Politically Based Red Notices

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 For example, a notice will not be published if it violates INTERPOL’s Constitution, which forbids the Organization from undertaking activities of a political, military, religious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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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My question is whether there is any tabulation of Red Notices that have been revoked/rescinded because of the Article 3 political repression nature of the issuance.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.

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.

 

As the year begins, and changes appear to be coming to both INTERPOL and the CCF,* Red Notice Law Journal reviews some highlights from the CCF’s activity in 2016:

First case study: Vladimir and Alexandr Kholodnyak

In this case, our clients, Vladimir and Alexandr Kholodnyak,** succeeded in their efforts to remove the Russian- requested Red Notices in their names.  The CCF agreed to remove both of the brothers’ Red Notices, and followed its now-standard practice by specifiying in the decision letter the following information:

• The data registered in INTERPOL’s files was not compliant with INTERPOL’s rules. Consequently, the Commission recommended that INTERPOL delete the data concerned.

• INTERPOL’s General Secretariat has informed all INTERPOL National Central Bureaus that the data has been deleted from INTERPOL’s files.

• All NCBs have been instructed to update their national databases to reflect the removal of the Kholdonyaks’ data.

The CCF’s decision in the Kholodnyak’s case was additionally significant because the notices not only significantly affected their business interests, but they also posed a problem for their immigration cases in the United States.  With the removal of the notices, the brothers face one less impediment to achieving their immigration goals, and they are free to pursue their professional and personal lives. Additionally, their cases received some negative and seemingly biased media coverage, so the removal of the Red Notices brought a sense of vindication as well.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

* These changes will be addressed in the coming posts.

*Information published here with clients’ consent.

A reader recently posed some questions about INTERPOL’s dissemination of information, and those questions are answered in today’s post.

Q: There has not been an annual report 2015 by Interpol so far – are there probably other sources that can tell numbers of red notices and diffusions issued in 2015 and numbers of valid notices/diffusions in circulation?

A:  The annual report for the previous year is normally published in conjunction with INTERPOL’s annual General Assembly, which is usually held in October or November.  The reports are published here.  Otherwise, the number of Red Notices or diffusions issued are not made public, because INTERPOL’s member countries do not always request that their notices be publicized.  In fact, a majority of them remain hidden from public view.

Q: Are ways to find out (by the numbers of notices/diffusions/arrested persons in annual reports) how many diffusions/red notices are deleted after Interpol indicated a political motive behind them?

A:  INTERPOL’s CCF has included this information in its annual reports (see below) in the past, and it also has recently begun providing more specific information in its responses to requests for Red Notice removal.  In the response letters, the individuals who applied for relief are now being informed more frequently of the reason for the removal of their notices.  However, the CCF’s recommendations (which are almost always adopted and implemented by the General Secretariat) are not made public, so this information is available largely on an anecdotal basis.

Q: Are there any hints of inner political problems in Interpol?

A:  INTERPOL is an international organization with over 190 member countries, each of which can claim varying levels of compliance with human rights standards, so some  political problems are inevitable.  The CCF, however, does a decent job of guarding itself from external influences, and its own annual reports often call the organization as a whole to task for the continual improvements that are needed to fulfill its obligation of remaining impartial in politically motivated cases, as well as other issues related to human rights protection. The annual reports are found here, and give insight to the issues that the CCF chooses to focus on from year to year.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, has threatened to at least attempt to continue Venezuela’s abuse of INTERPOL’s Red Notice system.

The paper product supplier Kimberly-Clark stopped production in Venezuela several weeks ago, in the midst of Venezuela’s worsening economic crisis.  Venezuelans already wait for hours in lines on a daily basis in an effort to obtain basic supplies such as toilet paper, diapers, and personal products. The absence of Kimberly-Clark’s products will certainly exacerbate the shortage.  Just as numerous other companies have done recently, Kimberly-Clark  cited a shortage of currency and raw materials in addition to soaring inflation rates as contributing factors to its inability to continue doing business in Venezuela.

President Maduro quickly accused the company of violating the country’s constitution and laws, and announced his intention to seek the INTERPOL-assisted arrest of Kimberly-Clark representatives. His announcement serves to remind privately held companies that, in addition to evaluating basic economic factors when determining where to conduct business, they must also evaluate the stability of the controlling government as well as its improper use of the judicial system in order to achieve its goals.

If President Maduro makes good on his threat, we can expect to see Red Notices requested for a host of politically motivated, financial crimes; INTERPOL will be left to evaluate the validity of those requests; and the attorneys for the Kimberly-Clark representatives will have to seek the removal any of the Red Notices that are issued.

As always, questions and comments are welcomed.

 

The Russian Federation is one of INTERPOL’s 190 member countries, which means that it has the privilege of using INTERPOL’s databases to help it track down wanted suspects and convicts for prosecution and sentencing.  Along with that privilege comes the obligation to follow INTERPOL’s rules, not the least of which are the requirements that every member country abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and uphold their own due process laws.  Additionally, member countries must not use INTERPOL’s channels to pursue politically motivated  or corruptly filed criminal charges.  When countries violate their obligation to uphold these tenets, INTERPOL’s rules specifically provide that those countries can be sanctioned in a variety of ways.

While INTERPOL has refused to issue certain Red Notice requests as made by the Russian government, anecdotal evidence shows that its quasi-appellate body, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), is still accepting representations by the Russian government that it is in compliance with its above-stated obligations.  A recent decision by the CCF contained the statement that Russian authorities had provided “satisfactory  elements regarding compliance with … the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Honestly, this kind of statement is stunning, given the international recognition and condemnation of the ongoing and endemic violations of human rights in Russia. In addition to the increasing drum beat of criticism of Russia’s human rights record, now another NGO has issued a statement, yet again affirming the truly horrific human rights violations still occurring in Russia.

The Open Dialog Foundation released a statement on May 9 regarding the involvement of Russian officials in the ‘Magnitsky list’ who are also involved in other politically motivated criminal proceedings in Russia. Open Dialog advocacy officer Thomasz Klosowicz presented information on other politically motivated criminal prosecutions and connected these cases to officials who were also connected to the Sergei Magnitsky case. The Red Notice Law Journal has previously addressed the Magnitsky case here and here.

In its statement, Open Dialog addressed the cases of Nadiya Savchenko, a former Ukrainian pilot and politician convicted for the murder of Russian journalists; the protestors of Bolotnaya Square and Manezhnaya Square, prosecuted for being members of opposition movements and organizations; the leaders of Yukos, accused of fraud and tax evasion; and Mukhtar Ablyazov, a opposition politician and businessman accused of embezzling funds. The purpose of the statement is to demonstrate how corruption and oppression in Russia has led to the abuse and exploitation of both its citizens and foreign nationals, and to serve as a call to action to raise awareness and prevent the unjust treatment and prosecution of these individuals. The Open Dialog Foundation says that it aims to identify that corruption in Russia is systemic and in direct violation of human rights laws.

As Russia’s human rights abuses continue to grow, the question must be asked, at what point does INTERPOL apply the sanctions available to it since its rules were changed in 2012, and hold Russia consistently accountable for its abuse of INTERPOL’s systems?

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

*(RNLJ thanks journalism student Elayza Gonzalez for her contribution to this post.)

 

My life today is different.” These are the words of one of our clients, Mauricio Ochoa Urioste, whose life changed from one day to the next because he is no longer listed as a wanted person on INTERPOL’s Red Notice list.

Earlier this year, INTERPOL announced its new policy on refugees, as discussed here. Mr. Urioste is one of the earliest beneficiaries of this policy, which has become effective rather quickly.**

Mr. Urioste is a politically active attorney from Bolivia who became the subject of a Red Notice when certain officials within the Bolivian government targeted him for prosecution of ordinary law crimes after he refused to participate in the execution of contractual agreements that he found to be illegal and he publicly criticized President Evo Morales.

Mr. Urioste had been wanted for criminal prosecution by Bolivian officials since 2010.  Realizing that he would not receive a fair trial in Bolivia, he made his way to Uruguay.  He was granted refugee status in 2011, but remained listed on INTERPOL’s wanted list. Of course, his wanted status meant that he risked detention if he traveled, even though he was classified as a political refugee.

With the implementation of INTERPOL’s new refugee policy, Mr. Urioste had a newly recognized avenue by which to seek the removal of his Red Notice.  While he also had the option of seeking removal on other grounds, the refugee policy provided a “bright line” test that the CCF could apply to his case for a faster analysis and decision.

The CCF’s decision in Mr. Urioste’s case also included more clear, instructive information that some decision letters in the past.  The CCF explained clearly that:

  • The data regarding Mr. Urioste were deleted from INTERPOL’s files;
  • All National Central Bureaus of INTERPOL’s member countries were notified that the information was destroyed; and all international police cooperation via INTERPOL’s channels in this case would not be in conformity with INTERPOL’s Constitution and Rules;
  • All National Central Bureaus were advised to update their national databases regarding Mr. Urioste’s information.

Congratulations to Mr. Urioste, and also to the CCF on its efficient imposition of a common-sense approach to the treatment of Red Notice subjects who are refugees.

** INTERPOL’s refugee policy was announced in May. We submitted his request for relief in late September, and we received the final decision in mid-November.  This is an extremely swift response time for an INTERPOL case, and response times do appear to be decreasing in many cases.  More on that topic in the next post.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

I’m having the very pleasant experience of feeling a bit of fall weather this weekend, not because Miami has become unseasonably cool, but because I am in Washington, D.C. to attend an event hosted by Fair Trials, International.

Fair Trials has organized “Demonizing Dissidents” to highlight the abuse of INTERPOL by dictatorships that persecute journalists, peaceful political dissidents, and refugees.  The London-based organization has been consistent and relentless in its quest for INTERPOL reform, particularly with respect to politically based prosecutions and violations of individual human rights.

Given the United States’ status as one of the primary funders of INTERPOL, it is appropriate that efforts at reform are undertaken here, as well.  While some U.S. officials have made sporadic, individualized attempts to correct abuses of INTERPOL, there has yet to be a concerted, official effort at truly ensuring the protection of individual due process and human rights.  The U.S. has both a political and moral obligation to take concrete steps to accomplish these goals, and INTERPOL appears to be poised to continue its efforts to achieve transparency, accountability within its National Central Bureaus, and the enforcement of applicable law in every Red Notice case.

The event will provide an opportunity to witness not only the very real cost to individuals who have suffered from the abuse of INTERPOL’s tools, but also to understand the cost to INTERPOL’s credibility and to the United States’ credibility as a nation of law and order if real reform is not imminent.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

 

 

This May, INTERPOL announced its new policy on its treatment of Red Notice subjects with refugee status.  The policy is addressed in detail here by Fair Trials International.  Fair Trials and the Open Dialog Foundation are among the organizations that have advocated for reform of INTERPOL’s policies regarding those individuals who have been granted refugee status, but who are also listed as wanted subjects in INTERPOL’s databases.

In May, INTERPOL had not yet publicized the manner in which its policy would be implemented.  Now, however, the organization has provided some level of detail as to how refugee cases will be processed.  For example, INTERPOL has provided the generally applicable guidelines indicating that the processing of Red Notices and diffusions against refugees will not be allowed if:

  • the status of refugee or asylum-seeker has been confirmed;
  • the notice or diffusion has been requested by the country where the individual fears prosecution;
  • the granting of the refugee status is not based on political grounds in relation to the requesting country.

INTERPOL advises that the objective of the new policy is

“to support member countries in preventing criminals from abusing refugee status, while providing adequate and effective safeguards to protect the rights of refugees, as guaranteed under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and other applicable conventions.”

Naturally, it will take time to see how the policy is implemented in practice, and it may be anticipated that the policy takes on nuances over time. For now, however, the implementation of the policy and the fact that there are guidelines in place for its use are both favorable facts for refugees who have been immobilized based on their status as Red Notice subjects.

Also, many thanks to Fair Trials and Open Dialogue for their continued efforts toward achieving due process for criminally accused individuals.  INTERPOL is also to be commended for its willingness to study this important issue and to take action to make changes where needed.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.