Syria has been readmitted to INTERPOL’s communication network, sparking fears that it could attempt to use the access to clamp down on dissidents worldwide.
According to INTERPOL’s press office, which spoke to the news outlet, The New Arab, “Damascus has been granted access to the organization’s secure global police communications network.”
That access would reportedly allow the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to monitor the international policing organisation’s confidential database and to communicate with other member states, potentially enabling it to hunt down dissidents who have sought refuge in other countries.
Syria will also have the ability to issue ‘red notices’ for individuals, which are requests for other member states to find, arrest and extradite those individuals. Whether such requests are accepted or acted upon, depends on the countries themselves and their relations with the country issuing the request.
Despite the fact that red notices must go through INTERPOL’s General Secretariat and be filtered through a screening process to prevent the issuing of politically-motivated warrants, that process is reportedly flawed and it is rare that notices are rejected.
Yuriy Nemets, a US-based attorney who represents victims of abuse by INTERPOL, told the paper that the organisation “is bigger than the United Nations, so imagine the abilities that it gives to a non-democratic country in terms of persecuting its opponents.”
Even if a red notice is not accepted or acted upon, it still has the ability to affect the safety and flexibility of the individual it is issued against, including up to the point of political asylum being rejected or delayed. “Even in the United States, people who ask for political asylum still get detained because they are on the INTERPOL wanted list,” said Nemets.
That could especially be the case with Syrian refugees targeted by the Assad regime, as they are regularly branded as “terrorists” by Damascus and its allies, simply for holding opposing political opinions. That label, critics say, could potentially put them at greater risk around the world.
The readmission of Syria into INTERPOL comes at a time when some states in the region are normalising ties with the Assad regime after a decade of the ongoing conflict, in which Damascus has recaptured most of Syria’s territory.
International organisations have also taken steps to bring Assad back into the fold, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) having appointed Syria to its executive board in May.