December 8, 2010
An article by Nick Cheesman published by the Asian Human Rights
WORLD: WikiLeaks and the politics of Interpol

The issuance of an Interpol wanted notice for the Australian founder
of Wikileaks within days after his website began releasing hundreds of
thousands of classified United States government cables is blatantly

Interpol's charter prohibits it from taking up cases that are
predominantly political in character, but this has not prevented it
from issuing the red notice against Julian Assange, on the basis of a
highly dubious warrant supplied by Swedish police.

Lawyers representing Assange have described the manner in which the
red notice was issued as unusual, but in fact Interpol has long
pursued persons wanted for political reasons, some of them at the
behest of police forces with records of torture and extrajudicial

Among them, Interpol in 1999 went after Azekhan Kazhegeldin, when he
was campaigning against the incumbent government of Kazakhstan. In
2001 the former prime minister was convicted in absentia for a variety
of crimes.

Kazhegeldin's lawyer succeeded in getting the notice revoked, having
shown that it was politically motivated. But the following year, the
Interpol general assembly voted to reinstate it.

Such cases raise a number of questions relevant to the case against

First, what criteria does Interpol use to distinguish between
political and non-political cases? The Interpol charter lacks
guidelines. However, its rules on processing information stipulate
that material received from national police forces is presumed to be
accurate and relevant.

In other words, Interpol takes for granted that what its members send
is reliable, and actionable under its mandate. It apparently has no
equivalent of a judicial authority to scrutinize evidence and ask
questions before issuing a notice, and seems to act on this
presumption alone.

Second, if a notice is wrongly issued, how can someone get it
revoked? There is no external or independent authority to receive
complaints. If a national bureau or judiciary will not cancel an
arrest warrant, the wanted person can do no more than present evidence
to Interpol to show that the warrant is politically motivated.

In doing so, the person comes up against Interpol's presumption that
the police issuing the arrest warrant have acted in good faith and in
accordance with the agency's rules.

For the appeal to be considered, information that the person gives to
Interpol must in turn be passed to the national police force which
issued the warrant. The whole procedure is biased towards the police,
since they are given ample opportunity to construct contrary evidence
and rebut the accused person's case, with the presumption of accuracy
and relevancy on their side.

The secretive process can take years, during which time the accused
must live with the threat of arrest anywhere, anytime. And even if the
person can prove that they have been politically targeted, Interpol's
general assembly can vote to overrule the secretariat and reinstate
the notice, as happened in Kazhegeldin's case.

Third, more broadly, can Interpol be made accountable? Among
international organisations, the global policing agency is one of the
most enclosed and opaque. Other international bodies that ought to be
asking questions of it, such as the United Nations Human Rights
Council, have been silent.

This may in part be because Interpol has in recent years helped in
hunting for war criminals to be brought before international courts.
Perhaps senior U.N. bureaucrats and others have calculated that it is
not worth jeopardizing those operations for the sake of a few
troublemakers like Assange. If so, the calculation is false.

As long as the international police themselves go un-policed, anyone
who oversteps the line in even one state can be made a fugitive
everywhere. As long as Interpol can issue wanted notices without
external oversight, any person who threatens a political establishment
can be made a latent criminal.

Interpol's targeting of Julian Assange, and through him WikiLeaks, is
a good opportunity to ask hard questions: not of the wanted man or his
organisation, but of the policing regime that is hunting him; a regime
which purports to be apolitical but in reality is anything but.

A slightly edited version of this article first appeared in the
Canberra Times, 8 December 2010, under the title, "Why isn't Interpol
called to account?" The views shared in the article do not necessarily
reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for


About the Author: Nick Cheesman is a member of the Asian Legal
Resource Centre currently doing research at the Australian National
University, Canberra.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights
issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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