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An organization under international law

The INTERPOL Constitution as an international agreement

Given that policing forms a fundamental domain of state sovereignty, INTERPOL's cross-border activities can only be possible if the Organization acts as a subject of international law.

Without this prerequisite, no real, global influence can be achieved. It is therefore important to understand the various legal aspects of an international organization, and the regime by which States become Members of INTERPOL.

INTERPOL’s  Constitution, adopted in 1956 by the INTERPOL General Assembly, can be characterized as an agreement in simplified form. It takes the usual wording of treaty-style documents and contains standard provisions which can be found in other treaties establishing international organizations.

Furthermore, INTERPOL has acceded to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties between States and International Organizations or between International Organizations.

The Constitution empowers INTERPOL to conclude international agreements (Article 41). In application of this Article, the Organization has concluded a significant number of international agreements with other subjects of international law.

These include more than 40 agreements relating to INTERPOL's privileges and immunities on the territory of different States, either for the establishment of a bureau, for the organization of a General Assembly session or a Regional Conference, or for the deployment of personnel in the field for police operations.

INTERPOL has also concluded, for example, a general cooperation agreement with the United Nations.

Membership of INTERPOL

Article 45 of INTERPOL’s Constitution affirms that governments of the countries which participated in its adoption in 1956 were involved in INTERPOL’s constitutive process.

Application for membership by countries which were not members in 1956 is governed by Article 4 of the Constitution.

The decision to become a party to INTERPOL stems from a decision by the appropriate governmental authorities in the light of the 1969 Vienna Convention. Depending on the country, it can be either the  President of the Republic, Head of State, Prime Minister or government departments, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Justice (or Attorney General), or Secretary General of the President of the Republic's office. 

Certain contracting parties nonetheless have chosen to have this legal instrument approved following their internal procedure for approving international treaties. Therefore, all the contracting parties have, by their acts or behaviour subsequent to the adoption of the Constitution, consented to its binding nature as an international legal instrument.

Although indicated that "any country may delegate as a Member to the Organization any official police bodies whose functions come within the framework of activities", these members are instructed by their governments.

The Constitution ensures governmental representation of the contracting party through the appointment of the head of the delegation to the General Assembly (Article 7), and the funding of the Organization through statutory contributions (Article 38).

Each State has included in its national budget the financial contribution of the Member responsible for representing it within the Organization.  The statutory financial contributions are regularly paid by the Members, in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution. 

Internal regulations

The Constitution lays down the Organization's capacity – via the General Assembly – to adopt its own subordinate legislation (Article 8(d)).

As all international organizations, INTERPOL has its own staff deployed within the General Secretariat, who is governed by a set of Staff Regulations and Rules which constitute subordinate legislation. The members of the staff have the status of international civil servant, enjoy international protection as defined in the rules of international law on the prevention and punishment of crimes against internationally protected persons, and their independence is guaranteed.

Evolution of INTERPOL's status as an international organization

Below are some landmarks in INTERPOL's evolution into an international organization:

1949 - The United Nations grants INTERPOL consultative status as a non-governmental organization.

1971 - The United Nations recognizes INTERPOL as an intergovernmental organization.

1972 - A Headquarters Agreement with France recognizes INTERPOL as an international organization.

1996 - The United Nations General Assembly confers observer status to INTERPOL.