A report published this week by Fair Trials International entitled “Strengthening respect for human rights, strengthening Interpol” highlights that certain countries are using Interpol’s ‘red notice’ system against exiled political opponents. Interpol is the world’s largest international police organization, with 190 member countries.

The report shows how politically-motivated ‘wanted person’ alerts are being disseminated to police forces in over 190 countries through Interpol’s ‘red notices’ system. According to Fair Trials International, these international notices can have a considerable impact on the targeted person: damage to reputation, loss of work, inability to travel and even arrest and extradition. A notice may also have an impact on any pending asylum claim, since it is often seen by authorities as a serious reason for considering that the individual might have committed an offence, which undermines the prospects of their claim being accepted.

The report states that Interpol’s protection mechanisms against abuse of the system are ineffective and that red notices are often assumed to be requested in good faith without being rigorously reviewed.

The report also highlights that those affected by this international alert system lack an opportunity to challenge the dissemination of their information through Interpol’s databases in a fair and transparent manner. Fair Trials International urges Interpol to provide effective remedies for those wrongly targeted and to refuse or delete red notices where it has substantial grounds for believing that the person is being prosecuted for political reasons.

Following the publication of this report, six Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have sent a letter to the European Commission drawing attention to the issues raised. The MEPs stressed that countries such as Russia, Belarus, Turkey and Iran are misusing the red notices to target political exiles, many of them refugees living in the European Union.

“The vulnerability of Interpol’s systems to political abuse leaves refugees recognised in one Member State at risk of repeated arrest in other Member States, undermining the concept of an area of freedom, security and justice”, it is stated in the letter. The report gives the example of Petr Silaev, a political activist from Russia granted asylum in Finland. When he travelled to Spain he was detained due to a red notice placed on him at the request of the Russian authorities. A Spanish Court determined that there were clear grounds to believe that prosecution against him was politically-motivated.

The MEPs also warn that cooperation between Interpol and Europol – the EU’s law enforcement agency – may lead Europol to process information which has been obtained in breach of human rights. The MEPs call for the establishment of a working group of experts to examine in more detail this issue of political abuse of Interpol’s alert system. They also encourage Interpol to treat asylum grants by EU Member States as giving rise to a presumption that information relating to the relevant person should be removed from Interpol’s files, since other Member States could no longer extradite such persons.

The Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files, in a statement made by the Chairman Billy Hawkes, expressed its support for many of the recommendations made in the Fair Trials report and stated: “We are very alive to the danger of Interpol being misused in order to pursue individuals for political or other inappropriate reasons and the serious consequences for the individuals concerned”.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 29 November 2013
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