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The Global Police Force That Isn’t - 100 years After Its Inception, Is Interpol Succeeding?

Publication Date: 
May 12, 2014
The Atlantic - International
Kathy Gilsinan

Senior Lecturer Allen Weiner, director of the program in International and Comparative Law, weighs in on common methods used by large countries in combatting terrorism for The Atlantic. 

Earlier this month, local police, backed by Interpol, fanned out across the Philippines, busting nearly 60 people allegedly connected to cyber “sextortion” syndicates. These groups, investigators say, tricked thousands of victims on at least four continents into participating in sexually explicit online videos and chats, only to then demand money from them to keep the material secret.

It was a crime nearly a century from being invented when the first International Criminal Police Congress gathered in Monaco in the spring of 1914, for a meeting that would ultimately result in the creation of the International Criminal Police Organization, more commonly known as Interpol (the organization traces its lineage to the conference, though Interpol itself wasn't established until 1923). At the time, European nations wanted to collaborate against anarchists and terrorists who were supposedly plotting the overthrow of the political order across the continent. Nowadays, Interpol has 190 member states and a much broader cast of shadowy transnational criminals to combat—from pharmaceutical counterfeiters to football-match fixers to a modern generation of terrorists.


But despite Interpol’s constitutional prohibition against “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character,” there have been reports that authoritarian regimes are abusing the Red-Notice system in pursuing dissidents overseas. Last November, Fair Trials International published a damning report detailing cases like that of Petr Silaev, a Russian activist arrested and imprisoned in Spain after being slapped with a Red Notice on charges of hooliganism (following months of legal wrangling, Spain ultimately refused to extradite him to Russia). A 2011 investigation found that 28 percent of Interpol Red Notices studied were from countries Freedom House identified as having no civil liberties, and that half were from countries Transparency International ranked among the most corrupt in the world. For his part, Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble has maintained that these high-profile cases obscure a low rate of problems; there were 49 official complaints about such notices in 2012. Nor is the system solely a tool of authoritarian governments: “Almost half of wanted subjects currently in our nominal databases are from the European Union,” he wrote last year.