Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) on Thursday warned that some “undemocratic regimes” are abusing Interpol by using the international police organization to go after political dissidents abroad.
“The fact that countries like Russia, China and Venezuela abuse their access to the International Criminal Police Organization or Interpol to issue bogus notices with the express intent to repress dissent against their own undemocratic regimes is dangerous,” Wilson said at a hearing hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which monitors compliance of the 57 countries in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to promote human rights and U.S. national security.
The Interpol notice system allows any of the 194 member countries to request law enforcement worldwide provisionally arrest an individual, possibly for extradition.
When a country issues the request, known as a red notice, Interpol is required to review it and ensure compliance with the group’s rules and constitution, which forbids notices that are politically motivated.
Bruno Min, a legal adviser at the human rights organization Fair Trials, said in his testimony that Interpol’s mechanisms for handling those kinds of alerts are falling short.
“We see red notices have been issued in very clear cases of abuse including against refugees who have a very public profile,” Min said. “What we can tell is that whatever these systems are, they are simply not working as well as they should.”
An Interpol spokesperson told The Hill that the vetting system for red notices was overhauled in 2016, and all red notice requests now go through a “stringent review process.”
The spokesperson also said many commonly cited examples of abuse of the system are “historical” and that Interpol is reviewing red notices that were issued before the 2016 changes.
“We have reforms in place and we want to continue dialogues to maintain the integrity of the red notice system,” the spokesperson said.
The use of red notices has been increasing, according to Alexander Cooley, a Columbia University professor who studies transnational repression.
Cooley, who testified at Thursday’s hearing, said there were 1,400 red notices issued in 2001, compared with more than 13,000 issued in 2018.
Despite Interpol’s requirement to check every red notice request, he said, some countries still post red notices that target political opponents by labeling them as terrorists or criminals.
Russia recently used Interpol to request the United States provide information on a former Russian official and alleged CIA informant who is said to be living in Virginia, The Guardian reported Thursday.
Wicker said the legislation will restrict how Interpol notices can be used by authorities in the United States, set priorities for U.S. engagement with Interpol and require the State Department to report on transnational repression in its annual human rights report.
Sandra Grossman, a founding partner of the law firm Grossman Young & Hammond, testified at the hearing about how U.S. agencies use red notices. Grossman said that while the Justice Department does not consider red notices sufficient basis for an arrest, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has used red notices as “conclusive evidence of criminality,” which can lead to asylum seekers being detained by ICE.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Updated at 12:27 p.m.