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  • Red Notice Monitor

Taking Stock: We should set the record straight on Interpol and its Red Notice system

Updated: May 22, 2023

Red Notice Monitor welcomed a recent article published in Euronews by Interpol’s Secretary General, Jurgen Stock, mainly because it is a rare occurrence for Interpol to engage publicly with the issue of non-compliant Red Notices. Also because, if Stock is serious about setting the record straight, his article could mark a big step in the right direction for protecting individuals against politically motivated Red Notices.

Interpol’s crucial role in the apprehension of murderers, rapists and fraudsters who attempt to flee justice by crossing borders is indisputable. That is not, nor has it ever been, where criticisms of Interpol are aimed.

What is criticised, here and by countless other legal professionals, is that Interpol’s notice systems are abused by some governments. This itself is not disputed by Stock as it is a well-documented and long-standing occurrence. Where it is more difficult to set the record straight, is where the responsibility for such abuse lies.

For many Interpol lawyers and human rights experts, blame was rightly apportioned to Interpol for allowing the misuse of its notice systems to go unchecked and unpunished. Indeed, it was those same criticisms which prompted Interpol, under Stock’s leadership, to introduce in 2016 screening procedures for all Red Notices. The screening is undertaken internally by the newly established Notices and Diffusions Task Force (NDTF).

As the article rightly puts, ‘Interpol, is perhaps the most well-known yet least-understood organisation’. And in doing their job to assert their client’s rights, Red Notice lawyers and the international human rights community have expressed concerns about the NDTF’s mysterious lack of transparency. Interpol has a policy that information concerning the screening process is not made public and the NDTF’s findings are not available to member countries. It is vaguely understood that the screening process includes review for compliance with the requirements of Interpol’s constitution and rules.

In seeking to reassure us that NDTF safeguards are an effective means of public protection, Stock refers to statistics from 2021 which show that ‘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’.

However, what those two figures do not tell us is how many of the 483 non-compliant notices were successfully filtered out during the screening stage. Nor do the figures tell us how many of those 483 non-compliant notices slipped through the screening process. Nor do they tell us how many of the 483 non-compliant notices were removed on the basis of a written application by the individual.

If any of the 483 notices were removed following a written application by the individual, that means non-compliant notices are being approved by the NDTF, posing serious questions about the effectiveness and oversight of the taskforce. It would also indicate that further non-compliant notices are likely to have slipped through the net and which are currently live on the database. It is also worth pointing out that, of the notices rubber stamped by the NDTF in 2021, several more may be deemed non-compliant following applications for removal in 2022, 2023 etc, especially given the very long waiting time on decisions.

As Interpol lawyers we know for sure that a sizeable number of notices removed as non-compliant did in fact slip through the screening net and did in fact cause significant detriment to our clients while the notice was live. We make scores of successful applications for removal on behalf of individuals unlucky enough to be wrongly targeted but lucky enough to access legal representation.

No wonder Interpol is such a mysterious organisation given that all applications for the removal of a notice must be made in writing with no opportunity for a hearing. All the more concerning given Interpol is not obliged to provide any reasons for their decisions. What’s more, Interpol has no appeals process, meaning that if Interpol refuse an application for removal on the grounds of human rights violations, there is no opportunity for greater scrutiny of the evidence at an appeal and the decision is final.

There is yet another problem with how the record has been set. It is well documented that since the introduction of the NDTF, governments intent on expanding their transnational repression are misusing Interpol Diffusions and Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents databases to get around the Red Notice screening. Diffusions are only screened by the NDTF where a wanted person is named. Yet countries routinely use Diffusions as a rapid means of information gathering cross-border, and several of our clients have been stopped and detained at borders on the basis of politically motivated Diffusions. Reports of lost or stolen passports are never screened by Interpol, leading to untold misery for masses of individuals, including persecuted Uyghurs, who can be deported without receiving any of the protections in place with extradition requests.

If Stock's article indicates a move towards greater public engagement on the inner-workings of Interpol, hopefully we will see a lot more data and a lot more transparency. Without more, presenting bare statistics as proof of adequate protections is at best unreliable and at worst disingenuous.


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