What is the importance behind Turkey hosting Interpol meeting this year? 

Turkey has been selected to serve as the host for this year’s meeting of the International Criminal Police Organisation, popularly known as Interpol, a move that surprises many because of its troubled track record with the agency. 

On June 3, it was announced that Interpol’s 89th General Assembly meeting would be held in Istanbul from Nov. 20 to 25. The event was postponed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which also meant postponing elections for key Interpol positions, including its president. 

Turkish officials praised the selection for what they say is an opportunity to develop a more constructive relationship with the agency. However, Yuriy Nemets, an attorney in Washington D.C. and an expert on Interpol, considers Interpol’s choice of Turkey questionable because of their difficult relationship over the years.

“The fact that the organisation is still willing to host its general assembly in Turkey to me suggests Interpol does not care about its reputation that much,” Nemets, who is also the author of the Red Notice Abuse blog on Interpol developments, told Ahval News in a recent podcast. 

Since the failed coup attempt in July 2016, aimed at overthrowing Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s relationship with Interpol has been strained. As Ankara purged its own domestic institutes of people it claimed were supporters of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan holds responsible for that failed coup, it also took its fight against them globally and tried to rope Interpol into its pursuit. 

The agency, whose apolitical character is engrained in its constitution, has not gone along with Turkey’s campaign. Just this week, a Turkish court issued a new arrest warrant for Can Dundar, the former editor of Cumhuriyet, and requested a “red notice” from Interpol for his arrest, which the agency rejected. After announcing Turkey would host Istanbul’s upcoming conference, Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran complained cooperation with Interpol was not at the “desired level.” 

Nemets said that Turkey’s history of trying to misuse Interpol, particularly through its red notice requests and targeting of political opponents, show why it’s a questionable choice to host the Interpol meeting in November. What makes it more dubious is that the meeting will include elections for the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF), the main body responsible for handling personal information in compliance with its rules.

“Obviously the fact that it [Interpol] is going to elect new members for CCF, the main body responsible for individual complaints challenging government abuse, in Istanbul is sadly ironic,” Nemets remarked. 

For elections to the CCF or other Interpol positions like the presidency, member states like Turkey are allowed to nominate candidates for the role. This year, there are three openings. Nemets explained, however, that even if Turkey successfully gets a candidate into the CCF, members must recuse themselves from cases involving their home country. 

Even without an official on the committee, though, Nemets says that Interpol’s existing mechanisms, including issuing red notices, are already easily abused by governments. So while he does not expect the Interpol meeting to result in new rules that would curb Turkey and other authoritarian states, like Russia or China, from abusing the system, Nemets also believes no new changes will be made in their favour. 

Ultimately, to prevent Turkey and others from taking advantage of Interpol for their own ends, the lawyer insists that the agency must adopt rules that make it more transparent as well as guarantee genuine due process rights to individuals they may target.

“If we had an Interpol commission filled with members from Russia, China, Turkey, and, say Egypt, we would be in trouble. There is no other way to put it,” he said.