INTERPOL's Tools and Practices

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

In the last post, we began a discussion on the issue of confidentiality in requests for Red Notice removals to the CCF.

When a Red Notice subject requests removal of a Red Notice, he is obliged to explain to the CCF why he is entitled to relief, and that explanation often involves reference to illegal action taken by officials in the INTERPOL member country seeking to capture him.

Naturally, many Red Notice subjects who seek Red Notice removal have left behind not only a corruptly obtained criminal charge and corrupt local officials, but they have also left behind family and friends about whom they are concerned.  The Red Notice subjects are often reluctant to disclose information regarding corruption, because those same corrupt officials are also capable of taking action against the subject’s family or friends.

This is where the issue of confidential information in an application requires some thought and analysis.

The CCF advises as to confidentiality issues on INTERPOL’s website, and confirms that all requests are confidential, and will not be recorded in INTERPOL’s databases, or be used to assist in international police searches. It clarifies, however, that:

The Commission may nevertheless need to communicate some information to the INTERPOL General Secretariat or the National Central Bureaus in order to obtain information, which is necessary for the processing of a request.

Experience tells us that the CCF can and does reach out to National Central Bureaus (NCB’s), and not only to verify court rulings and case status. There are also times when the CCF explains in some detail the arguments that have been asserted by Red Notice subjects in an effort to learn the NCB’s perspective on those matters. Obviously, some Red Notice subjects would prefer for such arguments, and the evidence offered in support of those arguments, NOT to be brought to the attention of the NCBs. For example, if a subject has fled a country where a bogus criminal charge has been filed as the result of political persecution, that subject would be reasonable to believe that the persecutors, who are connected with law enforcement officials, may also persecute their family members. In this situation, a subject has to make the difficult decision to disclose information and request heightened confidentiality, while also possibly risking a negative effect on the CCF’s review of the matter, as addressed by the CCF here:

However, any item of information specifically identified by the Applicant as confidential will not be communicated. This may be detrimental to the Applicant, as it restricts the Commission’s ability to fully process a request.

Therefore, in such instances when a subject does request heightened confidentiality, the subject must rely on the CCF’s request chamber members, all of whom are attorneys, to evaluate the application based upon the evidence submitted, with an eye toward individual protection and and the ability to appreciate the very real dangers that can accompany a request for protection to the CCF.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Why would a Red Notice subject want a request for removal of that notice to remain confidential? If you were a wanted person who was innocent, wouldn’t you want to shout it from the rooftops, for everyone to hear? The answers to these questions are more nuanced than one might initially think.

By the time most Red Notice subjects seek assistance with the removal of a Red Notice, they have already endured multiple, ongoing hardships. They have often faced false or inflated criminal charges in jurisdictions where a fair trial is unattainable. Sometimes they have had civil disputes that became criminal because their opponent bribed local officials. Other times, they were charged criminally because they opposed the ruling political party in some way.

Very frequently, they say at some point during our initial meeting, “I know this sounds crazy, but…”

And the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t sound crazy. There is almost a recipe for every type of false or inflated charge that is prosecuted. That recipe almost always includes more than one person in power with an agenda that includes, or requires, the maintenance of criminal charges against individuals who would serve as obstacles to their goals. It may be as simple as a local police officer and prosecutor who filed a criminal complaint after being bribed. It may be as complicated as an entire national administration dedicated to keeping an oligarchy in power.

Regardless of the corruption model, a Red Notice subject often fears retribution when seeking relief from an improperly issued Red Notice. Even though the subject himself may have escaped an unsafe venue, he often has the worry of the family and business associates he left behind. It is not at all unusual for remaining family and associates to be harassed and intimidated by authorities, both officially and unofficially.

For these reasons, Red Notice subjects are often extremely concerned about confidentiality in their requests for relief to the CCF.

Submitting a request for relief to CCF requires a showing of violations of rule and law, which may require a showing of information that could endanger people back home. While the CCF’s rules do provide for confidentiality, there are situations where the CCF may wish to verify information with the country that requested the notice in the first place. Accordingly, applicants often have to decide whether to send the CCF information that would assist their cases, or to keep that information private in the interest of family safety.

In the next post, we’ll look at the issue of absolute confidentiality in the context of a request for relief to the CCF.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Under the leadership of its current Chairman,  Vitalie Pirlog, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (“CCF”) has proven in this year’s decisions that it is serious about holding National Central Bureaus to their obligations under INTERPOL’s rules.

In his speech at this year’s General Assembly, Chairman Pirlog reminded INTERPOL’s membership that the CCF often seeks information from their National Central Bureaus (“NCBs”). These responses are essential to the CCF’s ability to make decisions about requests for removal of Red Notices from the requesting country. Mr. Pirlog reminded member countries that timely responses were particularly important, given the CCF’s new statute that generally requires a response to be issued within four to nine months.

INTERPOL has always provided the required assistance to its members’ NCBs, but historically, the NCBs have not always been strictly observant of their duties to provided requested information, or to provide it timely. The CCF has apparently had enough of that, and is holding the members countries’ NCB’s feet to the fire.

Based on the CCF’s decision letters that have been received by this practitioner, it is clear that:

  • The CCF is generally adhering to the new time limitations for issuing decisions, with some decisions being issued even earlier than required;
  • The CCF is demanding cooperation from National Central Bureaus, and when they do not respond in a timely fashion, the CCF is proceeding to make a decision based on the information it has, rather than waiting or continuing the matter until the NCB provides a full response; and
  •  The decisions being issued by the CCF are generally accompanied by a reasoned explanation, detailing the Commission’s steps and considerations taken in reaching its decision.

These factors are critical to the CCF’s efforts at demonstrating transparency, and allow applicants to both appreciate the nature of the process, as well as to recognize that they were given a “fair shake” in INTERPOL’s processes. One would hope that the more lax NCBs recognize the shift in culture at the CCF, and become more compliant as a result. Whether they do or not, the CCF will benefit from the fact that it is protecting INTERPOL’s interests in transparency and the furtherance of human rights.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Last month, a Swedish journalist of Turkish descent, Hamza Yalçin was finally released from detention in a Spanish jail awaiting an  extradition decision. Turkey has requested and received an INTERPOL Red Notice based upon an underlying charge of “terrorism” and insulting the Turkish president.

If he had been extradited, Mr. Yalçin would have faced over 22 years in prison for insulting the president of Turkey.  The journalist reportedly received asylum from Sweden many years ago based on his previous political activity in Turkey.   The facts that Mr.  Yalçin is a journalist and that he is an asylee from Turkey both render the Red Notice against him rather curious: INTERPOL has a policy in place that was enacted for the purpose of protecting asylees from further political persecution by the countries from which they fled, and notices against journalists are often requested based on their criticism of the requesting regime.

This is not the first time that Turkey has utilized its access to INTERPOL’s tools to aid in the prosecution of a journalist.  Earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that Germany has had to modify its policies in dealing with Turkey, and that such abuses against journalists and critics cannot be tolerated.

Yalçin was released late last month, but not because the Red Notice was dropped: he reportedly was released because Spanish law did not allow for the extradition of  an asylee.

INTERPOL has an opportunity to highlight its commitment to human rights by subjecting Turkish Red Notice requests to additional scrutiny before issuing them, particularly where the subject is an author or journalist.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.