The appointment of INTERPOL’s new President: the fox may not be in charge, but he is certainly still in the henhouse

BCL Solicitors’, Greta Barkle considers the recent appointment of INTERPOL’s new President, Mr Kim Jong Yang of the Republic of Korea. 

INTERPOL announced on Wednesday 21 November 2018 that acting President, Kim Jong Yang of the Republic of Korea, will take over the reins permanently with a 101 to 61 majority over Russia’s Alexander Prokopchuk at INTERPOL’s General Assembly in Dubai.

Mr Kim’s election was a blow to Russia’s ambitions to secure the position for Mr Prokopchuk, who had, until last minute lobbying from the West, been the favourite to take out the presidency. Mr Prokopchuk’s possible appointment engendered a passionate response from Russia’s critics and elicited public condemnation from political forces in the US and UK – in an open letter last week, a bipartisan group of US senators even likened Prokopchuk’s appointment to “putting a fox in charge of a henhouse”. Ironically, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denounced the US senators’ letter as interference in the electoral process of an international organisation.

Mr Kim’s appointment is of course a ‘win’ for Russia’s critics (of which there are many), but his appointment (or rather, the fact that Mr Prokopchuk was not appointed) ought not to detract from the human rights abuses routinely facilitated by states’ abuse of INTERPOL’s mechanisms, many of which were highlighted in Fair Trial International’s recently released report, “Dismantling the Tools of Oppression: Ending the Misuse of INTERPOL” (which can be found here), and the reforms desperately needed to mitigate against such abuses. Amongst the reforms called for in the report are calls for INTERPOL to:

  • do more to prevent abusive requests for arrest from reaching national police databases via its channels by ensuring that Diffusions (which, although less formal than Red Notices, result in similar consequences when abused) are subject to the same type of scrutiny as Red Notices before circulation;
  • improve how it interprets its rules, in particular, in relation to the Refugee Policy; and
  • better record and collate data so as to enable civil society to identify areas in relation to which further reform is required.

One must also bear in mind that while Mr Prokopchuk may have failed to secure the presidency, Russia in particular has successfully utilised INTERPOL to persecute dissidents, human rights activists and journalists without a Russian at the helm. And while he may not be INTERPOL’s President, Mr Prokopchuk will no doubt still wield significant influence in his role as one of three INTERPOL Vice-Presidents and as head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau for Russia.

That said, one can perhaps take solace in the fact that an ancillary outcome of the presidency race has been to shine the spotlight on INTERPOL. Perhaps the recent media scrutiny will inspire substantive (and lasting) change to INTERPOL’s processes resulting in strict compliance with its Constitution, a pillar of which is respect for political neutrality and human rights. One can but hope.

Author:

Greta Barkle is a New Zealand qualified lawyer at BCL, specialising in business crime, regulatory investigations, extradition and cybercrime. Prior to joining BCL Solicitors LLP, Greta worked on a range of complex disputes, including claims against the New Zealand Police and Government Communications Security Bureau in relation to dawn raids and unlawful surveillance of communications. Greta also assisted counsel in New Zealand’s leading white collar crime and extradition case and is an experienced criminal and regulatory prosecutor.