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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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.

 

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.

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.)

 

Last week, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF) met for its final session of the year. Each year, the CCF meets three times a year, which is the minimum number of times it is required to meet according to INTERPOL’s rules.

During its session meetings, the Commission members consider the requests of individuals who seek some form of relief from the the Commission.  Frequently, those individuals are the subjects of Red Notices and they or their attorneys are requesting to have the Red Notices removed or modified.

Decisions for cases pending from earlier this year and last year  seem to be coming particularly slow in coming out of the CCF.  We’ll soon find out whether the new composition of the Commission will have any bearing on the timeliness of its decisions.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

The Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s files has just issued its 2012 Annual Report.  The report provides information regarding the CCF’s activities over the last year.  It also includes statistics on the CCF’s decisions in cases that it considered during its three sessions in 2012.

Over the next several posts, I will address various topics of interest to the INTERPOL attorneys and subjects.  The primary areas of focus will be the CCF’s decision-making process and results; the CCF’s call for improvement and reform;  and issues that are new to the CCF’s annual report. For today, I will take the opportunity to answer a reader’s question regarding data retention on invalid Red Notices

Deletion of Invalid Red Notices

One of the matters discussed in the annual report is that of data retention after the underlying reason for the data has been satisfied or made invalid.  The CCF reports that there is an ongoing concern with the retention of data within INTERPOL’s files after the subject is no longer wanted.

Normally, INTERPOL deletes information from its databases once a subject is not wanted, and only rarely may that information be retained in compliance with INTERPOL’s rules. 

A reader recently asked a related question: what happens when member countries fail to delete invalid information from their own domestic databases?  Each member country has its own internal databases, separate and apart from its access to INTERPOL’s databases.  INTERPOL’s rules require that member countries process all data in conformity with their own domestic laws and regulations.  

When a member country fails to delete invalid data from INTERPOL’S databases, this is a clear violation of INTERPOL’s rules, and an evidence-supported complaint to INTERPOL will normally solve the issue.  However, when the country fails to update its own internal databases, domestic law necessarily governs.  INTERPOL may be willing to contact the member country to advise of the inconsistency and recommend an update, but it has no authority to force the correction.

The former Red Notice subject may also avail herself of the fact that INTERPOL’s member countries are required to process information in the context of compliance with their own domestic laws, and where local law requires updating of criminal databases, stale data constitutes a violation of law.  If a member country has a pattern and practice of violating its own rules, specifically with respect to data retention, INTERPOL may exercise its right to place the country’s NCB (National Central Bureau) under supervision until it is satisfied that the country is back in compliance with its own rule of law.

A member country’s refusal to update its databases, particularly those that are publicly represented as being INTERPOL-related, certainly runs counter to INTERPOL’s stated goals of accountability and transparency. 

As always, questions and comments are welcomed.

 

 

 

 

One of the most frustrating experiences encountered by Red Notice subjects is what one might expect to be a simple process of finding out whether they are actually Red Notice subjects.  Once a person has been charged or convicted of a crime in a country from which they have fled (or perhaps never even entered), INTERPOL’s member countries may seek a Red Notice from INTERPOL to aid in the person’s apprehension.

Not surprisingly, many Red Notice subjects claim innocence.  The fact that they are (or believe themselves to be) innocent often drives their decision to flee the country that issued the arrest warrants and Red Notices in their names.  They often flee to avoid participating in a judicial process that is notoriously corrupt, politically biased, or violative of basic human rights.  While the subjects usually know that they are wanted in a certain country, they often do not know whether a Red Notice exists in their names.

In order to determine whether one is the subject of a Red Notice, the most obvious course of action is to check the INTERPOL website under “wanted.”  The Red Notices listed here have been published at the request of the member countries.  The vast majority of Red Notices, however, do not appear on the website and are not available to non-law enforcement individuals.

A person who believes that she is wanted, but whose name is not published by INTERPOL, is left with the following choices in order to ascertain that status:

  • Travel, and take the chance of possibly being detained
  • Appear at a law enforcement agency and inquire as to her wanted status
  • Inquire with INTERPOL regarding the data that INTERPOL possesses in her name

If the person chooses the third option, it is important that she or her attorney follow the regulations in force for INTERPOL so that the request is accepted.  Once she knows whether she is a Red Notice subject, she can decide whether to challenge the Notice or not.

As always, comments and questions are welcomed. 

 

 

 

I was recently contacted by a representative of a financial watch list compliance organization.  He had an interesting question:  How valuable is the information in INTERPOL’s website?  His goal was to determine whether the information on the website was valuable enough to provide to the subscribers to his watch list.

Of course, the determination of the value of information always depends on the intended use of the information.  With that in mind, it is important to acknowledge a few facts:

The website does not list all active Red Notices.  Only a very small percentage of Red Notices in circulation are actually published on the INTERPOL website.  Each country has the discretion to either publish a Notice on the website or to keep the Notice confined to INTERPOL’S databases so that only member country law enforcement officials can view it.  The vast majority of the time, the countries choose not to have the Notices published.  This point is illustrated in INTERPOL’s 2011 Annual report, which showed that 7,678 Red Notices had been issued during 2011. The website, however, listed Red Notices in the hundreds, not thousands, for that year.

Some listed Red Notices are no longer valid.  The 2011 Annual Report of the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (“CCF”) contained disturbing information regarding member countries’ efforts to provide INTERPOL with updated information regarding active Red Notices.  The CCF reported that, in certain situations, National Central Bureaus (“NCBs”) generally only rarely informed the General Secretariat when a wanted person had been apprehended and had served his or her sentence.  This failure to update INTERPOL results in invalid information remaining active in INTERPOL’s databases.

Red Notices sometimes contain inaccurate charge information.  Because of the fact that member countries can now upload Red Notices directly into INTERPOL’s databases without a quality check being conducted by INTERPOL first, some information is entered invalidly.  For example, a person wanted for a traffic-related charge may be listed as being wanted for a fraud charge.  This information would naturally, and inaccurately, lead a financial institution to miscalculate the financial risk posed by such a person.

So, back to the question at hand:  is the Red Notice subject information on INTERPOL’s website of value?  The answer is a typical lawyer answer:  it depends.  If up-to-date, complete, and positively accurate information is needed, then the answer is no.  However, if the idea is to provide clients with information that gives them a starting point from which to evaluate the desirability of a given potential customer, with the understanding that clarification and correction may be necessary, then some value may exist.

As always, questions and comments are welcomed.

 

 

For the next several posts, the focus of this blog will be on the issues raised and discussed in the 2011 Annual Report by the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (“CCF”), found here.  Every year, the CCF issues its report, focusing on INTERPOL’s accomplishments and challenges from the CCF’s vantage point.  This year, the 2011 report was presented on November 8 by the Chairman of the CCF to INTERPOL’s General Assembly, which took place in Rome, Italy.

The CCF does an admirable job of publicly highlighting the problems faced by INTERPOL and by its member countries, and credibly appears to take seriously its obligation of balancing law enforcement interests with individual human rights.

Among the challenges to be corrected, the CCF noted the rather pervasive problem of member countries’ National Central Bureaus (“NCB’s”) failing to advise INTERPOL when a Red Notice was no longer valid.  The CCF reported that, even when a Red Notice subject had been arrested and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, the Notice frequently remained live.

Experience showed that NCBs generally did not follow up such information and only rarely informed the General Secretariat that the person had served his or her sentence.

The effect of such failures by the NCBs is that people who have served their sentences and then travel abroad are still subject to detention in other INTERPOL member countries, although no charges are pending against them.
Based on that observation, the CCF advised INTERPOL to re-evaluate its policy regarding systemic retention of information for certain persons.  The CCF’s recommendation is a sensible one, both from an individual rights point of view and from INTERPOL’s vantage point.  Clearly, invalid data ought not to be maintained in a database designed to aid in detention and extradition.
 
Moreover, INTERPOL protects itself when it employs effective internal quality assurance mechanisms. INTERPOL has taken a more active and public role in protecting itself from external attacks resulting from the improper or erroneous activity by its member countries’ NCBs.  A change in the policy of systemic retention would place yet another obstacle between INTERPOL and its less vigilant member countries.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

In response to the last post on the significant events between Egypt, the U.S., and INTERPOL, and particularly regarding INTERPOL’s stated offer to clarify matters regarding its involvement in a given matter, a reader left this comment:

Thanks for the great work in this area Michelle.  My wife, one of the named individuals in this case attempted to contact INTERPOL here in Washington and their automated system says if you are a private citizen to press 3.  At which point you get a recorded message indicating they will not talk to you.

Pushing the issue and contacting the public affairs person she was not given information to assist her regarding the diffusion notice or risks if she travels.  She was told “contact your local law enforcement.”

 Interpol has NOT reached out to the individuals involved in this egregious use of the diffusion system, a secretive process with no legal recourse, to assist in any way.

The reader’s frustration is understandable, as INTERPOL can be difficult to navigate.  It helps to understand, however, that there is a significant difference between INTERPOL and its member countries’ National Central Bureaus.  That difference accounts for the fact that any inquiries (regarding the status of an individual’s information with INTERPOL) to any entity outside of the actual organization called INTERPOL headquartered in Lyon, France, will likely be fruitless.  

National Central Bureaus for member countries serve as their countries’ liaisons between INTERPOL and the member countries.  While they work closely with INTERPOL, they are not branches or divisions of INTERPOL. The National Central Bureau for the United States, for example, unfortunately refers to itself as INTERPOL Washington.  It is operated by the Department of Justice, not by INTERPOL.  Thus, when one reasonably believes she is dealing with INTERPOL, she is in fact dealing with the law enforcement officials of the United States government.

Regarding the idea of INTERPOL- the real one, the one in France- reaching out to the aggrieved individuals to offer assistance, such action would seem contrary to the procedures set forth in INTERPOL’s opoerating rules.  A response to an individual’s formal request is certainly a reasonable expectation, and has always been forthcoming in my experience.  Whether the response is satisfactory or not, obviously varies. 

INTERPOL would likely argue that it does provide recourse to those individuals affected by improper diffusions and Red Notices.   The simple fact is that, for private citizens and attorneys accustomed to an open, transparent, public legal process, INTERPOL’s procedures can be difficult to comprehend or accept. The organization is an animal unlike any other.

As always, comments and thoughts are welcomed.