In a recent documentary, “Interpol- who controls the world police?” the German public broadcast service, DW, explores issues affecting INTERPOL’s functioning, independence, and funding.  The documentary addresses a variety of questions that have arisen over the last decade or so as INTERPOL has wrestled with the challenge of assisting its member countries with the enforcement of laws while also attempting to maintain neutrality with respect to its treatment of its member countries.

Primary to the focus of the documentary is the issue of funding. INTERPOL is an international organization that historically been funded by its member countries on a relatively sliding scale: the more wealthy countries contribute more financial resources, and the less wealthy countries contribute less. However, even with some of the wealthiest countries in the world paying their share, INTERPOL’s budget is remarkably low considering the tasks for which it is responsible. After the 9/11 attack on the twin towers, as the organization sought to increase its role in the world stage of policing, it sought other funding options. The result was both beneficial and harmful to INTERPOL’s mission and reputation. In recent years, changes in both policy and practice have followed.

This is the first of a four-part series that examines DW’s documentary against the backdrop of INTERPOL’s past and current activities.

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For today, we’ll start with a very basic but important distinction: INTERPOL is not, as the documentary implies in its title, a police force meant to police the world. It is a data-sharing organization with whom its member countries agree to cooperate. The primary purpose of the organization is to assist its member countries with locating wanted individuals for prosecution or sentencing in criminal cases by circulating information about the wanted person’s location. Another, growing goal of INTERPOL is to assist its member countries’ police forces with education, prevention, and training. However, as illustrated in the documentary, INTERPOL has the capacity to take on a semi-private police force characteristic if it agrees at a policy level to enforce certain laws, to accept funding from private entities, and to allow its actions to be influenced by private interests.

In this series, we will examine each of these issues against the backdrop of INTERPOL’s past and in anticipation of its future.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

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One of the most frequent questions people have about INTERPOL Red Notices is how a Red Notice can be issued in a case where the prosecution was politically motivated. The question is a valid one, particularly given INTERPOL’s prohibition of involvement in political cases. INTERPOL specifies in one of its fact sheets, here, that:

 

The General Secretariat can only publish a notice that adheres to all the proper legal
conditions. For example, a notice will not be published if it violates INTERPOL’s Constitution, which forbids the Organization from undertaking activities of a political, military, religious
or racial character.

 

This statement is not entirely accurate, only because the General Secretariat does not always know the true nature of the cases behind the Red Notice requests that it receives from its member countries.

Despite the prohibition against political cases, practitioners are routinely approached by individuals who are being politically prosecuted for criminal offenses, and listed with INTERPOL as Red Notice subjects. The reality is that politically motivated Red Notices are, in fact, published.

Unless a Red Notice subject is particularly well-known, it is quite possible for the underlying political nature of the Red Notice to be unknown to INTERPOL. Only when the subject discover the Red Notice and works with his/her attorneys to inform INTERPOL about the true nature of the case does INTERPOL learn that it should not be involved in the matter.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

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We left off in the last post with a discussion about why a Request Chamber comprised entirely of lawyers makes a difference in the nature and quality of decisions being issued by the CCF.

In March of 2017, INTERPOL adopted a new Statute of the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files. As with many new regulations, the effect of this one took some time to become realized. That effect is now apparent, and is partially due to the new make up of the Commission.

Previously, the Commission‘s membership did include professionals with legal backgrounds, but they were not all attorneys. Now, however, this is the required background for the individuals who will decide the cases:

Article 8, Statute of the CCF:

The Request Chamber comprises the following:

(4) The Requests Chamber shall consist of five members:
(a) A lawyer with data-protection expertise;
(b) A lawyer with recognized international experience in police matters, in particular international police cooperation;
(c) A lawyer with international criminal law expertise;
(d) A lawyer with human rights expertise;
(e) A lawyer who holds or has held a senior judicial or prosecutorial position, preferably with experience in international judicial cooperation.

That’s a lot of lawyers, and that’s a lot of relevant legal experience. This type of experience makes a difference in the Commission’s analysis of cases and arguments. Since this change in the composition of the Commission’s decision-making body, we have seen a change also in the quality, depth, and detail of the decisions being issued by the Commission.

The advantage to this new approach is not only that the Commission is providing more transparency and legitimacy to its process. The changes also mean that the Commission is allowing for a higher quality of requests: when applicants know how the Commission approaches its cases, applicants and their attorneys are able to tailor their requests in a manner that is best suited for the Commission’s analysis.

RNLJ has frequently included criticism of INTERPOL and has advocated for reform where it has been needed, and we will continue to do so. But for now, credit has to be given where credit is due. INTERPOL has gotten this right.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

I recently received a decision from the CCF (Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files), and I absolutely loved it. It was by far the best decision I have ever received from the CCF- and not just because we succeeded in our request to remove a client’s Red Notice, although of course that was the best part.

The decision was outstanding for another reason: it provided a thorough and detailed analysis of the Commission’s approach to the case. It provided a basis for understanding the Commission’s view of the case, and it gave the reader insight about how the Commission weighed the evidence and arguments that we had submitted, particularly against the political landscape of the country that requested the Red Notice.

Since the CCF does not publish its decisions, we can only glean information and guidance from its decisions on an anecdotal basis, as the decisions become available to us through our own work or the work of others. In that manner, I’ve noticed over the last 9 to 12 months that the CCF’s decisions are increasingly detailed, more thorough, and offer more transparency in terms of providing insight as to the Commission’s process and reasoning.

This change may be rooted in a variety of reasons, but the one that’s most apparent is this: the Commission’s decisions on requests for removal are now made by the Request Chamber, which was newly created in 2017 by the Statute of the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files. The members of the Request Chamber are all lawyers, and the difference that makes is significant.

Certainly, the CCF has always had attorneys on its staff who handle much of the CCF’s work when it is not in session, and who work in overdrive when it is in session. However, the added influence of having attorneys in decision-making roles who preside over cases in session cannot be overlooked, and is becoming more apparent with time.

In the next post: who are the lawyers that make up the Request Chamber, and why it matters.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

It’s happened again. Russian authorities’s misuse of INTERPOL’s databases has resulted in further persecution of William Browder. As reported here, Russian authorities have sought for many years to extradite Browder on clearly politically motivated charges.

While INTERPOL has correctly refused to allow Russian requests for Red Notices to stay in effect for Browder, Russia has managed to circumvent the Red Notice requirements by issuing a diffusion- comparable to a “BOLO,” or Be on the Lookout- for Browder.  The effect of the diffusion is that INTERPOL member countries know that an individual is either wanted or wanted for monitoring, and the individual may be subject to questioning and detention.

In this case, even though INTERPOL refused involvement with the Browder case, once the diffusion was circulated to INTERPOL’s member countries, the information entered the domestic databases for the individual countries, and INTERPOL lost control over whether the data was updated by those countries or not.

INTERPOL has known for years that this type of loss of control over data is possible and does occur. It has also known that Russia routinely requests improperly based notices and diffusions. At some point, perhaps sooner rather than later, it will be appropriate that INTERPOL be held directly responsible for the very predictable consequences of Russia’s abuse of INTERPOL’s databases.

If INTERPOL desires to maintain a reputation as a law enforcement organization with any kind of integrity or gravitas, it must defend itself against this abuse now, by limiting Russian access to its databases and by requiring proof from its member countries that they have updated their domestic databases.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

A reader recently sent in this question:

hi, I am looking to assist a friend who is on an interpol red alert.

We wish to challenge the notice and have no idea how to gather the evidence allegedly supporting the notice .

any suggestions ?”

Any experienced, practicing attorney will likely understand why this question made my heart sink. Let me explain in the context of car repair.

It’s reasonable to think that some people are able to build their own automobile engine for the first time to use in their own automobile. If one has a sufficient background in automobiles, has installed engines built by others, and has studied engine building for some time, it would perhaps be a reasonable endeavor to attempt to build an engine, install it in a vehicle, and then drive it with one’s family members inside. Or, if the person was willing and able to spend the time researching and understanding vehicle design and repair, perhaps s/he could eventually become proficient enough to take on that challenge.

If not, the results can be disastrous and irreversibly damaging.

When I hear the kind of question such as that posed by our reader, above, it’s like hearing this about engine replacement:

hi, I am looking to assist a friend who needs a new automobile engine.

We wish to build and install the engine and have no idea how to find the engine block or the other engine components.

any suggestions?”

The question is so broad that it tells me that the author, obviously good-hearted and well-intentioned, is also not (yet) qualified to do this work, and has not yet studied the issues related to the question in any depth.

The answer to this question is broad- and in addition to needing evidence that supports the notice, the reader needs evidence to support the arguments for removal. The answer depends on what the evidence is, where it is, who has it, whether it’s relevant or not to your argument, whether it’s reliable or not. It also depends on the grounds for seeking the removal, assuming they exist- what are they? Which rules/laws/treaties/conventions were violated?  Finally, if the reader makes the attempt and fails, there is a good chance that INTERPOL’s rules will prohibit a second effort.

So the short answer – “Gather the evidence that supports your arguments from the places that your evidence exists- court dockets, public and private records, media accounts, etc., etc.”- presupposes that you know what your arguments are, that they are valid, and that there exists evidence to support them. In other words, the reader is prepared to build the engine and drive around in the vehicle with his/her family in the vehicle.

If that is all in place, then the reader should make the attempt. If not, s/he should find a qualified professional to assist.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

A attorney/reader recently sent in this question on the topic of publicly available information on Red Notices, in relation to an individual wanted by authorities in a particular country:

My question is whether there is any tabulation of Red Notices that have been revoked/rescinded because of the Article 3 political repression nature of the issuance. I am interested in the total overall and the specific number related to (X country) –for any recent time frame.

The reader refers to INTERPOL’s constitution, Article 3, which prohibits INTERPOL from becoming involved in matters of a predominantly political nature.

And the response is this: the general public does not have access to the precise number of Red Notices that have been removed from INTERPOL’s databases from any particular country or for any particular reason unless INTERPOL decides to publish that information. In some annual reports by the CCF, the Commission has released figures for the grounds raised in requests for removal of data, but those reports have not specified the countries from which relief was sought. It has released numbers of cases in which relief was sought from particular countries, but without knowing the total number of cases in which a Red Notice was issued, it is impossible to attach any statistical significance to the number of cases for which relief was sought.

Additionally, given that INTERPOL’s member countries do not have to publish the Red Notices within the public domain, there is no publicly available data on the total number of Red Notices that any particular  country has requested or received.

The takeaway: while we do have some information regarding the number and type of cases wherein individuals assert violations of Article 3 of INTERPOL’s constitution, it’s not enough to serve as meaningful evidence of trends in violations. However, INTERPOL does have the capacity to release figures on that topic, should it choose to do so, within the context of an annual report or in response to a request for information.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

It was with great dismay that I read this article . It seems that under the administration of Donald Trump, United States officials are now gathering intelligence on the public activity of journalists, bloggers, and other people that the administration considers to be influencers on matters of import to the Department of Homeland Security.

While obviously one hopes that this kind of activity is not for nefarious purposes, it’s not difficult to imagine that a president who has been so sensitive to criticism, as has Mr. Trump, could only be gathering this information for purposes of punishing, prosecuting, or targeting individuals who write information that is harmful to his ego, his policies, his desires, or simply his feelings.

Tyler Houlton, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, asserted in a tweet that the monitoring activity was simply standard procedure, and that any  suggestion otherwise was “fit for tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists.”

In other words, we’re crazy if we question this monitoring of the free press, despite the current political crackdown on journalists that we’ve seen around the world, particularly in Turkey, where the administration has utilized INTERPOL’s tools in the furtherance of its prosecution of journalists.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

 

 

A Turkish court has requested a Red Notice against reporter Can Dündar, the former chief editor of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. Authorities charged him with espionage in 2016, alleging that he disclosed state secrets in the course of his reporting.

As reported here, the Committee to Protect Journalists (“CPJ”) has criticized Turkey’s request as being politically motivated, and has also requested that INTERPOL deny the request.

The CPJ’s criticism comes at  a time when Turkey is on the defensive about many of its Red Notices and Red Notice requests, particularly those involving journalists being charged with terrorism, espionage, and similar charges based upon the content of their writings. INTERPOL is reportedly examining scores of Red Notices with the goal of weeding out politically motivated notices; this activity is being undertaken amidst the international community’s criticisim of Turkey’s recent INTERPOL abuses.

As INTERPOL’s efforts to investigate the subject notices were reportedly contemplated prior to November of 2017, it is reasonable to anticipate that significant progress should be made in advance of INTERPOL’s general assembly this year in Dubai from November 16-21.

And though it shouldn’t be necessary, it is also reasonable to expect that INTERPOL would make an unequivocal statement regarding its stance on the criminalization of responsible journalism, particularly in light of such activity in INTERPOL’s member countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

Let’s start with the specific good news: Fair Trials International obtained the removal of a Red Notice for current leader of the World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa, who fled China in the 1990s and was pursued by Chinese authorities through INTERPOL for charges that were widely viewed as being politically motivated.

Mr. Isa, a dissident from China,  was wanted for alleged terrorist activities, as reported here.  The Chinese government naturally disagreed with the decision, expressing its dissatisfaction here.

It is always welcome news to find that a victim of a politically motivated prosecution has succeeded in removing a Red Notice – it means his life can normalize a bit. He can travel without the worry of an INTERPOL-related detention; his financial activity is simpler and less scrutinized; and he can search for work without having to explain that, even though he is wanted by INTERPOL, he is a law-abiding citizen.

The fact that Mr. Isa’s noticed originated from China, and that INTERPOL removed it, is also good news for those who have wondered about the effect of INTERPOL’s new president on the organization’s decision-making process. INTERPOL’ current president is China’s Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei. He entered his position amid public concern about his commitment to preserving INTERPOL’s commitment to human rights. The concerns were not baseless, given China’s human rights abuse record. However, as reported here, while some observers believed that his position was more ceremonial and less influential over Red Notice issuance, others thought that Mr. Hongwei’s presidency was cause for alarm, given China’s human rights history.

The decision in Mr. Isa’s case demonstrates that the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files has both the willingness and the autonomy to issue decisions contrary to the desire of the Chinese government, irrespective of the organization’s leadership.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.