Reply to Interpol HQ on Turkey and Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Issue
Photo: Scott Graham
An open letter calling on Interpol to suspend Turkey pending an investigation into its misuse of Interpol's Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database was sent to Secretary General Jürgen Stock in June, which can be read in full here.
The signatories were pleased to receive a response from Interpol, which can be read in full here.
Taking up Interpol's offer of direct communication on the important issues raised by the open letter, Ben Keith, editor of Red Notice Monitor, sent the below reply to Interpol on behalf of the Arrested Lawyers Initiative:
7 July 2023
Dear Secretary General Stock,
Re: Open letter sent on behalf of The Arrested Lawyers Initiative
On behalf of the open letter’s signatories, we gratefully received your reply dated, 23 June 2023. We welcome your positive engagement with the issues set out in our correspondence.
We remain concerned that your letter does not address the seriousness of ongoing misuse by Turkey of Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Document (SLTD) database, as outlined in the open letter and report.
It is accepted that in 2016 Interpol introduced much needed review mechanisms for the screening of non-compliant requests for Red Notices and Diffusions. It is accepted that subsequently the Notices and Diffusions Task Force (NDTF) successfully rejected a significant number of non-compliant requests. It is also acknowledged that Interpol has exercised its constitutional mandate to restrict certain NCB’s from accessing its systems and databases in order to prevent misuse and abuse, including having imposed restrictions on access by Turkey’s NCB in 2018. Our correspondence sought to draw your attention to misuse of your databases by Turkey despite the reviews and restrictions imposed by Interpol.
We note that all of Interpol’s rules apply to information contained in the SLTD database. We also note that – as your reply states – Interpol has not created any special mechanism comparable to the NDTF to monitor misuse or abuse of the SLTD database. Instead, monitoring of the SLTD database is carried out by the General Secretariat. This demonstrates that Interpol has applied a lower standard of diligence to its monitoring of the SLTD database than it has to monitoring Red Notices and WPDs. In this context, the extent to which nations, in particular Turkey, have sought to misuse the SLTD is not surprising.
We reference the article from Nordic Research Monitoring Network to demonstrate the longstanding efforts by Turkish authorities to get around any due diligence restrictions put in place by Interpol. The article identifies an instance of Turkey’s successful attempt to manipulate the SLTD system post-2016 when it became more difficult for Turkey to manipulate the Red Notice system following the launch of the NDTF:
“The most well-known case of the Turkish government’s abuse of Interpol mechanisms took place in 2017 when Enes Kanter, an NBA basketball star of Turkish origin, had barely escaped arrest while in Jakarta, where he stopped as part of a global goodwill tour on May 19, 2017. Kanter was detained on May 20, 2017 at Henri Coandă International Airport in Bucharest because his passport was reported to have been cancelled by the Turkish government.”
Our open letter aimed to bring to your attention the broader human rights context of Turkish authorities unlawfully cancelling, on a mass scale, the passports of political critics. As you may be aware, only this week the Stockholm Center for Freedom has reported the continuing misuse of Interpol’s SLTD database by Turkey, presenting new evidence of Turkish citizens experiencing difficulties accessing information relating to them held by Interpol:
“The Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), in its responses to the individuals who request access to data about their passports, cited Article 35 of its statute, which allows the restriction of information to protect public or national security, prevent crime, maintain confidentiality of investigations or protect the rights and freedoms of individuals.
However, legal experts argue that enabling Turkey to justify a restriction of data to individuals violates their rights.”
Article 11(1) of the Rules on the Processing of Data (RPD) requires that data processing in the Interpol Information System should be authorised with due regard to the law applicable to the NCB. As highlighted in the report attached to our first letter, Turkey's own Constitutional Court has issued three separate rulings that the revocation of passports without a court order is unlawful. Therefore, any data in the Interpol Information System showing that a Turkish passport has been revoked or invalidated without an order from a judicial authority is in violation of Interpol's RPD and Constitution.
We welcome the opportunity for direct engagement on these matters in an open forum. We have arranged for the American Bar Association to extend an invitation to you to participate as a panellist in an upcoming event entitled ‘Latest Developments in INTERPOL's and its Member Countries' Approach to Transnational Repression’ due to take place on 25 July 2023. I understand that the invitation has been sent to you this week and is enclosed here for your reference.
We would be delighted if you could contribute to this open and constructive discussion with several of the open letter’s signatories, including myself. In any event, we are grateful to have entered into a direct line of communication with you on what is a pressing human rights issue affecting large numbers of individuals, many of whom are clients of signatories to the open letter.
We would be happy to meet in the coming months to discuss how we might assist Interpol in going forward to prevent your systems being manipulated.