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CSOs call for INTERPOL reform to comply with human rights declaration

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Sixty-four civil society organizations and prominent human rights activists, lawmakers and members of the European Parliament have called for further reform to ensure that INTERPOL complies with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ahead of the 89th INTERPOL General Assembly (GA), which will convene in İstanbul November 23-25.

Endorsed by CSOs, lawyers and human rights activists, the document, titled “Civil Society Resolution on the Forthcoming 89th General Assembly of INTERPOL,” expressed concern about the ongoing abuse of INTERPOL mechanisms, including Red Notices and the Stolen and Lost Travel Document Database (SLTD).

The resolution was led by the Italian Federation for Human Rights (FIDU) and the Arrested Lawyers Initiative and signed by organizations such as Freedom House, Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation and the World Uyghur Congress as well as individuals such as MEP Marie Arena, chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights at the European Parliament; Emma Bonino, an Italian senator and former Italian minister of foreign affairs; Roberto Rampi, Italian senator and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE); and Lord Hylton MA ARICS, from the UK House of Lords.

The document called for full implementation of recommendations put forward by PACE and the European Parliament.

The signatories called on the GA and the INTERPOL General Secretariat to further improve transparency in INTERPOL procedures and set up a compensation fund for victims of unjustified Red Notices and wanted person diffusions as well as for victims of abuse of the SLTD database.

The rights groups and individuals also urged further improvement of preventive scrutiny of requests submitted by abusive states and called on their respective governments to set up a caucus of democratic states to push reforms for ensuring human rights and naming and shaming abuser countries such as China, Russia, Belarus, Turkey and Kazakhstan.

According to a report by The Heritage Foundation published on November 1, INTERPOL faces criticism for failing to avoid becoming an instrument of political oppression for autocratic regimes.

“While Russia’s abuse of Interpol is better known, and China’s abuse is more subtle and effective, no nation in the world has likely attempted a greater volume of Interpol abuse than Turkey has,” the report said.

The signatories also called on governments to be more vigilant about the requests and data submitted by National Central Bureaus (NCBs) of abuser countries and duly probe all instances of misuse of INTERPOL, extraditions and other forms of interstate legal assistance by the requesting states for political or corrupt purposes.

“More and more human rights experts are denouncing the abusive use of the INTERPOL system by authoritarian regimes to persecute refugees, activists, journalists and political opponents abroad. Such methods of repression give human rights abusers a global reach, which affects our democratic societies. This Civil Society Resolution signed by more than 60 NGOs and human rights experts defines the objectives and the recommendations that INTERPOL should implement without delay during the forthcoming 89th General Assembly in order to stop its systematic abuse by autocratic leaders,” Eleonora Mongelli, vice president of FIDU, said.

“This meeting should be the time to implement the reforms that international society has been calling for for years. A sanction mechanism for the abuser states and a compensation fund for the victims of this abusive conduct should be created without further delay. The transparency of data removal procedures should be improved. A caucus consisting of democratic member states would be a good initiative to push for more reforms, to ensure that law-abiding candidates are elected to the appellate body and executive posts, and also to name and shame abusive countries such as Turkey, China, Russia and others,” Ali Yıldız, human rights lawyer and founder of the Arrested Lawyers Initiative, said. 

Turkey on November 5 granted a series of privileges to INTERPOL staff attending the meeting of the GA, including diplomatic immunity for the attendees and their families and tax exemption for gifts and materials associated with the meeting during their stay.

According to critics, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to bribe INTERPOL officials to pursue his political opponents abroad.

According to a report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, the Turkish government, under President Erdoğan, has used the International Notice System, such as Red Notices and diffusions, to target political opponents who have done nothing more than criticize the government.

Similarly, it has also abused INTERPOL’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database by filing tens of thousands of notifications for critics and opponents who, in many instances, were not even aware that their passports had been invalidated. In several cases, some of these people were stranded at international airports or put in detention before they were released or, in the worst cases, were handed over to Turkish operatives and ended up in Turkish prisons.

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