Today’s post is by attorney Yuriy Nemets, who has given considerable thought to the issue of INTERPOL’s refugee policy, how it is being implemented, and how it might be further developed.
INTERPOL’s New Policy on Refugees: Is Everything Settled?
Yuriy L. Nemets, Esq.
Managing Member at Law Office of Yuriy L. Nemets PLLC
LL.B., J.D., LL.M., Ph.D.
In February 2015, INTERPOL disseminated among its national central bureaus (NCBs) a new policy regarding red notices and diffusions seeking detention of individuals with refugee status. According to the new policy,
[i]n general, the processing of red notices and diffusions against refugees will not be allowed if the following conditions are met:
- the status of refugee or asylum-seeker has been confirmed;
- the notice/diffusion has been requested by the country where the individual fears persecution;
- the granting of the refugee status is not based on political grounds vis-à-vis the requesting country.
By adopting this new approach, the organization officially recognized that when it comes to international police cooperation, the advancement of which is the organization’s primary aim, refugees deserve INTERPOL’s special protection. This special protection is necessary to shield refugees from member states that abuse INTERPOL’s channels to persecute political opponents and other victims of corrupt criminal prosecutions. Protection of individuals from persecution is one of INTERPOL’s primary objectives. It is beyond dispute that the new policy furthers that objective.
Several provisions of the new policy deserve closer examination, however. The policy stipulates that it is to be applied “in general.” By making this reservation, INTERPOL retains the right to deviate from the provisions of the policy when the organization deems it necessary. INTERPOL has indicated that the objective of the new policy is to “support member countries in preventing criminals from abusing refugee status, while providing adequate and effective safeguard to protect the rights of refugees.” If INTERPOL finds it necessary to be able to take a closer look at some red notices or diffusions issued against refugees, it is crucial that the organization include an exhaustive list of such exceptions in the new policy. This will help avoid ambiguities and better protect the rights of refugees. Such a list should be limited to serious international crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes), terrorism, maritime piracy, and trafficking in illicit drugs, illegal arms, and dual-use goods and technologies. If the charges underlying the red notice or diffusion do not fall under any of the exceptions, INTERPOL should prohibit any use of the organization’s channels with regard to the refugee.
Another provision of the new policy that merits attention lies in the three-prong test, which is essentially the backbone of the policy. It appears that the third prong of the test is more likely to raise questions and doubts: “the granting of the refugee status is not based on political grounds vis-à-vis the requesting country.” The provision appears to stipulate that instead of reflecting the demarche by the country of asylum to spite the country that issued the red notice or diffusion, the decision to grant refugee status must be based on proper application of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and, in particular, on the asylum seeker’s “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” INTERPOL does not specify what evidence it takes into consideration as proof of the existence of a political conflict between the countries involved or the effect the conflict has on the decision to grant refugee status. In addition, publication of a red notice or diffusion in INTERPOL’s databases, when the organization is aware of a political dispute surrounding the red notice or diffusion, is contrary to the principle of INTERPOL’s neutrality, which is a cornerstone of all the organization’s activities. The principle of neutrality is enshrined in Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution according to which, “[i]t is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.” Over the years, INTERPOL has developed “case law” under Article 3 that reflects the organization’s commitment to avoiding involvement in any political disputes among the member countries. The better approach for INTERPOL would be to delete the red notice (or diffusion) and allow the countries to resolve their political differences without the organization being involved in any way.
It is also important to emphasize that the new policy does not provide for an exception to the general presumption that before an individual requests deletion of the red notice or diffusion from INTERPOL’s databases, the individual must, according to the Operating Rules of the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files, provide “sufficient evidence” that he or she knows that there is information about him or her in the organization’s databases. Because INTERPOL does not make information in its databases accessible to the public without obtaining consent from the country on whose behalf the information is recorded, refugees often learn that there is a red notice or diffusion against them only after they are detained due to the INTERPOL alert. Detention may lead to prolonged extradition proceedings and potentially extradition; in either case, the rights provided for in INTERPOL’s policy on refugees come too late.
Indeed, in a number of instances refugees were detained because of a red notice or diffusion recorded in INTERPOL’s databases. One of the most recent cases, which also occurred after INTERPOL began to implement the policy on refugees, is the arrest of Mehdi Khosravi, an Iranian national with refugee status granted by the United Kingdom. Italian law enforcement detained Mr. Khosravi, acting on the red notice issued by Iranian authorities. Although Italy released Mr. Khosravi within days of the arrest, this case of swift justice is the exception rather than the rule. Consider, for example, the case of Paramjeet Signh. In 2000, the United Kingdom granted Mr. Signh refugee status. In December 2015, Portuguese authorities detained Mr. Signh, acting on the red notice India issued against him. Mr. Signh spent two months in detention before Portugal released him. Petr Silaev, a recognized refugee from Russia, spent even longer, six months, in detention after Spanish authorities arrested him due to the request Russia disseminated through INTERPOL’s channels. These and other similar cases show that effective measures are needed to prevent the abuse of INTERPOL’s channels with regard to refugees before, not after, such abuse takes place.
INTERPOL must make an exception for refugees to the requirement that an individual prove that he or she knows that there is a red notice or diffusion against him or her in the organization’s databases. Any individual with refugee status must have the right to demand that INTERPOL delete the information about him or her issued by the country where he or she fears persecution from the organization’s databases without providing any evidence of such knowledge. INTERPOL must create and maintain a secure and confidential database containing the names and other relevant information about individuals with refugee status. Any refugee must have the right to have his or her name and other relevant information added to the database. INTERPOL must monitor all requests disseminated through its channels and compare each request with the database. If a request is issued by the country whose nationality the individual enjoyed before he or she was granted refugee status, INTERPOL must refuse to publish the request in its databases. These measures may contribute to the prevention of abuse of INTERPOL’s channels with regard to refugees.
INTERPOL’s efforts to protect individuals from persecution and abuse of the organization’s channels are undoubtedly welcome. The new policy, however, needs improvement to help INTERPOL achieve that objective and better protect the rights of refugees.
Many thanks to Mr. Nemets for his thoughtful and well-reasoned approach to this subject.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.