Is Russia now facing suspension from INTERPOL?

2 March 2022

On 28 February 2022, the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel announced to parliament that the UK would be ‘leading all international efforts’ to suspend Russia’s membership of INTERPOL.  
 

This came moments before the Ukrainian minister of internal affairs, Denis Monastyrsky, made a public statement demanding Russia’s immediate expulsion from the organisation for “violating its basic principles and massive misuse of tools and services to cover up its crimes and persecute political enemies, particularly in Ukraine.”

These strong statements come as further sanctions are applied to Russia and represent a further attempt to isolate Russia from the international community.  Although, Russia’s abuse of INTERPOL’s systems has persisted for years, it is notable that the comments from the Home Secretary come as a result of the current invasion rather than as a reaction to Russia’s continued misuse of the INTERPOL system. Nonetheless, we must ask whether expulsion or suspension from INTERPOL is a realistic aim.

Why is membership of INTERPOL important?

INTERPOL is an international organisation dedicated to sharing law-enforcement information among its 195 member countries. While Interpol cannot arrest or prosecute individuals, it facilitates efforts to find these individuals when they are abroad. This is primarily through the use of Red Notices, international alerts notifying law enforcement authorities in the member countries that those of another country are seeking a person’s arrest.  In addition, while a Red Notice requires approval from INTERPOL, countries can also circulate alerts called ‘diffusions’ which are requests for co-operation circulated directly among member countries.

Russia’s abuse of INTERPOL

This is not the first time that calls have been made for Russia’s membership of INTERPOL to be revoked. Since it joined the network in 1990, there have been long standing claims that Russia abuses INTERPOL’s systems to attack its critics abroad.

The most well-known example of this strategy is the very well-publicised case of Bill Browder, who was subject to seven illegitimate Red Notice requests made by Russia, but there have been countless others.  Critics of the Russian government who move abroad can be charged in absentia for all sorts of offences, usually fabricated accusations of financial crimes, and a Red Notice request will then follow.

Has a member country been suspended before?

The General Secretariat has the power to suspend member nation’s access to their systems. In 2012 Syria’s access to INTERPOL’s systems was suspended and ‘corrective measures’ applied to the NCB in Damascus.  In taking this measure, INTERPOL stated that the measures did not affect the status of Syria as a member country of INTERPOL and, in a move which was widely criticised, Syria was allowed to re-join the network in October 2021. As is common with INTERPOL’s opaque systems, we do not know the basis on which Syria’s access was suspended and then reinstated but it is conceivable that INTERPOL could take the same step against Russia.

Conclusion

The complete removal of Russia from INTERPOL, as demanded by Ukraine, seems unlikely and unrealistic. If Russia is to be expelled from INTERPOL for its actions against Ukraine it would set a precedent that might be difficult to follow for an international organisation that depends in part upon its wide-ranging and inclusive membership (and is dependent on its member countries for funding). Suspension seems like the most likely option for INTERPOL to take if they are going to take any action at all.

In any event expelling or suspending Russia for its actions does not address the more fundamental systemic issues with the INTERPOL system.  Most notably, the lack of an effective internal review of red notice requests, before publication, which can eliminate those Red Notices which do not comply with INTERPOL’s own rules must be addressed. 

While INTERPOL plays an important role in international policing, the more it is abused, the less reliably it can do its job. Although suspending Russia may be a short term solution, the UK should also put its efforts into pushing for more tangible, long term reforms which can address the inadequacies in the system rather than simply calling for suspension as a form of further sanction.

Further information

For further information on issues raised within this blog, please contact a member of our criminal team.

 

About the Author

Maeve Keenan is an Associate in the Criminal Litigation team. Maeve has a particular interest in the international dimension of criminal cases and advises individuals in respect of extradition requests and challenging INTERPOL red notices.

 

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