Interpol allowed Syria to join its communications network, a widely criticized move that gives Damascus new powers to prosecute refugees and dissidents living outside the country.
Bashar al-Assad’s regime remained a member of the global police body but was subject to several “corrective measures” after the outbreak of civil war in 2011. It was previously suspended from accessing databases Interpol and communicating with other member states regarding requests for arrests.
Legal experts and activists fear lifting of measures exposes some of the 6 million people who fled civil war to detention and extradition, complicating asylum claims and legal cases international organizations against regime officials.
The move was first reported in Syrian media last week and confirmed by Interpol in comments on the New Arab website.
“I am deeply disappointed and concerned that such a decision has been made,” said Toby Cadman, a British lawyer working on the Syria-related war crimes prosecutions. “Interpol’s systems are opaque, without real oversight or accountability, and routinely abused by states like Syria that have little respect for human rights.
Interpol’s 194 member states can ask the organization to issue “red notices” for wanted persons, which function as a request for other member states to locate and arrest people who may then be subject to arrest. ‘other measures such as extradition. Members can also issue less formal “broadcasts”, which are direct requests for assistance to specific countries.
While Interpol’s founding charter stipulates that it must be politically neutral and the Lyon body says all Red Notices are subject to compliance reviews, the system is nonetheless regularly used by autocratic states to prosecute opponents. policies.
“Getting a Red Notice is pretty straightforward – you don’t have to provide that much information, and Interpol is underfunded and understaffed, so it doesn’t look at everything properly. On the other hand, removing a Red Notice, even in European countries like the UK or the Netherlands, can be slow and difficult, ”Cadman said.
“In the past, I have worked with targeted people who spent months in custody, or in one case an entire year under house arrest, before we could get the notice lifted.
The Syrian government is already relentless in its pursuit of dissidents at home and abroad. During the decade-long war, tens of thousands of people disappeared in a prison system notorious for torture and mass executions. Deserters and opposition figures now living outside the country are being hunted down by the regime’s intelligence services.
“The news has raised concerns among Syrians abroad … There are hundreds of thousands of people wanted by the Syrian security services because of their participation in the uprising,” said Tarek Hokan, a lawyer working for a major human rights organization, the Syrian Media Center and Freedom of Expression.
” The [idea of] regime normalization is circulating, even after all the crimes Assad committed against his people.
While the war is far from over, the fighting is largely confined to the northwest of the country and several of Syria’s neighbors have begun to reestablish their relations with the regime.
Interpol is the first major international body to make such a decision.
In comments sent by email, he said that “the recommendation to lift the corrective measures was made by the executive committee (…) after close monitoring of messages from the NCB in Damascus. [National Central Bureau, or Interpol’s in-country office].
“Member countries retain full control over the data they provide to Interpol and decide which NCBs can see their information. This means that the Damascus NCB can only access information from Interpol databases that have not been restricted by other member countries.