Radha Stirling: Alan Stevenson case should be a watershed moment for Interpol reform and human right

Czech court rules detention of dual British / Australian citizen Alan Stevenson was a violation of human rights; calling into question the legitimacy of Interpol’s Red Notice system due to widespread abuse by authoritarian regimes around the world. Stevenson was held due to claims of unpaid debt in Qatar, despite owing no money. Stirling vows to pursue all legal avenues for justice.

Alan’s case is emblematic of what has been happening with ever greater frequency from the Gulf States. Interpol has been hijacked by authoritarian regimes around the world who abuse the Red Notice system to persecute political opponents, dissidents, independent journalists, and private individuals over financial disputes.

Countries like Qatar and the UAE lead the world in wrongful Red Notice requests for the purpose of debt collection – something that violates Interpol’s own protocols.

In Alan’s case, the claim of unpaid debt was entirely unevidenced, and Qatar did not substantiate the charge when Czech authorities requested proof. Law enforcement officials around the world comply with Red Notices because of their relationship with Interpol, not because of their relationships with the countries requesting the Notices; so, like in Alan’s case, people get detained very often without evidence, simply on the basis of a country’s respect for Interpol.

When a Red Notice is subsequently deemed invalid, people whose lives have been turned upside down by detention and extradition procedures are just expected to shrug and move on. By challenging the legality of his detention, Alan is helping to change the state of play with the way countries deal with these Notices. The Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic has determined that his incarceration was a violation of his human rights as guaranteed by the UDHR, and they are correct.

Interpol has allowed itself to be manipulated, exploited, and used as, essentially, an instrument of financial extortion, not to mention political repression; and this has to stop. Interpol is not vetting Red Notice requests from known abusers of the system, and innocent people are paying the price. Interpol accepted the bogus Red Notice request against Alan from Qatar, and so Czech officials are now guilty of human rights violations because they trusted Interpol.

We have been leading the call for years for reform of Interpol’s protocols and for greater transparency. With Alan’s case, we intend to pursue every viable legal option to achieve not only justice and restitution for Alan Stevenson, but the enactment of fundamental changes in how Interpol deals with habitual abusers of the system and those authoritarian member governments with documented gross violations of human rights. Extradition to countries like the UAE, Qatar, Iran, China, Russia, and so on, should be unthinkable; their human rights records are abysmal and their legal systems are starkly below international standards of due process. Yet, they remain eligible for requesting Red Notices, even while in many cases, extradition will mean unjust detention, torture, and potentially death.

The stakes are so high, but Interpol has no measures in place to vet requests. Alan’s case can be a watershed moment in this regard. If Interpol reforms, the residual impact could potentially incentivise countries to improve human rights conditions, due process standards, and governmental reforms around the world.

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