Is Interpol Vulnerable to Political Abuse?

Last week, news emerged that Hayat Boumediene, a suspect linked to the Charlie Hebdo killings and France’s “most wanted woman,” had escaped to Syria via Turkey. Against this backdrop, it is important to acknowledge the role of Interpol, the international policing organization, which can rapidly circulate alerts for wanted suspects across the globe for the purpose of seeking extradition.

Yet it is of grave concern that trust in Interpol—and with that, its effectiveness—is being undermined. Around the world, governments accustomed to using criminal law for political ends are using Interpol’s systems to pursue their critics, including human rights activists, political opponents, and even journalists.

Interpol’s constitution includes clear commitments to human rights and political neutrality. And the organization has scrutinized several high-profile attempts to publish wanted alerts that appeared to be politically motivated.

On January 12, for instance, Interpol accepted Ukraine’s request for an alert against its former president, Viktor Yanukovych, on charges of embezzlement and misappropriation. A second alert on murder charges, perceived to be politically motivated by some because of the charges’ connection to the Maidan events, has remained pending since early last year. In another case, Russia’s pursuit of Bill Browder, a financier widely known for his leadership of the Magnitsky campaign, continues to be subject to lengthy review.

But there are instances—particularly when the world’s media are looking the other way—when Interpol’s process for vetting the legitimacy of alerts appears to be less rigorous, with alerts circulated instantly and apparently without being subject to significant scrutiny.

For instance, Interpol could have studied more carefully Turkey’s allegations against Belgian activist Bahar Kimyongür, accused of membership in a terrorist group due to his staging a protest at the European Parliament. Likewise for Petr Silaev, a Russian activist recognized as a political refugee in Finland, who was accused of “hooliganism” on the basis of light criminal damage caused by other demonstrators during an environmental protest.

In both cases, courts made little effort to see there was no allegation of criminal wrongdoing. Yet, despite clear gaps in the allegations, Turkey and Russia appear to have circulated their alerts around the world through Interpol’s systems without further ado.

Interpol’s problems are not restricted to Eurasia. In 2011, Benny Wenda, the leader of the West Papuan independence movement—which Indonesia considers illegal—and recognized as a political refugee in the United Kingdom, discovered his face on Interpol’s website alongside the West Papuan flag, after Indonesia issued an alert seeking his arrest. Last year, Interpol had to remove part of an Egyptian alert for Sayed Abdellatif after it found that the charges against him had never existed.

The governments using Interpol to pursue their opponents are at the root of the problem. But Interpol shares some of the blame for allowing itself to be manipulated. Interpol has focused on making it easier for countries to publish alerts rather than ensuring that those alerts are adequately vetted before being circulated.

There is also no effective avenue of redress for individuals targeted by Interpol. The organization exists in a legal black hole, immune to challenge in domestic courts. Its internal monitoring body, the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF), has previously been criticized for being underfunded, understaffed, and lacking in human rights expertise.

If Interpol exercised more rigor, however, the organization might succeed where international human rights protection mechanisms (and local judiciaries struggling to assert their independence) have failed, by making the pursuit of wanted persons conditional upon evidence of human rights compliance.

It needn’t make radical changes to do this. The simple calls for reform set out in Fair Trials International’s 2013 report Strengthening Interpol [PDF] have been echoed by international organizations, including the Council of Europe, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. And Interpol is starting to listen. Alongside the appointment of its new secretary-general, Jürgen Stock, it is carrying out an internal review that might identify avenues for reform, and has appointed a human rights expert to head the CCF, which may lead to a change in approach.

But there is still a long way to go, and we hope that by continuing to shine a light on cases demonstrating the human impact of Interpol abuse, this key player in the fight against transnational crime will be encouraged to prioritize reforms. Doing so could prevent it from being yet another weapon in the hands of states determined to destroy the lives, work, and freedom of those fighting for a world in which fundamental rights are fully respected.

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Mr Baris Bal is a Turk citizen, who 20 years ago had receive by Greece political asylum. Baris Bal at 15 age years old was sentenced for many years of imprisonment by a Turkish court, because he was a member of illegal political organization, according to the Turkish regime. He came to Greece by swimming to not go to prison. On Friday 01.23.2015 Mr Baris Bal was arrested by the Greek police, based on an international warrant for his arrest issued by Interpol, because the Turkish Government has reported that when a minor, 22 years ago, was a member of a terrorist organization. Mr Baris Bal is in custody right now and 01/27/2015 will appear to the judicial authorities of Thessaloniki, who will decide his fate.

The most notable and perhaps, the first extradition proceedings in Nigeria was that of the late elder statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro in 1962.In September 1962, Enahoro fled Nigeria for UK, and sought political asylum. Nigeria however, requested for his extradition under the 1881 Fugitive Offenders Act, preventing his application for political asylum.Enahoro was arrested in London on November 27, 1962, as a “fugitive offender” and his case otherwise known as “The Enahoro affair” triggered days of debate in the House of Commons in 1963, as he battled against his extradition.Indeed, the Nigerian government mounted pressures on the Labour Party-controlled British Parliament to extradite Enahoro by invoking the enabling Fugitive Offenders’ Act.He was eventually moved to Nigeria on May 16, 1963 to face treason trial, alongside Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It suffices to say that in the 1960s, the extradition proceedings in Nigeria followed the provisions laid down by the British Act of Parliament.Today, extradition proceedings in the country is governed by Cap 125 Laws of Federation LFN, 1990 Act as amended by Cap E.25 LFN 2004.Section 3 of the Act provides that ‘’a fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the Attorney- General or a court dealing with the case is satisfied that the offence in which his surrender is sought is an offence of a political character”.Since ‘the Enahoro Affair’, no other issue of extradition in the country has attracted attention than the most recent case of a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Buruji Kashamu. Kashamu, who is now a Senator- elect from Ogun East, recently raised the alarm over what he described as a plan allegedly by a former Nigerian President to instigate local and foreign security agencies to arrest him in Nigeria and extradite him to the United States of America (USA) to answer to some alleged drug-related charges.Kashamu had in a letter entitled ‘’Abduction Plans By United States of America Agents in Collaboration with Law Enforcement Agencies in Nigeria” sent to the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC and signed by his lawyer, Mr Ajibola Oluyede, said the former President’s plan to extradite him to the US is a form of revenge against him.According to his letter dated April 15, ‘’ there had been moves by US officials within the region to secure the assistance of head of the INTERPOL division in Nigeria, for his arrest and delivery to the US officials.

Justice demands that all legal avenues are available to suspects and are exhausted by the authorities. Justice demands a high moral standard in all cases investigated! Interpol, and all governments must give these people the benefit of doubt, and access to fair judicial practice

Extradiction should be done in a manner that respects the human rights of persons involved and Interpol needs to also investigate cases handed to them to ensure they are ripe for extradiction to avoid becoming weapons in the hands of those after their opponents.

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