WASHINGTON (CN) – Authoritarian abuse of Interpol’s notice system, and the ability to persecute state enemies through the system, was the focus of a brief Helsinki Commission hearing in Washington Thursday.
Interpol has two modes of communication to deal with the identification of potential suspects.
Messages that are sent to multiple National Central Bureau representatives of Interpol in an email-like form, which the international policing organization refers to as “diffusions, identify international suspects and request their arrest. These messages are not reviewed before their transmission but are automatically copied to a database and reviewed after submission.
Then there are colored notices, such as yellow notices, which alert police to a missing person, or blue notices, which are used to collect additional information about a person in relation to a crime.
The most commonly abused of these is the red notice, which is used to “seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition or similar lawful action,” according to Interpol. Any National Central Bureau representative at Interpol can request the publication of colored notices, and these requests are reviewed before they are released to international members.
But oppressive regimes can use these notices to manipulate American systems, including the U.S. immigration system, according to Sandra Grossman, a lawyer and founding partner of Grossman, Young & Hammond, a Maryland-based immigration law firm.
Law enforcement agencies, particularly U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, use red notices to target foreign nationals – who are often individuals seeking asylum – detain them and push for their deportation, she said, adding that unsubstantiated red notices “turn ICE officials and our own immigration judges into unwitting agents of oppressive regimes.”
“The Department of Justice does not consider a red notice to be sufficient basis for an arrest. It does not meet the probable cause standard under the Fourth Amendment and really offers little assurance into the legitimacy of the allegations it concerns,” Grossman said. “Unfortunately, what we’re observing in the immigration field is that ICE is treating many red notices as conclusive evidence of criminality, which has grave consequences on the basic rights of victims of persecution.”
Bruno Min, a senior legal and policy advisor for Fair Trials, a criminal justice watchdog, testified that the insufficient staffing at Interpol contributes to the abuse of red notices and diffusions. While the organization receives close to 14,000 red notices and 50,000 diffusions annually, a team of only 30 to 40 people is tasked with reviewing these submissions.
“There’s a big question about how effective these mechanisms are, primarily because there are no statistics around them,” Min said. “With over 10,000 new instances per year, how many of those red notice requests get refused. Same goes for diffusions as well. If we even had just very basic data, just a percentage of how many red notices are rejected, that would persuade us to have a little bit more confidence that they are doing something.”
Nate Schenkkan, the director for special research with Freedom House – a research group focused on promoting political freedom and human rights – said his organization recently began studying transnational oppression, documenting its scope from 2014. The group has already documented 208 cases of violent transnational repression in which exiles from 21 countries were targeted.
Schenkkan cited political scientist Yossi Shain’s three-part test to determine why a state would engage in the persecution of exiles – outlined in Shain’s book The Frontier of Loyalty: Political Exiles in the Age of the Nation-State.
According to Shain, the state’s perception of the threat posed by exile, a regime’s available resources for suppression through coercion and their cost-benefit calculations for using coercion, all contribute to the motives of a state engaging in this oppression.
While it is impossible to affect a state’s perception of its citizens – authoritarian regimes largely viewing their citizens as subjects to be ruled – it is possible to soften the tools of transnational repression. Restricting access to commercially available spyware and reducing the benefits of this repression are some of the ways the U.S. can make this persecution less appealing, Schenkkan said.
“Outside of the United States and its democracy promotion work, the United States can reduce the benefits of transnational repression by supporting shelter laws that strengthen the resilience of exiled activists and journalists,” Schenkkan said. “Last, the United States should show leadership by providing safe haven to persecuted individuals. Instead of reducing the number of refugees the United States accepts, we should significantly increase it.”