While concerns grow that Red Notices are not only being issued in violation of human rights, but also that corrupt police forces extend their reach with them, Interpol Chief, Ronald Noble, is angrily dismissive when probed.
Since Interpol's chequered beginnings between 1923 and World War II, it has grown into an organization that envelopes the world and is now the second largest international organization after the United Nations. In addition to its headquarters in Lyon, France, Interpol has regional bureaus in Abidjan, Nairobi, Buenos Aires and San Salvador, liaison offices in Bangkok and New York, and National Central Bureaus (NCBs) in 190 member countries. Furthermore, presently under construction in Singapore is Interpol's state-of-the-art Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI), which Secretary General Ronald K. Noble (of Waco Siege, Texas fame) describes as "an initiative that will increase Interpol's operational reach around the globe."
It is not, however, out of humility that Noble describes Interpol, with some irony, as “small”. Rather, he does so to excuse the organization for being unable to provide adequate information in response to a probe into the Red Notices it issues.
Red Notices, says Dr. Rutsel Silvestre J Martha, a former General Counsel and Director of Legal Affairs of Interpol, are a “request for the provisional arrest of an individual, pending extradition,” and make “it possible to 'immobilize' an individual once he has been located and prevent him from escaping before the extradition procedure has been implemented.” On receipt of a Red Notice, police authorities may proceed to trace the person who is the subject of the Notice, carry out identity checks, place the person in police custody, question him, place him under surveillance and so on.
Dr. Martha acknowledges that since Red Notices are circulated to 190 countries around the world, the individual concerned could “see lucrative business deals thwarted, be stopped and checked at control points, be refused entry or visa, be deported, or even be arrested and extradited.”
Red Notices, of which thousands are issued every year, are generally issued for the arrest of those suspected of having committed serious offences, such as armed criminals, drug dealers, serial killers, gangsters, people traffickers, paedophiles, rapists, pirates and terrorists. As a consequence, in addition to the fettering Dr. Martha describes, a Red Notice could also seriously impugn a person's reputation, thereby limiting prospects of gaining employment, credit, housing and even, in some cases, access to one's bank account.
Despite Interpol's insistence that a Red Notice is not a conviction, it could be seen as a sentence in everything but name and, as a consequence, vulnerable to abuse by police forces that persecute people for political reasons or to extort.
Indeed, a quarter of Red Notices are requested by countries with poor records on civil liberties and political rights. Some regimes, such as those in Russia, Belarus, Iran, China, and Bahrain, have used Red Notices to hound and persecute individuals that are seen by them as thorns in their side.
In 2006, in response to an Interpol alert, for example, Syria deported political activist, Rasoul Mazrae, back to Iran where he was jailed, tortured and sentenced to death. Iran has used Interpol to also pursue political dissidents who have long been European Union residents.
Article 2 of Interpol's constitution emphasizes that the mutual assistance between criminal police authorities must be undertaken within the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). These include the right to protection of the family and children, to privacy and reputation, to a fair trial and freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Thus, since Red Notices are instantaneously dispatched electronically worldwide, have the potential to be very damaging and are issued at the behest of national police forces, some with very questionable levels of integrity, it would appear crucial that robust safeguards exist to ensure both that Red Notices are not wrongfully issued and that, where they are, they can be rapidly challenged.
Interpol Senior Counsel, Yaron Gottlieb, explains that Red Notices are “issued [by the General Secretariat] based on a presumption that the information provided by the police is accurate and relevant.” He says, “Interpol’s role is not to question allegations against an individual, nor to gather evidence.”
More worrying than this presumption is that Interpol's NCBs enter requests for Red Notices into Interpol's systems themselves. These can then be seen by police forces around the world before any review of the request by Interpol takes place.
Problems arise when, for reasons of cooperation and reciprocity, the police forces of the 190 member countries must be treated as equals abiding by the same standards. There is a very heavy reliance on the professionalism and integrity of the requesting police authority – a reliance which is often not at all justified, particularly since half of all requests for Red Notices come from countries widely seen as corrupt.
According to Transparency International, “The police are the institution most often reported as the recipient of bribes ........... From accepting kickbacks to providing cover to organized crime, police corruption comes in many forms."
Other international organizations such as the U.N., Amnesty International and the regional development banks confirm in their reports that in many developing countries not only are the police corrupt, but that bribes are regularly demanded by judges and prosecutors too.
This is something Barry Grossman is only too well aware of. A successful Australian businessman who operated out of Bali, Indonesia, Grossman has had his life turned upside down by police extortion, such that he is now reduced to living in a garden shed in Western Australia. With his business ruined, stress-related illnesses afflicting him and having been torn from his wife and daughter, he is often suicidal.
His problems began when a commercial, civil dispute was preyed upon by Bali police and he failed to be sufficiently compliant. Grossman found himself being intimidated by thugs and police over a period of almost three years, which included being thrown into jail for a while on trumped-up charges of embezzlement and fraud.
For deeming that there was no case to answer, the public prosecutor who oversaw Grossman's case was summarily relocated, while other officials frankly confided in Grossman's lawyer that the charges had been fabricated.
However, police creativity did not stop there. When Grossman left Indonesia to seek medical attention, the police banned him from re-entry and came up with forgery and counterfeiting as the basis of their request in June, 2011, for an Interpol Red Notice to fetter him overseas and, through not requesting his extradition, leave him in legal limbo.
It is common practice in Indonesia for criminal elements to use Indonesia’s well established “legal mafia” network to criminalize business, social, religious and political adversaries by advancing fabricated criminal cases against individuals. The most common criminal charge leveled against a business adversary is fraud. Indeed, fifty-five percent of Interpol’s current Red Notices issued at Indonesia’s request are for fraud. Of the nine current Red Notices issued at the request of law enforcement officials in Bali, all relate to foreigners, eight involve allegations of fraud and at least four relate to an underlying civil law, business dispute.
"The police chief who ordered my initial arrest …....,” says Grossman, who also is a trained lawyer, “has now been sacked from the police and is being prosecuted for his role in an illegal gambling ring!” Another senior officer involved in extorting money out of him is, says Grossman, “being prosecuted as a result of a case involving an alleged shake down.”
He adds, “A Red Notice was issued as a matter of course by Interpol without examining in any meaningful way the underlying case against me. Interpol is entirely uninterested in questions of guilt or innocence and scarcely more concerned with corruption.”
Amnesty International, in it's 2009 report on Indonesian Police states: “…. the police in Indonesia are still perceived today as a highly corrupt and mistrusted institution. Although police officials are in charge of promoting the rule of law, in reality they often behave as if they were above the law, a situation which is supported by a lack of effective accountability mechanisms, both internally and externally.”
Attempts to obtain redress against Interpol in the national courts of countries such as Ireland, Germany, Sweden, France and the United States, have proved fruitless. An attempt by the French Data Protection Authority to assert jurisdiction over Interpol’s files, contrarily resulted in the conferring of legal immunity on the organization in 1984 and the creation of the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF). The latter was formed to allay fears about data protection and the possible violation of individual rights.
The CCF, says Rachael Billington, Interpol's Chief Press Officer, may question the validity of an arrest warrant, which can lead to the Red Notice's cancellation. She illustrates this with the November, 2003 request by Argentina to issue Red Notices against 12 Iranians implicated in the anti-Israel bombings in Buenos Aires in 1994. After an Argentine court concluded that the investigating magistrate who had signed the arrest warrants was corrupt and should be removed, Interpol suspended and then cancelled the 12 Red Notices in October, 2004.
Whereas Red Notices are sent digitally around the world at the press of a button, only a postal address in France is provided for the CCF. No telephone or fax number is given, nor any email address. Furthermore, statistics as to how many Red Notices have been challenged, the average time they take, the rate of success, the countries the challenges relate to and so on are extremely scant. It was complaints about this that prompted an outburst from Noble. He parried the objection with accusations of “insults and attack” and, rather than providing information, dismissively suggested it better to “criticize us for not having provided you with more meaningful information.”
Frank Richardson trained as a lawyer, founded OpenTrial and writes for the International Bar Association's 'Global Insight' as well as other publications.