Interpol must be careful to prevent political abuse of intl wanted lists

The framework for sharing information on suspects who have fled overseas should not be used to suppress antigovernment activists by authoritarian states. The neutrality of an international organization in charge of investigative cooperation among countries and territories will be tested.

A senior interior ministry official from the United Arab Emirates has been elected as the new president of the International Criminal Police Organization. Interpol also has elected a senior Chinese public security ministry official to join the 13-member executive committee that oversees Interpol’s administrative affairs.

The UAE and China have been strongly criticized by the international community for their suppression of human rights. It is only natural that politicians and human rights organizations in Western nations have criticized the selection of officials who have been in charge of security matters in such countries to lead Interpol activities.

More than 190 countries and territories are Interpol members. At members’ requests, Interpol compiles international wanted lists calling for locating and detaining suspects who have fled overseas, and also provides a database on suspects, including information such as fingerprints and DNA data.

However, Interpol does not have the authority to conduct actual investigations. Its role is to confirm that requests from member countries or territories to add suspects to the wanted lists have a legitimate basis and are not for political purposes.

However, it is extremely difficult to dispel concerns that China could use the international wanted lists to reach into other countries in pursuit of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, dissident Uighurs and Taiwan independence activists, among others.

In fact, the leader of a Uighur exile organization who fled from China to Germany had long been on Interpol’s international wanted list. Interpol removed the leader from the list in 2018 following protests by international human rights organizations and other entities.

Given that the administration led by Chinese President Xi Jinping has turned a deaf ear to criticism from the international community and has continued its crackdowns in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and elsewhere, Interpol has a very heavy responsibility in this regard.

The Interpol charter stipulates that all members of the executive committee shall not conduct themselves as representatives of their respective countries in carrying out their duties. It is necessary to keep a close watch on China’s executive committee member so that he does not deviate from this rule.

Taiwan, which is not an Interpol member, requested to participate as an observer at the Interpol general assembly in November, but the request was not granted due to China’s opposition.

Crime prevention and measures against infectious diseases both require cooperation on a global scale. Politically excluding certain regions and territories is unreasonable and weakens the effectiveness of these measures.

Crimes that cross national borders, such as cyber-attacks and terrorism, have been increasing in both frequency and severity. The role of Interpol has become even more important. It is essential for it to maintain neutrality and win the trust of each country and territory.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 2, 2021.