Examining Trends in Political Unrest and Allegations of Interpol Abuse

COMMENTARY Global Politics

Examining Trends in Political Unrest and Allegations of Interpol Abuse

Aug 1st, 2019 6 min read

Commentary By

Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D. @Bromund

Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations

Yuriy Nemets

Key Takeaways

Allegations of Interpol abuse have been increasing even faster than the number of Red Notices published by Interpol.

By INTERPOL’s own admission, it lacks a comprehensive mechanism for enforcing the CCF decisions.

It would be unreasonable to exclude or even minimize the possibility that those political events indeed contributed.

In the first post in this series, the authors noted that allegations of Interpol abuse have been increasing even faster than the number of Red Notices published by Interpol, and that, while the data published by the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (the CCF) is limited, there are reasons to believe that the increase in alleged abuse has a number of causes and is not just a function of the increased publicity given to abuse in recent years.

One of the striking patterns in cases received by the CCF is the way that some countries appear regularly among the top ten nations, whereas other countries appear suddenly. Tallying the CCF’s figures in its annual reports for nations that are the primary cause for individual requests gives us this table for cases received by the CCF from 2010 through 2017: 

Russia: 293 cases

U.S.: 150 cases

United Arab Emirates: 127 cases

Turkey: 119 cases

Ukraine: 116 cases

India: 109 cases

Venezuela: 86 cases

Egypt: 46 cases

China: 40 cases

Libya: 38 cases

These numbers disguise the patterns in the data. Some countries — the UEA, Venezuela, the U.S., and especially Russia — appear every year. Not all of these nations are necessarily abusive: while Russia, the UAE and Venezuela are well-known abusers, there are very few credible allegations of U.S. abuse of the INTERPOL system, although there are good reasons to believe that the U.S. gives far too much credence to foreign Red Notices and diffusions in its domestic legal processes.  

Another pattern, which prompted us to write this article, appears in data concerning three countries mentioned in the CCF recent reports, Turkey, Egypt and Ukraine.  These three nations have something in common: shortly before the CCF observed a rising number of individual requests against them, each of these countries underwent a sudden change of government, or an attempted change of government. 

Turkey is the most obvious, or even blatant, case: an attempted coup on July 15, 2016 has been followed by a wave of transnational repression (a “global purge”) that has reached far beyond INTERPOL.  In early July 2017, Hürriyet Daily News, citing BBC Turkish, reported that Turkey tried to put 60,000 individuals on the INTERPOL wanted list, accusing them of being affiliated with the Gülen movement.  There does not seem to be any historical precedent for a country attempting to put as many individuals on the INTERPOL wanted list regarding a single event as Turkey did.  Before 2016, Turkey never generated more than 10 CCF cases a year, but in 2016, it produced 47.  

The regime of Mohamed Morsi of Egypt was overthrown on July 3, 2013. Egypt suddenly appeared on the CCF’s list that same year.  Before 2012, Egypt had not appeared at all in CCF annual disclosures, but it has appeared every year since then, with the exception of 2016, and in 2017 produced 19 cases.  

Finally, the civil unrest that led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution began in 2013, and has been followed by both the persistent appearance of Ukraine on the CCF’s list starting in 2013.  Although before 2013 Ukraine never appeared on the CCF public list of countries responsible for the majority of individual requests, since the 2014 revolution, the country has been on that list every year, including a whopping 49 cases filed in 2017.

Although it would be unreasonable not to seriously consider the political events in Turkey, Egypt and Ukraine the driving force behind the sudden increase in the number of requests filed against them with the CCF, the lack of transparency in the CCF public disclosures prevents us from drawing any significant conclusions.  For this reason, we have no choice but to admit that correlation, of course, is not causation: just because these three nations experienced domestic turmoil and suddenly became significant sources of CCF cases does not mean that these developments are connected, or that these nations are (necessarily) abusing INTERPOL as a result of, or in reaction to, their domestic difficulties. After all, there are examples of INTERPOL member nations suddenly appearing on the CCF list without undergoing the kind of massive domestic strife that might encourage them to resort to INTERPOL, such as Iran, which generated 28 cases in 2016 and then did not appear in any other year on the CCF list of countries responsible for the majority of individual requests, or Italy, which generated 13 cases in 2015.

Nevertheless, this correlation should not be ignored, and there are good reasons to believe that violent changes, or attempted changes, in governments are helping to drive an increase in CCF cases, and, most likely, INTERPOL abuse. Just with regard to Turkey, the allegations of the country’s INTERPOL abuse directly connected with the 2016 attempted coup, in particular, are so numerous and so well-substantiated that it is hard to entertain any other explanation. 

The advantage for governments facing domestic difficulties of abusing INTERPOL are clear: unless their actions are successfully challenged, an INTERPOL Red Notice or diffusion will be widely (if wrongly) interpreted as a condemnation of their opponents as criminals, it will make their lives abroad considerably more difficult, and it may result in their extradition back to their home nation — and to trial at the hands of their political opponents. INTERPOL is well-aware of this risk. Its Repository of Practice: Application of Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution in the Context of the Processing of Information via INTERPOL’s Channels states that:

 INTERPOL’s practice has generally been to forbid using the organization’s channels to circulate requests for police cooperation related to acts committed in the context of an unconstitutional seizure of power. But as Interpol has noted:

 All requests have to be examined on a case-by-case basis to identify whether elements of ordinary law crime exist and, if so, whether the case has a predominantly ordinary law nature. In particular, when the acts of the individuals caused harm to other individuals or damage to property, the case will need to be considered by applying the predominance test.

In short, there is no hard and fast rule against publishing Red Notices or diffusions at the behest of a government that has risen to power on the back of a coup, or has just fended one off.  The CCF figures regarding Turkey, Egypt and Ukraine suggest that, in practice, INTERPOL will most probably allow such Red Notices and diffusions to circulate through its channels, at least until they are challenged. This is primarily because at the time when the INTERPOL General Secretariat receives a government request for cooperation, its assessment is usually limited to data the government includes in the request and information about the individual case in the public domain, if any.  With serious loopholes in its review of incoming government requests, INTERPOL is poised to miss the majority of abusive Red Notices and diffusions before they enter its channels, especially when a government accuses a journalist, or an opposition political figure, or a scholar with purportedly suspect political loyalties, of an ordinary law crime to disguise the real, that is, political and, therefore, unlawful motives behind the prosecution. 

The likely causation between tumultuous political events in INTERPOL member countries and the subsequent increase in the CCF caseload for those countries is yet another example of how INTERPOL needs to reform its mechanisms in order to protect individuals from persecution and abuse of its channels for political purposes. Individuals challenging abusive Red Notices and diffusions still do no have the right to have a hearing, to appeal or to examine evidence governments produce against them, the guarantees without which modern democratic due process cannot exist.  In addition, by INTERPOL’s own admission, it lacks a comprehensive mechanism for enforcing the CCF decisions, and some countries have in fact succeeded in putting the same individuals already declared to be victims of their Red Notice abuse back on the INTERPOL wanted list.

Again, because the CCF unjustly refuses to provide the general public with the information about specific countries engaging in INTERPOL abuse, the number and nature of their violations, we cannot accurately assess to what extent changes in political regimes, including coups and attempted coups in nations like Egypt, Turkey or Ukraine, drive the increase in the CCF caseload.  However, given the significant increase in the number of individual requests filed with the CCF following coups or attempted coups, it would be unreasonable to exclude or even minimize the possibility that those political events indeed contributed to the number of instances of the alleged abuse of INTERPOL’s channels.  And that, in turn, means that the CCF’s refusal to provide more transparency on its decisions, and on the nations that it finds have abused the INTERPOL system, is not just regrettable: it is a position that reformers need to challenge and to change as well.

This piece originally appeared in Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedbromund/2019/07/30/examining-trends-in-political-unrest-and-allegations-of-interpol-abuse/#6d9d8c795862