Imagine putting a key international law enforcement agency in the hands of one of the top international law abusers. Unless the United States and others act, this Wednesday, November 21, exactly that will happen, as the presidency of Interpol will be turned over to Russia.
Interpol is one of the most powerful tools that exists for international law enforcement and counter-terrorism. It is not an international police force, a popular misconception fueled by too many movie scripts. But through its “Red Notice” and “Diffusion” systems, Interpol effectively allows any of its 190 member countries to stop and secure wanted individuals at the border of other member countries. Unfortunately, this powerful tool has increasingly been misused by authoritarian regimes, who use pre-textual charges to harass, silence or punish dissidents, journalists or other political enemies, real and imagined.
Chief among Interpol’s most energetic abusers – along with authoritarian regimes in Iran, Venezuela and Kazakhstan -- is Russia. Perhaps the most famous example is Bill Browder, the U.S.-born businessman turned human rights activist whose Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitzky, died mysteriously after being jailed in Moscow following his investigation into Kremlin corruption.
Much to the outrage of Vladimir Putin, Mr. Browder has successfully advocated in the U.S. and around the world for imposition of “Magnitzky sanctions” against those who participate in Mr. Putin’s human rights abuses. The Kremlin’s reaction has been Just last summer, a cross-party group of British members of parliament called for Russia to be suspended altogether from Interpol. It would be an outrage if, instead, Interpol’s leadership is handed over to the Russians.at least six efforts to secure Browder’s arrest through misuse of Interpol Red Notices or Diffusions, all of which were ultimately recognized as politically motivated. There are plenty of other less known cases, too. Like Nikita Kulachenkov, who worked for Putin political opponent Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, and against whom Russia issued an Interpol Red Notice seeking his arrest based on the manufactured allegation that he stole a $2 poster from a street artist.
Just last summer, a cross-party group of British members of parliament called for Russia to be suspended altogether from Interpol. It would be an outrage if, instead, Interpol’s leadership is handed over to the Russians.
Russia’s role as one of the chief abusers of Interpol is no secret. It was the subject of a hearing in September 2016 before the Lantos Commission on Human Rights in the U.S. Congress. It also was the subject of an investigation and report by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for the Council of Europe in March 2017. In fact, Interpol itself has recognized the problem, in 2015 introducing significant reforms intended to bolster the review of Red Notice requests to identify political motivation. And, while calls persist to continue to build on those reforms to curb abuses by Russia and other countries, current Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock has made strides toward reducing Interpol’s misuse.
That progress will put at risk and likely reversed if Russia assumes the Interpol presidency.
In Wednesday’s vote for a new Interpol president, the apparent frontrunner, Alexander Prokopchuk, is a long-time official of the Russian Ministry of Interior Affairs – the very same Russian interior ministry responsible for Russia’s abusive Red Notices and Diffusions. Can the world expect an Interpol in Russian hands to police the abuse of Interpol’s powers by Mr. Putin’s Russia?
Handing Interpol’s presidency to those who have abused and undermined the organization has to be unacceptable to every person who cares about the rule of law and the important role of Interpol in international law enforcement. It has to be unacceptable to the United States, the largest funder of Interpol by far. Just last summer, a cross-party group of British members of parliament called for Russia to be suspended altogether from Interpol. It would be an outrage if, instead, Interpol’s leadership is handed over to the Russians.
Time is running out. The United States can and should use its influence to stop this – for the sake of Interpol, our own law enforcement interests and for the sake of the rule of law.