On December 1, 2017, the Associated Press reported that according to a confidential memorandum INTERPOL was reviewing 40,000 red notices to ensure they were not politically motivated. A red notice is a request any of the 192 member countries can disseminate via INTERPOL’s channels to seek the location and arrest of a wanted person for the purposes of his or her extradition. Article 3 of the INTERPOL Constitution strictly forbids the organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character. However, in a number of cases INTERPOL has found that some of its member countries have used the organization’s resources to persecute political opponents and other victims of unlawful criminal prosecutions.
The memorandum reflects the November 20 meeting between INTERPOL and European Union officials held after two European Union citizens, Dogan Akhanli, a German-Turkish writer, and Hamza Yalcin, a Swedish-Turkish journalist, were detained in Spain at Turkey’s request disseminated via INTERPOL’s channels. Akhanli and Yalcin fled Turkey years ago and were granted refugee status in Europe. Unfortunately, like many reports and studies behind INTERPOL’s policies and regulations, the full text of the memorandum is not available to the general public. If INTERPOL does indeed strive to observe human rights, as it must under its Constitution, it should be transparent about such initiatives. So far, the reports in the media leave more questions than answers.
It is unclear how exactly INTERPOL is planning on conducting such a massive review in an effective and objective manner. To thoroughly examine 40,000 red notices to ensure they are not politically motivated would be a colossal undertaking. The volume of information requiring careful and comprehensive consideration would be enormous, even if INTERPOL’s staff and funding were significantly increased. In this regard, it is important to remember that in many cases INTERPOL would have to go far beyond what’s already recorded in its files, that is, the minimum information a government must produce to have its request disseminated, such as the nature of the charge behind the red notice, the identity particulars, the description of the facts of the case, and a reference to the country’s criminal statute and a valid arrest warrant. To determine whether the red notice is politically motivated or not, INTERPOL would often need objective information about all the circumstances of the case. In this regard, the high volume of information is not the only reason to question the effectiveness and objectivity of such a review. Because INTERPOL’s rules prohibit the organization from sharing any information it receives from a government about a particular case without the government’s consent, INTERPOL would often have to look to that government alone for any objective information.
The report, citing the memorandum, rightfully points to the reforms INTERPOL recently undertook to expand the rights of individuals. However, despite the reforms, the existing redress mechanism for individuals still lacks some crucial safeguards inherent to the modern democratic due process, such as the right to a hearing, the right to examine the evidence produced by the government, and the right to appeal. In June 2014, the INTERPOL Executive Committee endorsed a new policy on refugees. The policy, however, does not guarantee any refugee the right to have the red notice deleted. It is formulated in such a way that it allows INTERPOL to make exceptions and deny a refugee the relief whenever the organization deems proper. Another important gap is that the policy doesn’t grant refugees an exception to the general rule that INTERPOL doesn’t disclose whether there is information about the individual in its databases without the government’s consent. As a result, refugees, like other individuals, often learn that their names are recorded in the organization’s databases after they are detained due to the INTERPOL alert. This is one of the main reasons why the detention of individuals, like Akhanli and Yalcin, continues despite the fact that the policy has been in place for several years.
To its credit, INTERPOL continues to engage in a dialogue with human rights advocates who seek to ensure that the organization isn’t used to persecute political opponents or aid an otherwise unlawful prosecution. INTERPOL is in need of further reforms to guarantee individuals due process. It should actively work towards achieving this goal while staying fully transparent about its activities in this area.
Yuriy Nemets is the managing member at NEMETS, a law firm based in Washington, DC. Yuriy is an attorney with over fifteens years of experience in domestic and international litigation and arbitration, international extradition, corporate, banking, transportation, international trade and investments, and intellectual property law. He has authored publications about international extradition, corporate, banking, and intellectual property law.