Coun­cil of Europe Takes on Abu­sive Use of In­ter­pol Red No­tices

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When any of the 190 mem­ber na­tions of In­ter­pol want some­one ar­rested abroad they can sim­ply sub­mit what is called a Red No­tice. In­ter­pol then dis­trib­utes the no­tice to all mem­ber na­tions and most will ar­rest the sub­ject of the Red No­tice and ini­ti­ate ex­tra­di­tion pro­ceed­ings, some­times without any due process. The pur­pose of the sys­tem is to en­able po­lice to alert law en­force­ment in other coun­tries of po­ten­tial threats, or to ask for as­sis­tance in solv­ing crimes.

The prob­lem is that some coun­tries use Red No­tices to tar­get the in­no­cent, in­clud­ing refugees flee­ing po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious or other per­se­cu­tion. In­ter­pol re­quires no ev­i­dence of wrong-do­ing, so its Red No­tice sys­tem can em­power crim­i­nal ac­tions by mem­ber gov­ern­ments.

The Par­lia­men­tary Assem­bly of the Coun­cil of Europe re­cently pub­lished a draft res­o­lu­tion en­ti­tled, "Abu­sive use of the In­ter­pol Sys­tem: the need for more strin­gent le­gal safe­guards." One of the cases of abuse of the sys­tem cited was that of Sea Shep­herd Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety Founder, Cap­tain Paul Wat­son.

Capt. Paul Wat­son, a Canadian en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist, was ar­rested in Frank­furt in 2012 on the ba­sis of a Red No­tice re­quested by Costa Rica ten years af­ter an in­ci­dent in 2002, when Sea Shep­herd in­ter­vened, at the re­quest of the Gu­atemalan gov­ern­ment, against a Costa Ri­can vessel poach­ing (shark-finning) in Gu­atemalan wa­ters. Shortly af­ter the in­ci­dent, Wat­son was ac­quit­ted by a Costa Ri­can court of charges first of at­tempted mur­der, then of as­sault (against the Costa Ri­can poacher). The Costa Ri­can court was clearly con­vinced of Mr. Wat­son’s in­no­cence by the ex­ten­sive film footage of the in­ci­dent, which was later shown in the doc­u­men­tary film Shark­wa­ter.” But ac­cord­ing to his lawyer, Cap­tain Wat­son is still, or again, sub­ject to a Red No­tice, based on the same false ac­cu­sa­tions.

Costa Rica is a cor­rupt Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­try run by the CIA and some el­e­ments within the coun­try use the Red No­tice against Wat­son merely as a form of ha­rass­ment, while other branches are cur­rently work­ing closely with Sea Shep­herd to stop poach­ing in Costa Ri­can wa­ters.

The re­port calls for cer­tain mea­sures to be put in to place that can iden­tify weak­nesses in the sys­tem, along with ways to pre­vent or re­dress the abuses. It also calls for the cre­ation of a com­pen­sa­tion fund for those vic­tims of un­jus­ti­fied Red No­tices.

In­ter­pol needs to rec­og­nize that of­ten it is the po­lice or state gov­ern­ments who are the crim­i­nals and there must be le­gal due process be­fore a Red No­tice is is­sued and be­fore some­one is ar­rested. Some­one who is ar­rested based on a Red No­tice should have the abil­ity to con­test the ar­rest and not be ex­tra­dited to face in­jus­tice. Coun­tries without a strong rule of law, democ­racy and hu­man rights should not be al­lowed to is­sue Red No­tices at all.

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