While this new policy is welcomed, there are still a number of problems. INTERPOL must be able to verify the asylum grant. This can be a slow process due red tape and confidentiality. For instance most asylum decisions are by their nature published anonymously. The country issuing the Red Notice can make representations to INTERPOL with further material asking it to revisit the decision.
INTERPOL has recently announced a new change in policy which means it will withdraw a 'wanted person' alert, if that person has been granted refugee status. This is intended to provide greater protection for those granted asylum against extradition and the misuse of the INTERPOL red notice system.
One of the key functions of INTERPOL is to assist in the location and arrest of suspects abroad through the circulation of international 'wanted person' alerts. These alerts identify that a valid arrest warrant exists in the country that is seeking the apprehension of the fugitive. In the case of extradition requests those are Red Notices.
Certain countries have misused the INTERPOL system as a mechanism to persecute political opponents and target enemies of the regime. Often countries seek to extradite people who have already been granted asylum. International 'wanted person' alerts, Red Notices, can remain on the INTERPOL system even after an individual is granted refugee status. This leaves them at risk of arrest internationally. Not only does this restrict the individual’s ability to travel, but many business and banks will refuse to deal with individuals who are on the list.
Former CIS states (i.e. Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine) have a particularly bad record in this regard. There is a strong correlation between the timing of elections and the use of Interpol Red notices against political opponents or funders of opposition parties. In the recent BTA Bank cases Kazakhstan has used Russia and Ukraine as its proxy to pursue extradition and use it a political tool. This is true throughout Europe. Mr Ablyazov the former Kazak opposition leader is detained in France for fraud against the BTA Bank Which is owned by the Kazak government. It is however, Russia and Ukraine who seek extradition.
The Issue of an INTERPOL Red Notice is meant to be for extradition but in reality it can be abused to prevent politicians returning to a jurisdiction or prevent them travelling to support the cause or party, this is true especially when important political events such as elections or international meetings are taking place.
Previously the only ground upon which to challenge a Red Notice was to show that it was not compatible with Article 3 of Interpol's constitution which states that is "strictly forbidden for the organisation to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character."
However, that policy has now changed and now INTERPOL will remove a Red Notice if it can verify that the person has been recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Convention. The grant of asylum is sufficient, regardless of whether the criminal prosecution in question was the ground for the asylum. INTERPOL will not reveal to the country which issued the Red Notice or the country which granted asylum. This may prove to be difficult in practice, as if the location of an individual is known, then the removal of the Red Notice may alert jurisdictions that asylum has been granted.
In general, the processing of Red Notices against refugees will not be allowed if the following conditions are met:
- The status of the refugee is confirmed;
- The notice has been requested by the country where the individual fears persecution;
- The granting of the refugee status is not based on political grounds in relation to the requesting country
In cases where the processing of Red Notices against refugees is denied, consideration will be given to sharing the information sent by the requesting country with the country which granted the asylum. If the country decides to revoke the asylum based on the new information, the processing of the Red Notice may be allowed.
INTERPOL advises that the objective of the new policy is
"to support member countries in preventing criminals from abusing refugee status, while providing adequate and effective safeguards to protect the rights of refugees, as guaranteed under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and other applicable conventions."
It is early days for the new system and may still be open to abuse by those countries determined to seek the arrest of political opponents and those they see as a threat.