INTERPOL IN FOCUS
WHAT IS INTERPOL?
Contrary to popular myth the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) is not a police force. Interpol itself has no powers to investigate or arrest people. Interpol promotes cooperation between police forces across the world and allows them to share information about wanted persons through the Interpol database.
Persons on the database may be wanted by police in a particular country to stand trial or to serve a sentence for a crime. The Interpol database circulates information about the individual and the offences in the form of Red Notices and Diffusions.
WHAT IS A RED NOTICE?
Another myth about Interpol is that a Red Notice is an international arrest warrant. A Red Notice is in fact an electronic notification that one of Interpol’s member countries are seeking the location, arrest, and possible extradition of a particular person.
Red Notices are circulated to every member country through Interpol’s database. The notice contains details such as the name, date of birth, nationality and photograph of the wanted person as well as a description of the alleged offences that the individual is wanted in connection with. Red Notices are intended to alert Interpol member states that someone who is wanted in connection with criminal offences is passing through immigration control.
Different countries treat Red Notices in different ways. Some use it as an arrest notice whilst others treat it simply as an alert system. However, the outcome is fairly consistent when a Red Notice is issued: an arrest often results and, at the very least, international travel becomes extremely difficult. If an arrest is made off the back of a Red Notice, it is likely that extradition proceedings will ensue. In 2019 Interpol issued 13,377 Red Notices.
WHAT IS A DIFFUSION?
A Diffusion involves a less formal process than Red Notices. A Diffusion is a request for cooperation and information-sharing from Interpol member countries as opposed to the formal arrest request of the Red Notice. However, in practice a Diffusion can have the same effect as a Red Notice. A Diffusion can be circulated directly to specific member countries or to the entire Interpol membership.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I AM SUBJECT TO A RED NOTICE OR DIFFUSION?
Every country that is a member of Interpol will receive an electronic alert that a Red Notice has been circulated on the database. Information about the wanted person will then be disseminated to local police enforcement agencies in each country. In some countries, the wanted individual risks being automatically arrested and subjected to extradition court proceedings. Even if the individual is not arrested automatically in one country, there is a risk of arrest at airports or border control when travelling across international borders. Border force agencies in most countries are required to arrest persons with a Red Notice or Diffusion Notice against them. In some countries hotels will forward information about guests to the local police, who can check names against the Interpol database, which may lead to an arrest.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM SUBJECT TO A RED NOTICE OR DIFFUSION?
There is a ‘wanted persons’ section on the Interpol website which can be searched by the public. Not all red notices are publicly listed on Interpol’s site – in fact as of 2022 only approximately 7,500 of 69,270 valid Red Notices were visible to the public on the Interpol website.
If you are subject to a Diffusion this will not be publicly listed as Diffusions are never listed on Interpol’s website.
Another way to find out if you feature on the Interpol database is to make a request to the police force in the country where you live. National police forces do not necessarily have a formal procedure to follow, but the NGO, Fair Trials, notes that individuals have managed to access information about notices against them by making a request to police authorities.
Individuals can also make a request to Interpol to find out if they are subject to a Red Notice, Diffusion, or any other file held on the databases. Requests are made to the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF). The CCF is responsible for ensuring that Interpol complies with its own data processing rules. Applications to the CCF must meet the ‘admissibility requirements.'
The CCF will usually only provide information to individuals if it the country responsible for the Red Notice of Diffusion has given permission.
HOW CAN I CHALLENGE A RED NOTICE OR DIFFUSION?
Individuals can ask Interpol to review and delete a Red Notice by writing to the CCF. However, the process lacks transparency and is far from straightforward. It can also take weeks if not months. During that time many individuals will have been detained in custody or prevented from travelling.
CCF decisions are taken behind closed doors. Few Red Notices are actually removed. In 2016 only 170 were cancelled. Applications are considered in writing - while there is, in theory, a right to make oral submissions to the CCF but that is a provision yet to be used. There is no appeal process and so the decision of the CCF is final. If a deletion request is refused individuals can make further submissions if circumstances change.
For more information or to discuss the matter please contact us.
HOW DOES INTERPOL OPERATE?
Each country that is a member of Interpol operates a domestic National Central Bureau. NCBs are run differently in each country, but they act as the central point of contact for other NCBs and Interpol’s General Secretariat at the headquarters in Lyon. Interpol itself is governed by the General Assembly made up of representatives from member countries and the organisation has a written constitution. Decision-making operates on a one-vote per country basis and there are currently 194 member countries. The President of Interpol is elected by the General Assembly every four years and the Executive Committee is elected every three years. The current President of Interpol is Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi of the United Arab Emirates. Interpol is funded by contributions from each member country and by voluntary donations. Interpol’s total budget in 2021 was 145 million euros, 76million euros of which were cash donations.
WHAT IS THE CCF?
Interpol’s Commission for the Control of Files (CCF) is the committee tasked with reviewing requests by individuals and lawyers for the removal of Interpol Red Notices and making sure that Interpol adheres to its own rules. The CCF can hold oral hearings but it never has, preferring to deal with matters in writing.
The CCF comprises of 7 members who wield huge power in Interpol as they are effectively the only arbiters of Interpol’s constitution and rules. Each member is elected by Interpol’s General Assembly for a term of five years, which can be renewed once for an additional term of three years.
WHO MAKES THE DECISION WHETHER TO REMOVE A RED NOTICE OR DIFFUSION?
In previous years the committee has been comprised of police officers and security officials. However, on 1 March 2022 a newly elected committee began its work. The new CCF has a different make up and they are all experts in either data processing and/or human rights, and five of them are lawyers. The seven members are:
Supervisory and Advisory Chamber:
Yves Poullet (Belgium) - Expert in data protection and senior academic working in data protection.
Mohamed Elfadhel Miled (Tunisia) - Expert in electronic data processing.
Susie Alegre (United Kingdom) - Lawyer with data protection expertise and substantial experience of fighting for minority and human rights.
Mohamed Kamara (Lebanon) - Lawyer with recognised international experience in police matters, in particular international police cooperation.
Teresa McHenry (United States) - Lawyer with international criminal law expertise former Prosecutor for the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section of the US Department of Justice.
Michel Forst (France) - Lawyer with human rights expertise and the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.
Hamza Es-Said (Morocco) - Lawyer who holds or has held a senior judicial or prosecutorial position.
A report by former UK Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir David Calvert-Smith (and contributors including Ben Keith and Rhys Davies), questioning the United Arab Emirate’s influence over Interpol.
The report, published 7 months prior to the Interpol presidential elections that took place in November 2021, contends that Interpol’s presidential voting and nominations are completely opaque with no list of candidates made public. The current President of Interpol, elected in 2021, is a UAE official accused of human rights violations and the UAE has a history of abusing the Interpol Red Notice system and practising forced rendition of individuals form overseas.
Interpol’s Constitution outlines its aims and procedures in a nine-page document. Article 2 of the constitution sets out the two roles of Interpol which are:
To ensure and promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities within the limits of the laws existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
To establish and develop all institutions likely to contribute effectively to the prevention and suppression of ordinary law crimes.
In terms of Interpol’s objectives, Article 26 states that the General Secretariat shall “serve as an international centre in the fight against ordinary crime” and “maintain contact with national and international authorities, whereas questions relative to the search for criminals shall be dealt with through the National Central Bureaus”.
The Rules of Procedure of the ICPO – INTERPOL General Assembly sets out the broad procedures and regulations of the most important meeting of the year for Interpol. Interpol’s Constitution determines that the General Assembly is the supreme authority in the organisation and is comprised of delegates appointed by the member countries.
Article 1 of the Rules of Procedure contains sparse details about the functions of the General Assembly which includes “to determine principles and decide on general measures suitable for achieving the Organization’s objectives as set out in Article 2 of the Constitution”, and “to examine and approve the general programme of activities prepared by the Secretary General for the coming year, in conformity with Articles 26 and 29 of the Constitution”.
Regarding the President’s power at the General Assembly, Article 22 states that, “No delegate may address the General Assembly without the President’s permission”, and that “The President may call a speaker to order if his remarks are not relevant to the subject under discussion and may forbid him to speak.”