In the last post, RNLJ addressed the growing call for meaningful international responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. INTERPOL is among the organizations to which the world is looking for leadership on this issue, particularly given its status as a law enforcement support entity. Since that post, INTERPOL has issued a statement on its position.

In declining to suspend Russia as a member country, INTERPOL invoked Article 3 of its Constitution, which prohibits INTERPOL’s involvement in political matters. It did, however, take some steps toward data protection during the time of this conflict:

To prevent any potential misuse of INTERPOL’s channels in relation to the targeting of individuals within or beyond the conflict in Ukraine, heightened supervision and monitoring measures in relation to Russia have now been implemented by the Secretary General, a decision which was endorsed by the Executive Committee.

Effective immediately, diffusions can no longer be sent directly by NCB Moscow to member countries. NCB Moscow must now send all diffusions to the General Secretariat to be checked for compliance with INTERPOL’s Rules. Only if a diffusion is found compliant will the General Secretariat then disseminate it to member countries. This procedure is in addition to the General Secretariat’s current process of reviewing all Notice requests for compliance.

INTERPOL is thus applying a review process to diffusions which is more similar to that utilized prior to the issuance of a Red Notice. Before a Red Notice is issued, approval by the General Secretariat is required, as opposed to the usual immediate circulation of a diffusion that requires no approval beyond that of the sending member country.

The statement also included an acknowledgement that, as a result of the invasion, it is widely anticipated that many member countries will not cooperate with Russian extradition requests:

Similarly, a decision by a member country whether to act on a request via INTERPOL, is exclusively at the discretion of the competent national authorities.

The organization also explained a practical basis for its position:

In addition to the tragic loss of life, conflicts invariably lead to an increase in crime, with organized crime groups looking to exploit the desperation of individuals seeking safety, with an increased risk of abuse and trafficking, in addition to weapons smuggling and trafficking in illicit goods and medicines.

Checks against INTERPOL’s databases at control points along the Ukrainian border have already resulted in the identification of individuals wanted by four different countries for a range of offences.

INTERPOL was created to ensure the widest possible law enforcement cooperation, including between countries where diplomatic relations do not exist.

As long as the INTERPOL network can assist in the rescue of one child abuse victim, the prevention of one terrorist attack or the identification of one missing person, it is its duty to ensure that lines of communication remain open.

INTERPOL’s statement reflects the reality of any organization that requires information to function: there must be a pathway for that information to flow in order for the organization to perform its mission. The Russian invasion of Ukraine raises the question of when -or whether- an INTERPOL member country can take any action so egregious that INTERPOL will block a country from that pathway.

In this particular conflict, INTERPOL has made no public determination of the illegality of Russia’s actions, although it did have the choice to do so. Instead, it determined that its mission is best served by keeping the information path open and more intensely scrutinizing the data that Russia is circulating.

As might be expected, my personal opinion is that INTERPOL should have at least temporarily suspended Russia from access to its databases. Russian abuse of INTERPOL’s tools has gone on for too long and a more harsh response is merited. However, it must be acknowledged that INTERPOL’s statement was issued in a thoughtful, reasoned, and diplomatic manner following consideration by its Executive Committee. If INTERPOL’s method of addressing this crisis is successful, it will result in a heightened number of abusive notices and diffusions being identified and prevented from being circulated.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.