INTERPOL abuse threatens refugees, journalists and political activists

Countries including Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Belarus, Indonesia, Iran and Venezuela are abusing INTERPOL to persecute refugees, journalists and peaceful political activists, according to a report published today by Fair Trials International.

Despite INTERPOL’s commitment to neutrality and human rights, the report shows how INTERPOL’s review mechanisms are not vigorous enough to prevent this abuse, with severe implications for the people concerned: damage to reputation, loss of work, inability to travel and even arrest and extradition.

Jago Russell, Chief Executive of Fair Trials International said:

“INTERPOL has an important role to play in the fight against serious and organised crime but, when abused, its global “wanted person” alerts can have a devastating human impact. With simple reforms INTERPOL could weed-out many of these cases and strengthen its credibility which is threatened every time its systems are misused for political purposes.”

The report (“Strengthening respect for human rights; strengthening INTERPOL”) shows how politically-motivated wanted person alerts are being disseminated to police forces in over 190 countries. The report features the stories of individuals who have been arrested at gunpoint or detained in high-security prisons, including within the EU.

Fair Trials is calling for simple reforms to INTERPOL to ensure that its essential crime-fighting systems are not open to this abuse and that trust in its work is not weakened. The report contains a number of recommendations designed to help INTERPOL prevent such cases in the future and give the people subject to these abuses the chance to challenge them with fairness and due process.

    1. Fair Trials International is a human rights charity which works for effective defence of the right to a fair trial according to recognised international standards.

    2. INTERPOL is the second largest international organisation, after the United Nations, with 190 member countries and an annual budget of €70 million. One of its roles is to enable police forces across the globe to exchange information, including the distribution of information seeking the arrest of wanted people for the purposes of extradition. This is done through “Diffusions” and “Red Notices” and over 20,000 of these are issued each year and circulated across the globe. Each carries with it the potential to deprive people of their liberty and reputation. For more information on Red Notices and INTERPOL, click here.

    3. Fair Trials International’s report draws on the organisation’s experience of representing individual beneficiaries subject to politically-motivated Red Notices. The report is designed to set out, as transparently as possible, Fair Trials’ understanding of INTERPOL’s operation, the evidence of the unjustified human rights impact, and to put forward simple recommendations which could help INTERPOL prevent this abuse in future. Read the report here. 

The report makes two recommendations:

- First, changes must be made to enable INTERPOL to identify Red Notices requested by countries that would be abusive, incomplete or inaccurate. In recent years INTERPOL has, sadly, made it easier for countries to avoid its limited internal controls.

- Secondly, an effective and independent body must be created to give people a fair chance to challenge the use of INTERPOL’s systems against them. This must follow basic rules of due process, be transparent and give reasons for its decisions.

    1. In September 2013, Fair Trials met with INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble and other INTERPOL officials to discuss human rights and police information sharing. The meeting, held at INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, provided an opportunity for Fair Trials International to highlight its concerns about misuses of INTERPOL’s wanted alert systems and to discuss its reform proposals.
    2. Some of INTERPOL’s 190 member countries are known human rights abusers and notoriously corrupt, but INTERPOL has no effective mechanisms to prevent countries, or even individual prosecutors, abusing its systems. As a result, even though most Red Notices may be perfectly valid, abuses of INTERPOL are affecting human rights campaigners, journalists and businessmen. Cases include:

-Petr Silaev a Russian anti-fascist activist and recognised refugee from Moscow. In August 2012 he was arrested in Spain on the basis of a request circulated by Moscow prosecutors using INTERPOL’s channels and was detained for eight days in a high-security prison. Click here to read more about Petr’s case and watch him speaking about his ordeal.

Benny Wenda, a West Papuan freedom fighter who escaped from prison in Indonesia and was granted asylum as a political refugee in the UK. Indonesia obtained a red notice based on the same politically-motivated charges he had fled, and had the notice published on INTERPOL’s website, tarnishing the image of Benny and his campaign. Further to an application by Fair Trials International, INTERPOL deleted the red notice in July 2012.

-Rachel Baines (Not her real name), a 28-year-old cabin crew for a leading airline, had her life turned upside down and her employment terminated when she was the subject of an INTERPOL Red Notice based on an unpaid debt in the Middle East. With the help of Fair Trials, Rachel was able to have the records INTERPOL held on her deleted, but this was not before losing what had been a promising career.

-Patricia Poleo, an award-winning anti-corruption journalist and vocal critic of Hugo Chavez, was subject to a Red Notice from Venezuela. Patricia, who is currently based in the USA, had been brought before military tribunals several times within Venezuela, prompting the Inter-American Commission to recommend that measures be taken to ensure her safety. Equally well-known, and documented in Venezuelan media, was the fact that she had previously been the subject of a murder allegation which fell apart after the main witness revealed in an interview broadcast on national television that he had been paid to fabricate his evidence.