It has been almost 10 years since the Syrian regime no longer had access to the database of Interpol, the world organization for police cooperation. Damascus has just returned to the Lyon-based information exchange system. It is perhaps the sign of a slow return of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the international organizations. This normalization worries opponents and refugees who fear being chased abroad.
Interpol had adopted “corrective measures” against Syria in 2012. The Damascus branch (its “National Central Office”) had been disconnected from the system of information exchange between Interpol member states. This system allows states to communicate with each other on police matters. It also makes it possible to launch a “red notice”: a request for the location and arrest of an individual.
Damascus has access to the system again
Since 2012, communications from Damascus reached the general secretariat of Interpol. He only forwarded them to the recipients if they complied with the rules in force. The follow-up to these messages prompted the secretariat to recommend reintegrating Syria into the system. The Interpol executive committee recently decided to lift the “corrective actions”. Damascus once again has access to this very powerful tool: it can request arrests and exchange secure messages with other member countries.
Human rights defenders immediately expressed their concern. It’s a “dangerous development”, says Sara Kayyali of Human Rights Watch. She points out that in the past, some governments have misused the use of red notices to obtain politically motivated arrests.
A dangerous development. Despite claims to the contrary, there is a history of misuse of @INTERPOL_HQ’s ´Red notice’ system by repressive governments to make politically-motivated arrests.
– Sara Kayyali (@ skayyali1) October 4, 2021
The Council of Europe itself was concerned a few years ago about the increasing use of this tool by authoritarian regimes to track down political opponents who had taken refuge abroad. On the side of Interpol, we try to reassure by stressing that the statute of the organization prohibits “any activity or intervention in matters or matters of a political, military, religious or racial character”.
Tracking down terrorists
Have some countries wanted this reintegration of Syria into Interpol to facilitate investigations of foreign fighters still present on Syrian territory? This is what suggests Sputnik, the media close to the Kremlin, main defender of the Syrian regime. “Syria will be able to take the opportunity to collaborate with foreign intelligence services in the hunt for terrorists on its territory”, writing Sputnik.
The links had been severed due to the extremely repressive character of the regime, which considers “terrorist” any movement of democratic demand. He will now be able to “follow the opponents wanted by the security services”, explains a dissident Syrian officer to the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
No automatic arrest
Sending a Red Notice, however, does not automatically result in the arrest of the person reported in the global system. As Interpol itself explains, “each member country decides on the legal value to be given to a red notice and whether or not to empower its law enforcement agencies to make arrests in this context.”
We can assume that Western countries will look twice before arresting a Syrian wanted by his country. Syrians who have taken refuge in countries in the region may have more to fear. But questionable arrests have also occurred in Europe. For example, a Kazakh opponent had spent three and a half years in prison in France, before the Council of State recognized that the notice issued against him by Moscow pursued a political goal.
Don’t normalize relationships
France has let it be known that it will remain “opposed to the normalization of relations with Damascus and to any easing of the sanctions system”, as long as the regime feeds instability and terrorist risk. Paris will officially make this position known at the next Interpol general assembly in November..