The International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) can issue Red Notices for the apprehension of criminals worldwide. But while Red Notices can be a valuable law enforcement tool, they are also open to abuse and corruption.
Unfortunately, there are many ways in which Red Notices can be abused, generally by countries which seek to make opponents into political or ideological prisoners.
The Strengthening Respect for Human Rights, Strengthening INTERPOL report published by Fair Trials International examines some of the types of abuses which occur in relation to INTERPOL Red Notices, and provides four key recommendations for addressing those abuses.
What are the main types of abuse?
A Red Notice is an electronic alert which is issued by INTERPOL at the request of an individual country’s law enforcement. It is intended to alert police departments and law enforcement globally that a wanted person’s location is sought, generally with a view to securing an arrest and an extradition.
A Red Notice issued for an illegitimate or inappropriate reason can be considered to be an abuse of the INTERPOL system. This is in large part because the very fact of a Red Notice issued against a person’s name can make it extremely difficult for them to travel, work or generally deal with local law enforcement. Therefore, the consequences of a spurious Red Notice can be significant.
According to the report, there are three main types of abuse relating to the issue of Red Notices:
- Political abuse – for example, issued against exiled political activists or foreign asylum seekers.
- Corruption – this includes the issue of Red Notices by way of retribution or revenge, whether relating to personal matters or corporate affairs.
- Failure to seek extradition – by issuing what is in effect a malicious Red Notice with consequential impacts on the “wanted” person, but without any attempt to bring them back to the issuing country if located.
Recommendations for addressing abuse
The report is highly critical of various aspects of the Red Notice regime, particularly an inherent assumption by INTERPOL that Red Notices are bona fide and have been obtained with the genuine intention of locating, apprehending and extraditing criminals, and not for personal or corrupt agendas or persecution.
The report recommends four main changes to the system:
- Prevention of persecution.
In particular, it is proposed that INTERPOL should scrutinise Red Notices issued in circumstances where there are “substantial grounds” to formulate the view that the Red Notice has been issued in order to conduct a prosecution on a political basis. If such a view is supported, then INTERPOL should be able to arbitrarily refuse to issue or delete any Red Notices against any persons falling in this category.
- Conducting thorough reviews
Although it is intended that national law enforcement bodies provide evidence of arrest warrants before Red Notices are issued, this is not presently a requirement. The report suggests that this should be a minimum standard, and also proposes that INTERPOL conduct more detailed reviews of situations in which Red Notices are issued, including scrutinising available media and having regard to human rights reporting.
- Don’t publish until certain
While a draft Red Notice is being interrogated against the above reviews, INTERPOL should take steps to ensure that it is visible only to it and to the authority which has requested its issue. External law enforcement agencies should not have access to the Red Notice until it has been duly approved by INTERPOL.
The only exception should be in circumstances of urgency, where the report suggests that the onus must be on the requesting law enforcement agency to establish why the issue of the Red Notice is urgent, and why INTERPOL should relax its requirements to issue the notice expeditiously.
- Remain involved at every step
Finally, the report suggests that it is not sufficient for INTERPOL to simply post the Red Notice. If an arrest occurs as a result of the Red Notice, it is recommended that regular follow-ups are conducted with the original issuing law enforcement agency to determine the outcome of any action, including types of charges laid and sentencing.
INTERPOL’s ability to issue Red Notices is a powerful tool to apprehend and extradite criminals. However, in corrupt systems, Red Notices also have the potential to be used to settle personal or political scores. It is therefore important that INTERPOL takes steps to prevent human rights abuses being masked under the auspices of catching “criminals”.