After a snap election in Dubai, South Korean Kim Jong Yang has officially been named INTERPOL’s new president.
Multiple news sources had previously reported that Alexander Prokopchuk, a Russian who has served as the INTERPOL vice chair for Europe since 2016, was the favorite to become the next President of INTERPOL.In recent weeks, Prokopchuk’s strong bid for the presidency led many international actors, including the United States, to openly decry the misuse of INTERPOL by authoritarian regimes as a political tool. These allegations did not begin with the Russian candidate. In fact, Chinese use of the ‘red notice’system under Meng Hongwei to target political and ideological opponents led groups like Human Rights Watch to declare that the system has long been abused to support particular political agendas. Sources show that in recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of diffusions (in which a country requests that INTERPOL issue a ‘red notice’against an individual or group) and a less significant, but still apparent, increase in the number of ‘red notices’ issued.
The use of red notices as a political tool has damaged the supposed objectivity of INTERPOL, revealing that it is, at its root, largely dominated by international realpolitik. It is very telling that the US and European leaders who campaigned against Prokopchuk emphasized the need for INTERPOL to remain neutral and independent, arguing that electing a Russian president would lead to further abuses of power. Lithuania and Ukraine both threatened to leave INTERPOL altogether if Prokopchuk were to be elected. It is even more telling that, in response, the Russians accused the U.S. and other actors of overly politicizing the issue and of smearing Prokopchuk, a seasoned professional, in the name of personal gain. What this reveals is that, reflecting common trends across international institutions, states tend to use these institutions not as a mechanism to support rule of law, but rather as another site for the contestation of power and influence in international politics.
While many see Yang’s election as an uncontroversial choice, it does little to assuage concerns about the continued misuse and abuse of INTERPOL and its mechanisms. The number of red notices has increased since last year, even as Yang has been at the helm of INTERPOL for nearly two months of this year already, suggesting that his presidency might be merely more of the same. In fact, the truly troubling part of this saga is that countries used the the snap election as an opportunity to pursue highly partisan agendas, and that, in some sense, Yang’selection represents a highly partisan victory against Russia. Beyond that, the confusion of INTERPOL during the disappearance of its former president Meng raises significant concerns about its ability to uphold global rule of law and to counter partisan efforts to misuse INTERPOL’s institutions. All in all, this election has not resolved many of the tensions within INTERPOL, and many serious questions remain.