The International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) is responsible for requests seeking the location and arrest of alleged criminals worldwide through the issue of Red Notices.
Red Notices are electronic alerts that are published by the INTERPOL General Secretariat and notify law enforcement officials globally that the location of a wanted person is sought. They are only issued at the request of an issuing country’s executive authorities and, although they do not guarantee that the subject of the Red Notice will be arrested if located, are generally available for viewing by law enforcement worldwide.
Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly in a world where corruption is an issue, and where there are disparities in legal systems and ideological differences between countries, Red Notices are occasionally subject to abuse.
We examine various instances of abuse, as set out in Fair Trials International’s 2013 report Strengthening Respect for Human Rights, Strengthening INTERPOL.
Conditions of imposing a Red Notice
There are various criteria which must nominally be met before a Red Notice is issued by INTERPOL, including those set out in INTERPOL’s Rules for the Processing of Data (2012). These include:
· An arrest warrant must have been issued by the country seeking the imposition of the Red Notice. This requirement itself does not limit potential instance of abuse, as a corrupt or flawed system is likely to issue warrants on spurious grounds in any event.
· The person subject to the Red Notice must have been sentenced by the originating country to a term of at least six months imprisonment, and the offence with which they have been charged must carry a minimum sentence of at least two years’ imprisonment. Again, in draconian or abusive systems it would be very simple to breach this threshold.
· Red Notices ought not be issued in relation to offences apparently related to behavioural or cultural norms, those arising from private matters, disputes or family issues, or offences arising from violations of administrative law. Unfortunately, many of these matters are subjective matters which might be perceived in a range of ways according to disparate legal systems and ideologies.
Despite the various criteria set out above, the report points out that there is no rigorous system whereby the imposition of Red Notices according to an abuse of power can be entirely prevented.
Specific instances of abuse
The report has identified three main areas of abuse to which the system of Red Notices is subject: political, corruption, and the failure to seek extradition.
Examples of political abuse identified in the report include the issue of Red Notices:
· By Iran in 2009 against 12 exiled activists who had lived in Sweden and Germany for several decades. They were politically unpopular because they continued to have an impact via modern media and Iran’s elections were shortly due to take place.
· Against two Turkish refugees and political activists who were arrested in 2012 in Croatia, despite having been granted asylum status by Germany.
· An ongoing Red Notice remaining in place against the leader of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, despite the UK extending refugee status and publicly refusing to extradite the leader to Russia.
Unsurprisingly, corruption plays a big factor in the issue of Red Notices against perceived threats to business and personal success.
The report sets out various examples, including:
· A Red Notice obtained by Saudi Prince Abdulaziz Bin Mishal al-Saud against Faisal Almhairat, a businessman whose interests conflicted those of the Prince.
· A civil dispute branching out into the issue of a Red Notice. A Lebanese jewellery trader, Wadih Saghieh, was involved in a business dispute with a purchaser from the United Arab Emirates who refused to pay an appropriate fee. Mr Saghieh issued civil proceedings for recovery of the money. Suddenly his brother was imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates and Mr Saghieh had a Red Notice issued against him on the basis of fraud. He lost clients and was ordered to leave his country of residence, Thailand, because his visa conditions did not permit him to have a Red Notice imposed on him.
Failure to seek extradition
Nominally, the main purpose of a Red Notice is to permit the issuing country to seek extradition of the person once they have been located.
In some circumstances, the extradition is simply not pursued, even though there is no legal basis for why this should be so. It is therefore clear that the issue of a Red Notice is a malevolent form of abuse and is designed to cause maximum inconvenience and impact on the addressee’s personal life.
This was the case for British citizen Lorraine Davies, who was subjected to a Red Notice by Canada. This caused her to be denied employment in the United Kingdom, and she was advised the only way in which the Red Notice could be dealt with would be if she attended in Canada – and self-funded this trip.
Like many legal tools, Red Notices issued by INTERPOL at the request of other states are potentially subject to abuse by states or persons with their own agendas. According to the report, it is vital that invalid notices are challenged and disputed where necessary.