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Abuse of Interpol

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Abuse of Interpol

While Interpol has doubtless made the world a safer place by facilitating the arrest of numerous transnational terrorists, traffickers and other criminals, there is nothing to prevent human rights-abusing, non-free, totalitarian states from abusing the system and using Interpol to extend their own repressive arms internationally. Indeed, dictatorial regimes have been known to abuse the system and use it to track down and capture, or even just drive underground, their most troublesome dissidents.

INTERPOL: WHAT IS IT?

With 190 member countries, Interpol is the world’s second largest international entity after the United Nations. As in the United Nations, Interpol’s member countries span from totalitarian dictatorship to liberal democracies. While Interpol possesses many attributes of an international organisation, many would say it is really more of an international network, linking police globally for the purpose of facilitating police cooperation and law enforcement across the globe.

INTERPOL: HOW IT WORKS

Interpol operates “a closed communications system linking police via vast international databases” (Lewis). Normally, police in member countries send Interpol a domestic arrest notice, which Interpol then sends out as a global Red Notice. On the basis of a Red Notice, police in other member countries may arrest suspects for extradition.

While Interpol’s Constitution mandates neutrality and prohibits http://www.interpol.int/About-INTERPOL/Overview “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character,” cooperation is based on trust — i.e. Interpol trusts member countries not to abuse the system.

WHERE IS THE PROBLEM?

While Interpol has doubtless made the world a safer place by facilitating the arrest of numerous transnational terrorists, traffickers and other criminals, there is nothing to prevent human rights-abusing, non-free, totalitarian states from abusing the system and using Interpol to extend their own repressive arms internationally. Indeed, dictatorial regimes have been known to abuse the system and use it to track down and capture, or even just drive underground, their most troublesome dissidents.

And because Interpol is neither transparent nor accountable, it is extremely easy to abuse.

“Interpol is not entrusted with any significant investigative or operational powers. Those powers are still located at national level. . . Interpol’s core business is the administration of information.” (Savino, p26)

Fair Trials International reports: “Even though some of Interpol’s member countries are known human rights abusers and notoriously corrupt, Interpol has no effective mechanisms to prevent countries, or even individual prosecutors, abusing the red notice system. As a result, even though most red notices may be perfectly valid, abuses of Interpol are also affecting human rights campaigners, journalists and businessmen, in countries all over the world.

“People in this situation have no independent court they can turn to for redress. Your only option is to request a review by a Commission, funded by Interpol and serviced by Interpol staff. You have no right to a hearing, no opportunity to respond to allegations against you and will be given no reasons for the decision reached. Even if the Commission concludes that a red notice is inaccurate or abusive, it cannot require its removal or amendment. It can only make non-binding recommendations.”

According to Interpol’s Chief Lawyer, Joël Sollier, the agency does try to ferret out dubious requests. His instruction to Interpol is that a Red Notice should be cancelled if there is any doubt. (Lewis)

According to Lewis, Interpol’s issuance of Red Notices has increased markedly in recent years, from 2,343 Red Notices in 2005, to 6,344 in 2010. “Partly to deal with that increased workload, Interpol is putting more power into the hands of its police members.

“Two years ago,” writes Lewis, “police had to apply directly to Interpol for a Red Notice. Today, every Red Notice request is entered into the system directly by the police themselves—not by Interpol. Police around the world instantly see those notices—before Interpol even reviews them.

“Police can also bypass the formal Red Notice system altogether—and just type an informal notice of arrest in an email—and post it on Interpol’s communications system. Those email notices—Interpol calls them ‘diffusions’—go out instantly, with no automatic Interpol review.”

And as Lewis notes, “these informal email notices are linked to far more arrests than arrests linked to the Red Notices Interpol vets for political concerns”. In fact, according to Lewis, in 2010, at least 1,858 arrests were made of people named in email notices while only 663 arrests were made of people named in Red Notices.

This might explain why in February of this year, while Malaysian police were claiming that they had arrested the Saudi tweeter Hamza Kashgari (23) “following a request made to us by Interpol” on behalf of the Saudi authorities, Interpol was strongly denying that it had anything to do with it.

“Police agency strongly denies its system used by Saudi Arabia to get journalist detained for insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter” (Own Bowcott, The Guardian, 10 February 2012)

Kashgari had fled Saudi Arabia after his tweeted imaginary conversation with the prophet Mohammad was deemed blasphemous. After being arrested in Malaysia and extradited, he was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. He remains in prison to this day, still offering up apologies, but to no avail. Voices are still calling for him to be executed.

There have also been some really obvious and undeniable abuses of Interpol.

One such case involves Indonesia’s call for a Red Notice to be issued against Papuan independence advocate Benny Wenda (36). The Red Notice was issued despite the fact that the persecuted, tortured, now Oxford-based Wenda had been granted asylum in the UK. Only in August of this year was the Red Notice against Wenda dropped.

See: Benny Wenda’s plight has highlighted the misuse of Interpol
Interpol must act to stop its red notice system being abused by countries to persecute refugees and exiled political activists
By Alex Tinsley, The Guardian, 6 Aug 2012.

In an article published by CNN, Libby Lewis raises the case of Iranian dissident Shahram Homayoun (57). “After fleeing Iran in 1992 and moving to Los Angeles, Homayoun started a satellite television station, Channel One, to beam a message of civil resistance into the homes of Iranians.

“Over the years, his audience has scribbled his slogan, Ma Hastim (“We exist” in Farsi) on Iranian walls and bridges to promote democracy in the country. He has also called on his listeners to show their solidarity in creative ways, such as gathering at the tomb of Cyrus the Great or showing up at their local bakery on the same day — every Thursday — and asking for bread.

“At the request of Iran, which charged Homayoun with inciting terrorism, Interpol issued a Red Notice in December 2009 requesting Homayoun’s arrest.”

Regarding Maryam, all the Saudi authorities would have had to do was to report through Interpol channels that a Saudi Arabian girl is being held in Sweden against her will, possibly by international traffickers, and request help to retrieve her and return her to her family. And with that, her hopes of liberty are dashed.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission

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