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Neutrality (Article 3 of the Constitution)

Purpose

Neutrality is, and always has been, paramount to INTERPOL. As an international organization with a unique mandate, namely to prevent and fight crime through enhanced international police cooperation, it is of the utmost importance that INTERPOL’s activities transcend domestic and international politics.  

Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution enshrines this guiding principle of neutrality by explicitly forbidding INTERPOL from engaging in matters of political, military, religious and racial character.

This principle was first introduced in INTERPOL’s Statute in 1948, when the phrase "to the strict exclusion of all matters having a political, religious or racial character" was added to the end of Article 1(1) of the Organization’s Statute, which defined the Organization’s purposes.

Upon the adoption of INTERPOL’s Constitution in 1956, this principle was inscribed in Article 3, and was extended to also include activities of a military nature.

Interpretation

The interpretation of Article 3 in the context of INTERPOL’s activities has been the subject of a number of INTERPOL’s General Assembly Resolutions.

Deriving from those Resolutions and their implementation in INTERPOL’s practice throughout the years, the primary objectives of Article 3 may be defined as follows:

  • To ensure the independence and neutrality of INTERPOL as an international organisation;
  • To reflect international extradition law;
  • To protect individuals from persecution.

Article 3 applies to all of INTERPOL’s activities and is particularly pertinent to the processing of information via the Organization’s channels, especially in the review and issuance of INTERPOL Notices and the review of messages exchanged directly among its member countries.

Assessment

In the context of the processing of information, the application of Article 3 is based on the predominance test, whereby all the relevant facts of a particular case are assessed to determine the nature of the case.

If the case is of predominant ordinary-law characteristics, Article 3 will not apply; if it is of pure or predominant political, military, religious, or racial characteristics, Article 3 will apply and prevent any cooperation in the matter.

According to Article 40 of the Implementing Rules for the Rules on the Processing of Information. the relevant information to be reviewed in analysing a case under Article 3 includes the following:

  • Nature of the offence;
  • Status of the persons concerned;
  • Identity of the source of information;
  • Position expressed by INTERPOL members;
  • Obligations under international law;
  • Implications on INTERPOL’s neutrality;
  • General context of the case.

Evolution

Changes in the nature of transnational crime and developments under international law have affected the interpretation and implementation of Article 3. Notably, INTERPOL’s General Assembly concluded that the application of Article 3 does not necessarily prevent the Organization from providing support in the field of counter-terrorism.

Similarly, a 1994 Resolution allowed the Organization to cooperate with international tribunals and opened the way for the Organization’s active involvement in combating serious international crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes).

Ensuring that the Organization remains within the boundaries of Article 3 continues to be an integral part of the INTERPOL General Secretariat’s daily activities. This is essential to ensure that the Organization remains neutral, effective and respected by the international community and its member countries.

Article 3 therefore remains a dynamic and living provision in INTERPOL’s practice.

Application

The restriction laid down by Article 3 applies both to the General Secretariat and to Member States. The former must refrain from providing assistance when Article 3 forbids it, while member countries undertake to comply with the Constitution when they join INTERPOL.

The Organization therefore checks that requests from National Central Bureaus (NCBs), which circulate on INTERPOL's network and are stored in its databases, comply with the Constitution.

This monitoring means that INTERPOL may refuse to process a request on the basis of Article 3, but States alone have the sovereign right to determine whether an offence is political (in the context of extradition proceedings for instance).

For example, if the Organization agrees to record a request from a Member State in its database, another Member State is nonetheless completely free to consider that the charges are for political offences. If INTERPOL refuses to record a request which it considers contrary to Article 3, the requesting Member State may forward its request through any channel other than INTERPOL's.

In addition to the usual, day-to-day monitoring carried out by INTERPOL, the Organization may also receive requests submitted by individuals or NCBs concerning cases which could potentially violate Article 3. The General Secretariat then carries out the necessary checks and initiates an exchange of views with the NCB which supplied the information in question.