May 19, 2024

Interpol Abuse: Dictators Track Dissenters – News

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Interpol is essential for tracking criminals across national borders. But autocrats have long abused global police power to track down opponents of the regime.

Criminals do not adhere to national borders. That's why police forces also have to work across borders. Interpol takes care of that.

The problem: The tools of global police power, including massive databases, search calls, tracking people, or technical know-how, are not used exclusively to pursue criminals. Authoritarian regimes also use it against their opponents.

The Interpol Constitution clearly states that we must strictly avoid things that have a predominantly political, military or religious element.

This is in stark contrast to the Interpol Constitution, as Interpol President Jürgen Stock recently stated in a press conference: “The Interpol Constitution stipulates very clearly that we must strictly stay away from matters that have a primarily political, military or religious component.” Some of the 196 member states are fighting over the issue. Dictators use Interpol to use “red notices” to search for dissidents around the world.

“Red Notice”: Bill Browder in the Kremlin's crosshairs


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Bill Browder (2018 recording).

Keystone/AP/Francisco Seco

“Red Notices” are not legally binding arrest warrants, but rather arrest requests. But it often leads to arrests, as happened with Bill Browder several times. The American has revealed cases of corruption in the Russian system.

Browder told CBS that during a visit to Spain, there was a sudden knock on the hotel door. Two Spanish police officers then arrested him – on the basis of an Interpol “red notice”.

Browder narrowly avoided extradition to Moscow: “The head of the Spanish police told me that they had just been in contact with the Secretary General of Interpol and that he had withdrawn the search call.”

Interpol, under the leadership of Secretary General Jürgen Stock, has established procedures so that search requests from individual countries are not simply waved away and disseminated globally: “We don't just put a stamp on the request and disseminate it globally. I have a team of over forty people who vet every “Request to ensure compliance with our rules.”

Exploit search calls

In 2022, at least 300 out of 24,000 Red Notice applications were excluded. The headquarters in Lyon does not say who contacts Interpol in an offensive manner. But what is known is that Russia does this often, as do other countries: China, Venezuela, Bahrain, Belarus, Qatar, Egypt, India and Turkey. Using search calls to track down defectors has become more difficult. But the sorting system is not perfect, Stock admitted to CBS.

Photo by Jurgen Stock

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In order to prevent abuses, Interpol head Jürgen Stock introduced monitoring mechanisms. But dictatorial regimes are finding new ways to use Interpol to persecute dissidents.

Keystone/EPA, Christian Bruna

In addition, as extensive research by The New York Times has revealed, autocrats are now using other tools: for example, they are asking Interpol to distribute “Blue Notices,” which call for the collection of information about political opponents. Or “green notices”, i.e. warnings about criminal activity. They describe the dissidents as missing persons in order to search for them.

Or, as Belarus and Turkey recently did, they report passports of politically unpopular people to Interpol's database as stolen or forged. This puts those affected on the radar of police and border guards around the world. In contrast to Red Notices, Interpol's controls regarding improper use are more lax here.

Who follows Stoke?

Jürgen Stock's term at the helm of Interpol is coming to an end. He pushed the fight against abuse forward. His potential successors are also committed to this – in principle. It's unclear how serious they are about this. British candidate Stephen Kavanagh is expected to pay attention to this problem.

Brazilian Valdesi Urquiza, the preferred candidate for the position, is primarily seeking votes from third world and emerging countries: “After a series of American and European presidents, Interpol needs someone from another part of the world.” A number of governments there would likely be happy if the global police body examined their demands less stringently in the future.

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