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  • Roger Sahota

Setting the Record Straight on Abuse of the Red Notice System

By Roger Sahota, Partner at Berkeley Square Solicitors, London, and Red Notice Monitor Editor

Photo: Interpol

In an effort to “set the record straight” on the scale of the problem of abusive Red Notice requests Interpol’s General Secretary Jürgen Stock, writing for Euronews on the 9th May 2023, commented that:-

“There have been cases of non-compliance, and each case is one too many, especially for the individual concerned, but we are constantly reviewing and enhancing our processes to ensure the system is as strong as possible.

Publicly available statistics show that an extremely small percentage of Red Notice requests sent to the General Secretariat are found to be non-compliant and therefore refused.

In 2021, out of the 23,716 wanted persons alerts issued via Interpol, a total of 483 were refused or cancelled as they were either not within the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or were political, military, religious or racial in nature.

That's 483 out of 23,716.

Anyone who claims our organisation is not treating Red Notices with the utmost due diligence is deliberately ignoring the facts.

…Therefore, instead of focusing on misguided opinions and exceptions, we should look at the big picture.”

Referring only to the 2% of “wanted persons alerts” (presumably Red Notices and diffusions) that on screening were found to violate Article 2 (human rights) or Article 3 (political, military, religious or racial prohibition) of Interpol’s Constitution, the Euronews article clearly implied that this is a problem that has been greatly exaggerated.

However, new data just published by Interpol indicates that this statistic may not accurately reflect the “big picture” Mr Stock asks us to focus on.

Fresh information released in an online statement on the “Review and Compliance” section on Interpol’s website suggests that the percentage of ALL alerts that are refused or cancelled (not just those on Art 2/3 grounds) during the screening process is far higher than 2% and is closer to 6% - two or three times more than what is cited in the Euronews piece.

A disparity arises because the 2% estimate does not take into account refusals or cancellations for “other” reasons (i.e., aside from Article 2/3 non-compliance).

In fact, since 2018 far more Interpol alerts have been rejected on “other” grounds as opposed to breaches of Articles 2/3.

For example, 767 alerts were refused/cancelled for “other” reasons in 2021. This compares to 503 rejections under Art2/3 in the same year. (Oddly, this is slightly higher than the 483 mentioned in the Euronews article.)[1]

Interestingly, reviewing the trends from 2018 to 2022, the percentage of refusals/cancellations for ‘other’ reasons increases year on year, both as a percentage of the total number of Red Notices/Diffusions received and in real terms.

So, in 2022, the number of “other” refusals/cancellations increased markedly from 767 in 2021 to 1161, a 51% increase from the previous year. At the same time the number of refusals/cancellations on Article 2/3 grounds have also fallen dramatically.

Conclusions that can be drawn from this include the inference that the NDTF is now more likely to refuse/cancel a Red Notice or Diffusion on “other” (unspecified) grounds than because of Article 2/3 non-compliance. Why this arises remains unclear as Interpol has not revealed in detail how the NDTF’s reviews are conducted.

If we take into account the statistics from the CCF then the scale of abuse become even more pronounced. In 2021 478 complaints against diffusions/Red Notices were deemed admissible. In 296 cases, the CCF ordered the alerts should be deleted from INTERPOL’s files as they did not comply with INTERPOL’s rules. Given the time lag in the CCF determining cases (in our experience it takes Interpol 6-9 months to render a decision typically) we have not aggregated the CCF data for 2021 with that from the NDTF.

Greater transparency from the Commission for the Control of Files (“CCF”) in this area would also be welcome - the CCF report for 2021 does not contains any data on the reasons for the CCF’s decisions to delete data.

As an anecdotal aside, the author can point to his own experience with the CCF in successfully applying to delete a Red Notice which further suggests that deletions/refusals/cancellations of Red Notices/diffusions on “other’ grounds are becoming more commonplace. Although a recent submission we filed argued breaches of Article 3 – specifically political grounds – the Red Notice was deleted on “other” grounds. No further reasoning for the deletion decision was provided.

It is curious then that the Euronews article chose only to refer to the data relating to Article 2/3 non-compliant rejections rather than the relevant data for ALL refusals and cancellations.

Crunching these numbers is not just an academic exercise only of interest to Interpol academics and commentators. Serious concerns for Interpol arise from this analysis.

Commenting on this data, the Interpol expert Dr Ted Bromund told the Red Notice Monitor:

“the percentage of alerts refused or cancelled is remaining constant, or even going up slightly, from 2018 to 2022, so there is no basis for any argument that the system has solved the problem of abuse.”

In other words, neither the NDTF’s screening mechanisms nor the “interim and corrective measures” (see our earlier blog) deployed by Interpol are deterring rogue member states from trying to manipulate its systems for their own ends.

It will be interesting see what impact Russia’s exclusion from Interpol’s information sharing network will have when the data for 2023 is released.

Mr Stock has made great play of Interpol’s commitment to scrutinising Red Notices and Diffusions “with the utmost due diligence.”

Supporters of the international rule of law will welcome that statement as the facts suggests that Interpol has good reason to be wary of the conduct of some of its member states.

Table reproduced from the “Compliance and Review” section on Interpol’s website.


[1] In making this comparison we have relied, firstly, on information available on the “Compliance and Review” section on Interpol’s website which refers only to statistics based on decisions taken by the Notices and Diffusions Task Force (NDTF) that is tasked with screening all alerts once they are received by Interpol. Secondly, we have assumed that the figures cited in the Euronews article derive from the work of the NDTF (and not those “deleted” by the CCF).

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