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30 August 2013

Strong safeguards underpin INTERPOL’s mission for a safer world

Opinion Editorial by INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K Noble. This article is in response to "Interpol open to abuse by 'criminal states'," published in on 27 August 2013.

As an international organization mandated by its Constitution to ensure the widest possible cooperation between all criminal police authorities, INTERPOL proudly believes each call for assistance by any of its 190 member countries deserves the same respect, just like the right to security by each of their citizens. Allowing prejudice or bias to guide INTERPOL's work places all INTERPOL member countries at risk.

When in 1998 INTERPOL issued a Red Notice against a Saudi national wanted for murder by Libya, it did so despite the active UN and U.S. sanctions against the Qadhafi regime. Some even defined it a “rogue”, “authoritarian” or “pariah” regime. Yet INTERPOL evaluated and approved Libya's request, and Osama bin Laden’s name was entered into INTERPOL databases for the first time as a wanted murderer, four months before the tragic U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa by al Qaeda.

Every request for INTERPOL notices requires an independent, case-by-case assessment. The nature of the subjects they typically target demands this. For instance, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) recently stated that “with the assistance of national authorities and INTERPOL”, it “secured the apprehension of 83 of its 93 fugitives”. In parallel, since 2003 Rwanda has issued more than 240 INTERPOL notifications for individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, of whom 29 have already been arrested or positively located.

The truth is, the overwhelming majority of requests by member countries seeking an arrest through INTERPOL raise no political issues. Either member countries respect INTERPOL's constitution and rules or INTERPOL deletes and blocks the suspect information from INTERPOL databases. This system works well, despite the handful of cases receiving global attention. 

This is not to say that our notice system is invulnerable to mistakes. INTERPOL constantly works to improve. This resulted in a multi-layered system designed to ensure that INTERPOL tools serve the interests of all member countries while respecting our Constitutions and rules.

Our staff is trained to recognize indicators of potentially politically-motivated requests; our lawyers are experienced in handling them; interim measures protect the rights of individuals involved in arrest requests via INTERPOL that are under review.

When a request is found to violate INTERPOL's Constitution and rules, the relevant nominal information is deleted from INTERPOL systems. Member countries are required to do the same nationally. When member countries fail to do so, INTERPOL takes steps to remind them and to ensure that the data is removed from their INTERPOL databases.

As an additional safeguard, the independent Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF) can be contacted by individuals seeking to challenge any information recorded in INTERPOL's databases about them. The CCF is integrated in INTERPOL’s Constitution, and has the power to review all of INTERPOL’s work to make its determinations, while fully respecting an individual’s request for confidentiality. It doesn’t take a full legal team, nor special authorizations from national authorities to engage the CCF. Any person can request it to take action by email or post. 

Furthermore, far too many commentators routinely forget what constitutes INTERPOL’s supreme oversight body: its General Assembly comprising all of its member countries. The use of INTERPOL channels can be challenged by countries involved, calling for a decision by the General Assembly. Here, each country – irrespective of economic resources, size, military might or political influence – has a single vote towards a majority ruling. There is no right to veto.

Therefore, the first question to anyone criticizing INTERPOL for issuing a Red Notice is: "Has your country objected to the issuance?”.  If you cannot persuade your own country to object on your behalf, then don't criticize INTERPOL.

Indeed, under INTERPOL's rules any country can nullify INTERPOL's action if it disagrees with that decision. It can do it nationally; it can do it as a union of countries and it can seek such nullification globally.

Such a carefully crafted system allows INTERPOL to serve individual human rights and global security at the same time, without resorting to risky trade-offs. Definitely a more effective approach than politically motivated “temporary bans” against one country or another.

Over 9,000 arrests were reported in 2012 across INTERPOL channels, by a very diverse club of more than 100 countries. 8,100 INTERPOL Red Notices were issued in 2012 alone – almost seven times the number recorded ten years ago. In 2013, the US and two EU member countries are among their top users globally. Finally, almost half of wanted subjects currently in our nominal databases are from the European Union. Clearly, countries couldn’t take INTERPOL “more seriously”.  

Nonetheless, INTERPOL constantly strives to improve its work and welcomes constructive criticism. But as an Organization committed to serve all of the principles enshrined in its Constitution, INTERPOL remains steadfast in protecting its independence and neutrality in handling each request for assistance by its member countries.