Interpol has 194 member countries. They can all request Red Notices and most of them have. How is it then that just one member — Russia — is behind more than a third of all currently public Red Notices?
Of the 7,000 or so public Red Notices, 2,631 are based on requests from Russia (as of November 1). The United States, by comparison, has requested 331 of the current public Red Notices, Canada 58, China 40, France 26, Japan 2, and the UK zero.
A Red Notice alerts police to an internationally wanted “fugitive.” It’s a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest the individual pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.
Since September 11, 2001, the number of Red Notices has increased ten fold. There are now about 58,000 valid Red Notices, according to Interpol. The public can only see the 7,000 Red Notices that Interpol has chosen to publish. The rest are restricted to law enforcement use only.
It isn’t clear why Interpol makes some Red Notices public but not others, or why so many of the public Red Notices come from Russia. But former German justice minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin said a few years ago that Russia was among the “rogue nations” that had weaponized Interpol’s opaque Red Notice procedure.
Foreign Policy magazine said Red Notices have become a modern “scourge,” in part because the international community doesn’t penalize countries that abuse the system. The former German justice minister likewise blamed complicit countries. She said certain “civilized states” profess at home to value the rule of law, due process, and the rights of the criminally accused. Yet the same countries provide financial support to Interpol and keep silent about Red Notice abuses.
(The United States now funds about ten percent of Interpol’s $177 million annual budget. It isn’t clear how much of the budget is spent on Red Notices.)
If a civilian asks if they’re the target of a non-public Red Notice, Interpol probably won’t answer them. It doesn’t meet with targets or their lawyers and there’s no hearing to confront witnesses or review evidence. Many targets don’t know a Red Notice exists until they’re arrested crossing a border. Whatever happens, targets have no judicial recourse because Interpol has negotiated immunity for itself from judicial review.
In Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham has twice introduced bills aimed at Interpol and Red Notice abuses. His latest effort is Senate bill 482 — the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2019.” It says in a preamble that a number of independent NGOs have documented how the Russian government and others have used Red Notices “for activities of a political character.”
Sen. Graham’s bill would require the U.S. Attorney General and Secretary of State to use America’s Interpol membership to name and shame countries that abuse the Red Notice process, and to work through Interpol to bring more transparency to Red Notices. There’s been no action on S. 482 since it went to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February this year.
Sen. Roger Wicker introduced a related bill in September that would prohibit any U.S. government department or agency from arresting anyone based solely on an Interpol Red Notice. S.2483 would also require Interpol to report annually what countries have requested Red Notices, and provide background about the requests.
Sen. Wicker’s “Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention Act of 2019” or “TRAP Act” was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 17. That’s the last reported action.
Interpol Red Notices undoubtedly help protect the world from terrorists, criminal gangs, and assorted bad actors. For innocent targets, however, Red Notices can result in lost jobs, revoked visas, and blocked bank accounts. Reputations are shredded, often permanently. Bill Browder, a London-based investor and anti-Putin campaigner, has been the target of six Red Notices that originated from Russia. He said a Red Notice “means that basically your life as a normal human being is over.”