Fugitive alerts issued by Interpol, the international law enforcement clearinghouse, can make it hard for fugitives to slip across borders. But, the group’s ‘red notice’ database, which can be reviewed by authorities across the world to identify people facing prosecution, is frequently used by authoritarian governments to control and prosecute dissidents, human rights activists and journalists.
In an interview with Vocal Europe, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, the president of Open Dialog Foundation (ODF), expresses her take on how the autocratic regimes such as Russia, Turkey, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan pose tremendous challenges to dissidents through cooperation with Interpol.
Vocal Europe: Can you brief us about the core mission of Open Dialog Foundation, its achievements and your particular role in it?
Lyudmyla Kozlovska: Open Dialog Foundation (ODF) is dedicated to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law; mainly we focus on the post-Soviet region: Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Kazakhstan. During the past four years one of the biggest priorities in our advocacy work has been to protect political refugees from politically motivated international warrant arrests of INTERPOL. Although Interpol is an extremely important tool for cooperation of the police authorities in the pursuit and detention of dangerous criminals, sometimes it can also become a weapon used by non-democratic regimes to punish dissidents.
Article 3 of the Interpol Constitution prohibits the Organization from interfering in matters of political nature. However, in 2013, human rights organizations recorded that non-democratic states have repeatedly violated this rule. Over the past four years, the ODF has held events in the European Parliament, national parliaments of the EU member states, at the PACE and OSCE PA, HDIM OSCE sessions, and also provided expertise for the Interpol bodies. Particularly during the period of 2013-2014, we observed sceptical comments about ‘lack of possibility’ of bringing about changes in the operation of one of the largest international organisations. And in 2013, Interpol itself opposed systemic reforms. However, representatives of the European Parliament, PACE and OSCE PA supported the reform of Interpol and included the issue in their work agenda. The efforts of the international community gave the first significant results. In November 2016, Interpol introduced a number of changes in its legislation.
Vocal Europe: It is a matter of fact that non-democratic states carry out political persecutions through the Interpol system. Both human rights NGOs and intergovernmental organisations have been working on this problem for several years. Why do you think that Interpol should be reformed and what has already been done in this respect?
Lyudmyla Kozlovska: The Red Notice of INTERPOL became a favorite tool to silent opponents, activists, journalists or their relatives even if they manage to leave the authoritarian countries or have asylum/protection. The consequences of Red Notice for the victims can be really devastating. It can harm personal reputation, make sure that people are arrested, and cause also many practical challenges where many would have difficulties even to open a bank account or renting a flat. It became clear to us that this problem can only be solved by changing the principles of Interpol’s operation framework.
One of the initiators of the Interpol reform was the Open Dialog Foundation. The biggest achievement of this advocacy work is that persons who have been granted refugee status start to be removed from the Interpol’s list of wanted people. However, this approach is not enshrined in the legislation and is applied inconsistently. Therefore, there are still many refugees and other persons on Interpol’s wanted lists despite the fact that several EU Member State have recognised their persecution.
Even those who have obtained a residence permit or citizenship in Western democratic countries remain a target of attacks by non-democratic states. The extradition of many of these individuals has been denied; however, they are still on Interpol’s wanted lists. As a consequence, they are subjected to lengthy detention, and those who remain at large, cannot freely travel, find a job or open a bank account. Refugees may not be aware of the fact that they are wanted, as most of Interpol’s notices are non-public.
In that regard, one of the biggest of concerns we have is that there is no mechanism to protect victims of political persecution who were detained on the territory of unsafe state. For example, we now try to save the life of Anatoliy Pogorelov, one of the associates of Kazakh opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov. Furthermore, the main reason the Khazak regime is prosecuting Pogorelov is to obtain from him a false confession that would incriminate Ablyazov. Pogorelov was stopped in UAE, but the problem is that UAE, as many other States, have not signed basic human rights treaties or have not implemented them. We have also the case of Farid Yusub, a political refugee from Azerbaijan, who was stopped in Russia and is now facing the risk to be extradited on request of Azerbaijani regime. Consequently, such countries ignore not only UNHCR’s decisions to grant refugee status, but also decisions of the Interpol itself which recognise the political nature of the case. Farid Yusub was excluded from Red Notice of Interpol but Russian authorities deny his right to leave the country.
Vocal Europe: Member states of Interpol have the right to put refugees and political dissidents on Interpol’s wanted list. On 19 May, 2015, Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) announced a change in the policy regarding refugees. According to the committee, if a person is put on the wanted list by a state, in respect of which he or she has been granted refugee status, an Interpol notice against this person is withdrawn. Have you observed the breach of this critical change since May 2015 by actions of particular countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, or Moldova?
Lyudmyla Kozlovska: We see some positive developments if we speak about Interpol’s reform process in general, which is presented in the latest report named: ‘The reform of Interpol: Don’t let it be stopped halfway’. The report underlines a number of positive changes and shortcomings of the refugee protection policy, the policy of publicity of requests for an international alert, as well as the work of the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files and data protection officers. The issue of reforms in connection with the appointment of the new leadership of Interpol has also been raised. We suggested additional expertise and recommendations, as well as a concrete mechanism for effective implementation of the reforms. But there is a long way to go in terms of policy regarding refugees.
I need to point out that we concentrate on politically motivated cases. So, only within 2015-2017 period we have got more than 50 requests for support to be protected from upcoming abuse of Red Notice of Interpol and dozens of cases with implemented abuses against political refugees from countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine were reported. We face sophisticated cooperation between the regimes in order to reach refugees. For instance, we have a number of cases where political refugees and even their family members/associates had tremendous challenges when Kazakhstan asked Ukraine and Russia to fabricate criminal and financial accusations and finally issue the politically motivated Red Notice of Interpol against them to make sure that they are extradited. Another new trend for autocratic regimes is to use Mutual Legal Assistance Requests – a tool for countries to help each other in exchanging information for an investigation against individuals who are wanted.
Preventing extradition or deleting a refugee from Interpol wanted list is not end of the story. One of the key questions is how to prevent an abused the Red Notice of Interpol in case when we already know that it might happen.
Vocal Europe: Giving the fact that Interpol as an international organisation enjoys judicial immunity and its actions cannot be appealed in any national court, is there any appealing mechanisms against the decisions of Interpol?
Lyudmyla Kozlovska: In fact, the only working mechanism at the moment to appeal against the violation of the Constitution of Interpol is to send request of individuals for the removal of their names from the Interpol’s wanted list to the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files.
However, we have noticed positive steps taken by the Interpol, namely changes in the work of the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files. The Commission began to respond to requests within the specified time limits and substantiate its decisions in detail. The number of meeting held by the Commission has increased. Information on the procedure for submitting requests to the Commission was placed on the website of Interpol. In March 2017, the Commission began to publish excerpts from some of its decisions. This can help lawyers to follow the logic of the Commission’s responses and formulate their arguments.
But at the same time, this raised our concerns about the composition of the Commission, which shows that, in most cases, states nominate law enforcement officers or other civil servants to the Commission. In the current Chamber, it is only, an Argentinean, Leandro Despouy who can be considered a representative of the civil society. Representatives from Russia, Angola and Finland had held high posts in national law enforcement agencies before being elected to the Requests Chamber. Chairperson of the Commission, Vitalie Pirlog, held the post of the Minister of Justice of Moldova during the period of 2006-2009. One could recall that, following the anti-government protests took place in Chisnau in April 2009, Mr Pirlog supported persecution of protesters. According to Moldovan human rights activist Ana Ursachi, several judges testified that they had received phone calls from the Ministry of Justice with instructions to issue decisions to arrest the protesters. As noted in the Moldovan media, Mr. Pirlog’s candidacy for the Commission was supported by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, General Prosecutor’s Office and Ministry of Justice of Moldova.
The aforementioned bodies are controlled by the most powerful Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, as confirmed in research carried out by authoritative analytical centres (the Centre for Eastern Studies, Chatham House, and Carnegie Europe). According to ‘Der Spiegel’, Plahotniuc is implicated in several corruption scandals. Plahotniuc himself confirmed that in 2007, he ‘was monitored’ by the Roman bureau of Interpol. Radio Liberty noted that in 2013, it became known that ‘several pages from Interpol documents relating to Plahotniuc disappeared’ from the Moldovan Ministry of Internal Affairs. This kind of information and other facts presented in our reports underline the importance of our advocacy work, which is to assure that we need to support and establish clear mechanism that will guarantee the independence of the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files.
Vocal Europe: As one of recent and most implacable examples, the Turkish government revoked over 150 thousand passports and asked Interpol to put more than 60 thousand names of Turkish nationals on Interpol’s wanted list since the attempted coup in July last year. Among many others, an NBA star was detained in Romania and two Turkish journalists holding EU citizenship were recently arrested in Spain where they faced the risk of extradition upon the request by the Turkish government. Accordingly, a large number of Turkish nationals abroad are very concerned that they might be victims of the cooperation between Turkish government and Interpol. Do you think that Interpol is to keep cooperating with the Turkish authorities in detaining and extraditing Turkish nationals who are mostly known to be followers of Gülen Movement?
Lyudmyla Kozlovska: The crackdown by Turkish authorities on followers of Gulen movement abroad through Interpol’s mechanism is unprecedented because of the enormous scale of political prosecution. We don’t know the exact numbers of the victims of abused Red Notice of Interpol based on the request from Erdogan’s regime, but it is definitively one of the biggest challenges for Interpol itself to prove if the CCF is able to prevent or stop such scale of abuses. At the moment I would say the CCF doesn’t control the situation. This is why civil society participation in the next steps of Interpol’s reform will be crucial. We hope it could stop and protect those who are now facing the risk of arrest.
That being said we need to remember that Interpol is based on the mutual cooperation between governments. I unfortunately believe that this cooperation will not stop. That is why such numerous violations of the Constitution of Interpol have taken place. Accordingly, the recommendation of the PACE Special rapporteur Berndt Fabritius regarding a fund that should be established for Interpol in order to pay compensations to victims of unlawful international alert need to be discussed now more seriously than ever. In particular, the fund should be founded by violating states, for example through a fixed compensation for each month a person’s name stays in the wanted list.
In this way, a person can seek individual calculation of compensation for material and moral damage through national courts. If the Commission has not responded to the appeal within the prescribed time limits and has not notified the applicant of the extension of the time limits, the applicant should be entitled to a fixed monetary compensation (a certain amount of money for each day of delay). Having said that I am almost certain that Erdogan’s regime, who has representatives in Interpol, will try everything to freeze this initiative since it will be a huge burden for Ankara not only financially, but also legally.