so it is to be hoped that PACE, as well as other organisations and NGOs will assist in finding a good way forward.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on 020 7822 2370 or 07950 849 851.
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