Ending Interpol Abuse: How A Key Tool In Global Law Enforcement Is Being Hijacked By Rogue Regimes

Credit: Interpol.int

President Trump — with the support of Attorney General Jeff Sessions — has grand aspirations to protect America by defeating ISIS, securing our borders, and crushing criminal gangs who, up until now, have found it too easy to slip in and out of the U.S.

He’s going to need help from allies around the world to make that happen — and he’s going to need Interpol, the international police organization that holds the power to facilitate arrests at international borders across its 190-country membership.

Rogue regimes — first and foremost Russia… — are using Interpol’s protocols to harass political opponents, real and perceived, for trumped-up “crimes.”

Rogue regimes — first and foremost Russia, but also Venezuela, Iran and others — are increasingly gaming Interpol for their own ends. They are using Interpol’s protocols to harass political opponents, real and perceived, for trumped-up “crimes,” when in fact the targeted individuals have done nothing more than voice dissent or raise their hands in political protest.

These targeted persons, having escaped persecution by the regimes that they have criticized, often find they are subject to an Interpol Red Notice — effectively an international arrest warrant — which works as either a travel ban or puts them at risk of arrest. They may also find themselves on Interpol’s public website, a scarlet letter that can make it impossible for these political victims to open a bank account around the world.

These abuses need to stop, but with Russian and Chinese officials taking leadership posts in the organization — the first time in Interpol’s history — the U.S. and its democratic allies may see their influence and ability to achieve reform shrink.

It’s a watershed moment for Interpol, whose integrity is threatened from within by member nations who have taken a law enforcement tool the world needs and twisted it into a political weapon. Some within Interpol recognize the problem. Last year, Interpol promulgated new rules designed to protect asylum recipients from politically motivated Red Notices. In addition, Interpol in November 2016 announced additional changes, including the claim that there will now be a process in place to review Red Notices for potential abuses. That sounds great, but given the approximately 11,500 new Red Notices a year, and the lack of evidence that new resources sufficient to review those notices are being committed for the purpose, this “reform” is dubious at best.

The fact is, there remain massive holes in Interpol’s processes — and that’s bad news for Iranians who post a YouTube video of themselves dancing to a pop song with a member of the opposite sex; Venezuelans who marched in a demonstration in Caracas; or Russians who have somehow gotten sideways with Vladimir Putin, or simply have an associate or family member who has.

The solution starts with the commitment of resources to screen Interpol abuse, but that is just a beginning. It now can take years to get Interpol to review a politically motivated Red Notice. I know of one case involving Russia where the victim, former Russian businessman Leonid Nevzlin, made multiple applications to Interpol for more than ten years before the organization finally recognized (as multiple courts had done in the interim) that the underlying case was predominately political. Mr. Nevzlin could afford lawyers who pressed his case over that tortured decade, but many victims of Interpol abuse do not have that luxury.

In addition to streamlining the review process, Interpol must recognize a right to confront accusations that result in a Red Notice, and a hearing at which the propriety of the Red Notice can be challenged. Finally, Interpol’s discretion to facilitate the arrest of victims of political persecution by rogue regimes must be subject to judicial review. That Interpol is currently immune from such review is kindling for abuse. It also sets Interpol apart from the domestic police in the United States and every other democratic Interpol member.

I know from my time at the Department of Justice that Interpol is a critical tool for international law enforcement, but even the best tool can be dangerous in the wrong hands or when it is misused.

Interpol is a critical tool for international law enforcement, but even the best tool can be dangerous in the wrong hands...

But Interpol cannot be that partner without both reform, and the application of greater resources to make reforms real. Those resources should not just come from America either, but from the greater international community that Interpol benefits. Stronger engagement with this vital ally, and engagement with all of our allies on the subject of Interpol, is essential to ensuring that the organization is deployed to prosecute the real enemies — international criminals — not to silence the voices of civil society and dissidents defending democratic values.

This article was originally published in The World Post, a partnership of The Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute.