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Strengthening respect for human rights, strengthening INTERPOL

November 26, 2013 - INTERPOL
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Executive Summary

Police, judges and prosecutors across the globe should work together to fight serious crime. Mechanisms designed to achieve this, however, must be protected from abuse to ensure that their credibility is not undermined and to prevent unjustified violations of individuals’ rights. This Report is designed to assist INTERPOL, the world’s largest police cooperation body, in meeting this challenge.

‘Red Notices’, international wanted person alerts published by INTERPOL at national authorities’ request, come with considerable human impact: arrest, detention, frozen freedom of movement, employment problems, and reputational and financial harm. These interferences with basic rights can, of course, be justified when INTERPOL acts to combat international crime. However, our casework suggests that countries are, in fact, using INTERPOL’s systems against exiled political opponents, usually refugees, and based on corrupt criminal proceedings, pointing to a structural problem. We have identified two key areas for reform.

First, INTERPOL’s protections against abuse are ineffective. It assumes that Red Notices are requested in good faith and appears not to review these requests rigorously enough. Its interpretation of its cardinal rule on the exclusion of political matters is unclear, but appears to be out of step with international asylum and extradition law. General Secretariat review also happens only after national authorities have disseminated Red Notices in temporary form across the globe using INTERPOL’s ‘i-link’ system, creating a permanent risk to individuals even if the General Secretariat refuses the Red Notice. Some published Red Notices also stay in place despite extradition and asylum decisions recognising the political nature of the case. This report therefore recommends that:

  • Combat persecution: INTERPOL should refuse or delete Red Notices where it has substantial grounds to believe the person is being prosecuted for political reasons. National asylum and extradition decisions should, in appropriate cases, be considered decisive.
  • Thorough reviews: INTERPOL should require national authorities to provide an arrest warrant before they can obtain a Red Notice, and should conduct a thorough review of Red Notice requests and Diffusions against human rights reports and public information.
  • Draft Red Notices only in urgency: INTERPOL should ensure that Red Notice requests are not visible to other NCBs while under review except in urgent cases; the NCB should justify its use of the urgency exception and INTERPOL should monitor exception usage closely.
  • Continual review: INTERPOL should systematically follow up with countries which have reported arrests based on Red Notices, six or 12 months after it is informed of an arrest, and enquire as to the outcome of the proceedings following the arrest.

Secondly, those affected by Red Notices currently lack an opportunity to challenge the dissemination of their information through INTERPOL’s databases in a fair, transparent process. INTERPOL, which has apparently not, to date, been subjected to the jurisdiction of any court, must provide alternative avenues of redress and effective remedies for those it affects. However, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), its existing supervisory authority, is a 5 data protection body unsuited to this responsibility and lacks essential procedural guarantees. INTERPOL’s judicial immunity is thus currently unjustified. This Report therefore recommends:

  • Reform the CCF: INTERPOL should develop the competence, expertise and procedures of the CCF to ensure it is able to provide adequate redress for those directly affected by INTERPOL’s activities. It should explore the idea of creating a separate chamber of the CCF dedicated to handling complaints, leaving the existing CCF to advise horizontally on data protection issues.
  • Ensure basic standards of due process: INTERPOL should ensure that reforms of the procedures of the CCF provide for the following essential safeguards: (i) adversarial proceedings with a disclosure process; (ii) oral hearings in appropriate cases; (iii) binding, reasoned decisions, which should be published; and (iv) a right to challenge adverse decisions.

If INTERPOL implements these reforms, police will spend less time arresting refugees and political exiles, at great human cost to those involved, and more time arresting criminals facing legitimate prosecutions. This will enhance confidence in the Red Notice system and, thereby, INTERPOL’s credibility with national authorities.

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If you are a journalist interested in this story, please call the media team on +44 (0) 7749 785 932 or email [email protected]

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