Does Political Unrest Contribute to INTERPOL Abuse?

COMMENTARY Global Politics

Does Political Unrest Contribute to INTERPOL Abuse?

Aug 1st, 2019 5 min read

Commentary By

Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D. @Bromund

Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations

Yuriy Nemets

Key Takeaways

The concept of INTERPOL abuse, and thus the role of the CCF, is simple to explain, though complicated to administer in practice.

There are three types of requests an individual may submit to the CCF.

Even if this increase in abuse was driven partly, or significantly, by the creation of INTERPOL’s I-24/7 system, it is worth exploring other potential causes for it.

Among the most remarkable developments in the history of INTERPOL over the past decade have been the sharp increase in the number of government requests it processed to locate and detain individuals for the purpose of their extradition, also known as "Red Notices" and "diffusions," and an even sharper percentage rise in government abuse of its channels to persecute political opponents and other victims of corrupt criminal prosecutions. Both journalists, such as Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times, and analysts have attributed the increase in the number of government requests in large part to the implementation in 2003 of INTERPOL’s I-24/7 system of electronic communications, which made it much easier for nations to request Red Notices. 

Another related development is the even larger increase in the number of cases brought before the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), an independent body with the exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate requests from individuals seeking access to and/or correction or deletion of information about them stored in INTERPOL's files.  The increase in individual requests filed with the CCF has considerably outstripped in percentage terms the overall increase in the number of Red Notices (and diffusions, though publicly-available information on diffusions is sparse). In 2007, INTERPOL published 3,131 Red Notices. Ten years later, it published 13,048 Red Notices, a more than fourfold increase. By way of comparison, the CCF received 201 new requests from individuals in 2010, but a total of 1,217 in 2017, a sixfold increase in only seven years.

There are good reasons to believe that the increase in the CCF’s caseload has been driven, in part, by the overall increase in the number of Red Notices, diffusions and other government requests transmitted through INTERPOL. It stands to reason, after all, that as INTERPOL does more, this will generate more cases for the CCF to examine. In other words, it is likely that more government requests means more INTERPOL abuse, or at least alleged abuse, and thus more work for the CCF. However, a government responsible for more Red Notices and diffusions is not necessarily responsible for the increase in the CCF's caseload. Other factors—such as significant political events in some INTERPOL member countries—are likely to contribute to that increase.     

The concept of INTERPOL abuse, and thus the role of the CCF, is simple to explain, though complicated to administer in practice. In essence, INTERPOL is supposed to limit itself strictly to offenses in ordinary law (e.g., fraud, assault). It is not allowed to permit its systems to be used to pursue political, military, racial, or religious offenses, or for purposes of litigating private disputes or purported offenses related to the family. 

Article 3 of the INTERPOL Constitution strictly forbids INTERPOL to undertake “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.” Of course, INTERPOL cannot prevent its member nations, which remain fully sovereign, from criminalizing any of these matters or from charging any individual with committing a crime.  INTERPOL can only police its own actions and decide whether or not to cooperate with governments in any specific case. One of the CCF’s main functions is to decide whether such cooperation is in compliance with INTERPOL's Constitution and regulations in individual cases and to ensure that the rights of individuals who are the targets of such cooperation are observed. 

In 2010, the CCF publicly identified for the first time INTERPOL member countries responsible for the majority of requests it had received from individuals.  This was also the first and only time the CCF publicly identified member countries responsible for the majority of complaints it had received from individuals.  None of the CCF’s subsequent annual reports specifies how many complaints it had received against each of the member countries. Instead, the CCF has limited its public disclosures to naming member countries responsible for the majority of requests from individuals. This is where it is easy for a layperson to get confused.  

There are three types of requests an individual may submit to the CCF: 

  • a pre-emptive request, warning the CCF that the country may submit an abusive Red Notice or diffusion, 
  • a request for access to the information about the individual in INTERPOL’s files, and
  • a request to correct or delete such information from the organization’s databases (i.e., what INTERPOL calls a “complaint”).  

By disclosing the number of requests received from individuals but omitting how many of those are complaints, the CCF keeps the general public even more in the dark about potential violations of the organization’s rules by its member countries. 

That is not to say that simply disclosing the number of complaints received against each and every country would be enough for the public to understand the full extent of that country’s conduct. For that, the CCF would have to disclose not just the number of complaints it has received against a country, but the allegations made in them, the number of times it has found the country in violation of its rules and the nature of its violations. Although it is well within CCF’s purview to make this information public, it has never done so.  

It remains unclear just why CCF stopped publishing the names of countries responsible for the majority of complaints from individuals after just one instance of doing so. Moreover, the CCF has been careful to point out that it is not necessarily true that more individual requests regarding a country mean that the country is abusing INTERPOL. As the CCF puts it in its 2017 Annual Report:

"While these figures indicate the main sources of data concerning the new requests received in 2017, they do not necessarily reflect the conclusions of the Commission on the compliance or otherwise of the data processed in INTERPOL’s files from these countries."

Despite this CCF disclaimer, its own disclosures suggest that abuse is not only increasing, but is increasing faster than the overall rate of increase in Red Notices. Although most CCF reports present too little data to make precise calculations possible, one of the current authors examined its 2015 and 2016 reports, which provide fuller data, and calculated that in 2015 the CCF recommended the deletion of 84 Red Notices, while in 2016 it recommended the deletion of approximately 170, a two-fold increase.

More broadly, this author concluded that:

"So even if precision is impossible, it is certainly safe to say that Red Notice deletions are rising faster than Red Notice publications — probably two or even three times as fast. So there is every reason to conclude that INTERPOL is not publishing more non-compliant Red Notices just because it is publishing more Red Notices in total. It is publishing more non-compliant Red Notices partly because it is publishing more Red Notices, but also partly because the proportion of non-compliant Red Notices is rising."

Because the CCF groundlessly refuses to release the information about member countries’ violations of INTERPOL’s rules, any study of this subject is fraught with many uncertainties, which the current authors acknowledge and emphasize. But it is clear, at least, that the public profile of INTERPOL abuse is higher than it was a decade ago. It is likely that this higher profile has led more people to take more cases, including meritorious ones, to the CCF. But it is also likely that the public profile of INTERPOL abuse is higher because, as the CCF numbers imply and as many journalists and analysts have concluded, there is simply more abuse now than there used to be. Even if this increase in abuse was driven partly, or significantly, by the creation of INTERPOL’s I-24/7 system, it is worth exploring other potential causes for it.

This piece originally appeared in Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedbromund/2019/07/30/does-political-unrest-contribute-to-interpol-abuse/#5f59cf014509