Over the past few years, awareness has spread about the problem of Interpol abuse.
Interpol isn’t an international police agency, even though Hollywood likes to depict it as such. It’s actually more like an electronic bulletin board on which police agencies around the world can post their “wanted” notices.
Other police agencies can read the notices—or ignore them—as they choose.
Interpol isn’t supposed to get involved in politics. But not all of its members—and almost every country, except North Korea and Kosovo, are members of Interpol—are so scrupulous.
Interpol abuse happens when a nation (usually an authoritarian regime) puts a “wanted” notice on the Interpol bulletin board on a political opponent.
This abuse is generically known as transnational repression, because it cuts across national borders and it involves everything from spyware to assassinations to Interpol. But Interpol abuse is an important facet of the wider problem.
Every year, the U.S. State Department releases reports on human rights in every nation in the world. Last year, the department wisely started including Interpol abuse in those country reports.
This year’s reports, released at the end of March, named nine nations as Interpol abusers: Azerbaijan, Benin, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkey. They also cited dubious issues related to Interpol in China, Ecuador, and Mexico.
I have a lot of experience researching Interpol, and, though my work as an expert witness, I’ve seen a lot of Interpol abuse cases. Broadly speaking, I’d say the State Department’s list is a good start—Russia is certainly a notorious abuser—but far from complete.
Of course, the State Department faces constraints in compiling its data. Above all, the information has to be verifiable and public, while a lot of Interpol abuse victims would rather not have the facts about their cases and abuse spread over the internet.
That said, the State Department should have cited more abusers. It’s shocking not to see the United Arab Emirates included as an Interpol abuser. A recent report by Sir David Calvert-Smith, a distinguished British judge, makes it clear that the UAE is not only abusing Interpol, but is seeking to manipulate it financially.
In a recent report on the wider issue of transnational repression, Freedom House named Iran as an Interpol abuser. In my own work as an expert witness, I have encountered Interpol abuse stemming from several Central American nations, and another Persian Gulf nation. Nigeria also has a poor record, as I have demonstrated.
Finally, there’s China. While Turkey is likely the world’s most abusive nation by volume, and Russia is surely the most high-profile abuser, the People’s Republic of China may take the dubious distinction as the regime that commits the most abuse under the radar.
To put it simply, the Russians often just want to harass their opponents. The Chinese actually want to get them back to China. It’s a great pity that the State Department did not call out the well-attested Chinese practice of using Interpol to get regime enemies back from the U.S. (and Canada).
Fortunately, Congress has taken notice of Interpol abuse stemming from Russia and other authoritarian nations. In 2019, a bipartisan effort in both the Senate and the House through the U.S. Helsinki Commission led, after a hearing, to the introduction of the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention Act.
The TRAP Act was reintroduced in the Senate last Wednesday under the leadership of Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., with Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., from the Helsinki Commission as original co-sponsors, with Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Mike Rounds, R-N.D.; and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also in support.
The TRAP Act is a serious response to the problem of Interpol abuse.
On Tuesday, The Heritage Foundation will host a webinar on the problem of transnational repression, focusing on how the democratic world can fight Interpol abuse.
With Wicker as keynote speaker, the event will feature legal and policy experts who will explain how Interpol abuse works, the contributions the TRAP Act would make in ending it, and how the U.S. can lead to help ensure that Interpol, which plays an important role in international law enforcement cooperation, lives up to its requirement to avoid politics.
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