12/02/2014 07:14 GMT | Updated 14/04/2014 06:59 BST

Consensus Builds for Interpol Reform


On 31 January, at its first session of 2014, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a report on the accountability of international organisations for human rights violations, highlighting concerns about INTERPOL, the international police body. To understand the significance of this, it is necessary to take a few steps back.

The Council of Europe, like other regional organisations the European Union and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is founded on the notion that its states share certain common values. Among these is the principle that justice should be impartial and that individuals should not be discriminated against for reasons of race, nationality - or their political status.

When members of these organisations infringe this principle, it is a cause for concern for the others. In a 2009 report, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) noted with concern that in Russia 'judges are still subjected to fairly strong pressures compromising their independence ... the power of prosecutors ... to put people behind bars is in reality almost unchecked' (para. 135).

Recent cases arising from political protest have not allayed this perception. We have previously noted here the case of Anastasia Rybachenko, one of many activists accused in relation to demonstrations against Vladimir Putin on Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, on 6 May 2012, following hot on the heels of the Pussy Riot trial. Both cases are currently under review by the European Court of Human Rights for alleged human rights violations.

Rybachenko, a politics graduate who lives in Germany, was fortunate in that she was recently 'amnestied' in advance of the Sochi Olympics. Russian authorities never got as far as seeking her arrest through INTERPOL and she never became an internationally 'wanted person'.

For many others who have escaped prosecution, the next step is for the country to seek their arrest abroad by issuing an international wanted person alert or 'Red Notice' through INTERPOL. And of course, in most cases, this mechanism is a useful one, preventing criminals from escaping justice.

The problem is that when the prosecution in question is tainted by political discrimination, the reverse effect is produced. Those given protection as refugees because they are deemed to be victims of persecution face arrest in the community which has chosen to be protect them.

Petr Silaev, for example, had escaped a police crackdown in Moscow which saw dozens of activists arrested in connection with a demonstration he took part in. Finland granted him asylum, but fellow EU Member State Spain was led to arrest him based on a Russian INTERPOL alert accusing him of 'hooliganism', only for the Spanish court to roundly refuse extradition, deeming the case political.

The recent PACE report is the beginning of a response to this problem. Recognising the undoubted value of INTERPOL's systems for police cooperation, it also underlined concerns about Silaev's case and called on its member countries to exercise caution in arresting those subject to INTERPOL alerts.

In so doing, it joined an increasing crescendo of calls for reform from international institutions. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has repeatedly called for action. The European Commission recently agreed to hold talks with INTERPOL after several Members of the European Parliament, the result of increasingly pressing concerns about refugees and exiles in Europe.

Indeed, just last month, I met with Barbara Lochbihler MEP, Chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights, along with a delegation of 15 Turkish refugees and exiles from Germany, alarmed about former political prisoners living under the threat of arrest within the community that has chosen to protect them.

It is unsurprising to see PACE, which brings together all these countries (along with the US and Canada as observers), taking an interest in the issue. Able to speak on behalf of all the key countries - both those generating exiles and those giving them refuge - it is well placed to inform INTERPOL of the risks and recommend appropriate reforms. INTERPOL, nearing its 100th birthday and the handover of executive power to a new leader, is at a crucial juncture and the advice would be timely. It is high time all parties sat down and agreed on some sensible reforms.