Conflicting Accounts on Interpol Abuse: Comparing US Government reports
Editor’s Note: In this article our guest contributor, the American attorney Sandra Grossman considers different strands in US Government reports analysing the problem of Interpol Abuse. As Interpol alerts are regularly relied upon by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) as grounds for arresting, detaining and removing individuals suspected to be illegal immigrants, legal challenges to the validity of Red Notices often feature in the US immigration context. RS
Interpol abuse is one of the subjects considered in two official reports recently published by the U.S. Government.
The first is contained in the State Department’s annual “Country Reports” on human rights.
The second is the TRAP Report, an acronym derived from a closely-related legislative effort, the Transnational Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) Act. The TRAP Report is a stand-alone report co-written by the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Department of State (DoS) that is mandated by Section 6503(c) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022.
This article critically examines both reports which are in many respects contradictory and inconsistent in their analysis of the problem of Interpol abuse.
State Department Country Reports
Since 2020, the U.S. State Department has assessed whether the nations it profiles in its annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” have engaged in Interpol abuse during the previous year. This assessment has been part of a broader (and welcome) section on “Politically Motivated Reprisal Against Individuals Located Outside the Country,” or transnational repression.
The inaugural 2020 reports found that eleven nations (Bahrain, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Iran, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkey) committed abuse through Interpol.
The 2021 reports found that nine nations (Azerbaijan, Benin, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkey) had committed abuse through Interpol in 2020.
In 2022, the count of abusers rose to 12 (Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Guinea Bissau, Iran, Montenegro, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela).
In late March, the State Department released the 2023 Country Reports, on abuses committed in 2022. These reports named seven abusers (Belarus, Nicaragua, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, Suriname, Turkey, Venezuela). By itself, this list of abusers was not surprising – all the 2022 abusers except Suriname were repeat offenders, and none of the abusers would have surprised anyone who follows the issue of Interpol abuse.
Unfortunately, the 2023 Country Reports were far from complete. Admittedly, the Department faces a very difficult challenge in assessing Interpol abuse in these reports: it has limited time to research and write, seeks to compress the reports into a readable length, and must base its reports on credible information. It must also confront multiple competing geopolitical priorities. Even so, the Country Reports could be improved.
Numerous reputable organizations and individuals have produced credible reports and statistics on Interpol abuse which suggest that this problem is far more widespread than the US Country Reports admit. To take one example, the respected Interpol academic Dr. Ted Bromund led an effort in collaboration with Freedom House, the results of which were reported to the State Department, to source credible, public allegations of Interpol abuse – often backed up by information provided by attorneys, always while respecting client confidentiality – committed in 2022. This effort identified twelve nations (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, India, Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Suriname, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Ukraine) as abusers. It also pointed out that Freedom House’s landmark 2022 study on transnational repression had identified a further six abusers (Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iran, Rwanda, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan).
Of the 18 nations mentioned above , the State Department named only seven. There is, of course, always room for debate about which countries justify inclusion in any particular year. However, the failure to name El Salvador and the UAE, among others, as Interpol abusers is particularly troubling.
The TRAP Report
However flawed the State Department’s Country Reports may appear to be, they are nevertheless vastly superior in content and analysis to the NDAA’s TRAP Report. The first TRAP Report was published in August 2022 by the DoS and DoJ. It was followed by a barely revised assessment in April 2023.
The main concerns raised by the TRAP reports are considered below.
Minimising the Scale of Interpol Abuse The August 2022 TRAP Report states that “this particular form of transnational repression[Interpol abuse] seems to have receded since INTERPOL implemented reforms in 2016 and 2017.”
Refusing to Name and Shame Interpol Abusers The TRAP Report refuses to follow the NDAA’s legal requirement to list major Interpol abusers by stating “the Department of Justice believes such listings could lead to retaliation against the United States and its international law enforcement efforts.” This is both a failure to respect the law and the clear intent of Congress, as well as a missed opportunity to hold repeat abusers of Interpol to account.
Thus, while the State Department’s Country Reports have, over the past three years, identified a total of 18 different abusive nations, the TRAP Report declares it has detected absolutely no Interpol abuse since 2019 and fails to name a single abuser. Moreover, the DoJ – which was almost certainly the primary author of the TRAP reports – and the DoS, make no effort to explain this contradiction.
Disregarding Interpol’s Own Data on the Problem of Abuse. Interpol’s unwillingness to provide consistent, intelligible, transparent, and comprehensive data about abuse is notorious, but even the data it does provide demonstrates that, if anything, the problem of Interpol abuse is getting worse, not better. In 2018, Interpol refused or cancelled 942 Red Notices or wanted person diffusions, but in 2021, it refused or cancelled 1,270. In 2018, the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF) made 167 deletions, but in 2021, it made 296. So not only do the TRAP Reports conflict with the State Department’s own reporting, but the reports also do not accord with Interpol’s data.
Facilitating Continued Interpol Abuse The TRAP Report’s conclusions do little to mitigate, or even acknowledge the very serious problems caused by ICE’s widespread reliance on Interpol Red Notices as grounds for arresting, detaining and removing suspected illegal immigrants by ICE. As Freedom House recently put it, “despite the consequential passage of the TRAP Act, Interpol abuse against people in the United States—including many with lawful immigration status—remains possible.”
Many of those organizations and individuals who championed the TRAP Act, in the hope that it would compel the U.S. government to lead the fight for the reform of Interpol as well as promote deeper understanding of Interpol abuse, have been sorely disappointed by the initial TRAP reports. In short, the DoJ-DoS TRAP reports contain numerous contradictions and misstatements of fact, and are incompatible with the better, if not complete, reporting on Interpol abuse published by the State Department in its Country Reports. There is room for significant improvement in the first two TRAP reports. The author also hopes that these reports are not representative of DoS and DoJ’s support for Interpol reforms.
When considering the broader political context the TRAP reports are symptomatic of a wider and troubling pattern. After initially taking a strong line on China and Russia’s Interpol abuse, the Biden administration has gone into reverse. U.S. denunciations of China’s transnational repression now omit any mention of Interpol. It is almost as though the U.S. – as the August 2022 TRAP Report hints – has been told that it had better stop talking about Interpol abuse lest it suffer reprisals for its honesty.
Sadly, the issues highlighted above, are also far from the only failing of the TRAP reports, a theme the author intends to explore in a follow-up publication.