Helsinki Commission calls experts to testify on authoritarian abuse of Interpol red notices

(Corrected spelling of Roger Wicker's name)

The U.S. Helsinki Commission heard experts’ recommendations on how to prevent autocratic abuse of the international policing organisation Interpol during a hearing in Washington on Thursday.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, organised the hearing amid rising bipartisan support in Washington for a law to curb authoritarian governments’ abuse of the Interpol system.   

“This commission is particularly concerned by the politically motivated abuse of Interpol by autocratic states wishing to harass and detain their opponents overseas, often in the hopes of trying them on bogus criminal charges,” said the Commission’s co-chair, Roger Wicker, as he introduced the expert panel assembled to discuss the issue.

Authoritarian states have increasingly used Interpol red notices to harass, detain and extradite political dissidents, in spite of Interpol regulations prohibiting this.

Since surviving a coup attempt in July 2016, the Turkish government has issued thousands of the red notices, which ask police worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest their target pending extradition.

Turkey designated as part of a terrorist organisation anyone associated with the Gülen religious movement, which it blames for the coup attempt, “and aggressively pursued them around the world,” said Freedom House director Nate Schenkkan, a member of the panel.

“Turkey uploaded tens of thousands of requests for detention into Interpol’s systems … Most strikingly, Turkey brought back at least 104 Turkish citizens from 21 countries,” Schenkkan said.

“At least 30 of those were kidnappings,” he said.

Schenkkan was joined on the panel by immigration lawyer Sandra A. Grossman, Columbia University academic Alexander Cooley and Bruno Min, a senior legal and policy advisor for UK-based NGO Fair Trials.

The Helsinki Commission was set up in 1975 to encourage member states to live up to their commitments to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.