U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., leaders of the Helsinki Commission, today reintroduced the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) Act to counter the politically motivated abuse of INTERPOL by authoritarian regimes. The bill would establish U.S. priorities for responding to INTERPOL abuse and promoting reform within INTERPOL, improve the U.S. response to fraudulent use of INTERPOL mechanisms, and protect the U.S. justice system from INTERPOL abuse.
“Autocratic states like Russia and China for years have abused Red Notices from INTERPOL to punish their political enemies,” Wicker said. “The United States and other democracies should not have to remain complicit in this global assault on the rule of law. The TRAP Act would push for due process at INTERPOL and codify regulations that prevent American law enforcement from doing the dirty work of repressive autocrats.”
“Autocrats increasingly seek to silence opposition beyond their borders—and INTERPOL has become one of their primary tools to harass and silence independent voices,” Cardin said. “The United States must ensure that dissidents and whistleblowers seeking refuge in the U.S. are beyond the reach of the authoritarian regimes that seek to punish them, even within the United States. The TRAP Act would be a major step forward in countering such authoritarian transnational repression.”
The Helsinki Commission regularly receives credible reports from political dissidents, human rights defenders, and members of the business community who are the subject of politically-motivated INTERPOL Notices and Diffusions requested by autocratic regimes. These mechanisms, which function effectively as extradition requests, can be based on trumped-up criminal charges and are used to detain, harass, or otherwise persecute individuals for their activism or refusal to acquiesce to corrupt schemes.
Russia is among the world’s most prolific abusers of INTERPOL’s Notice and Diffusion mechanisms. Other participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—principally Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkey—and other authoritarian states, such as China, also reportedly target political opponents with INTERPOL requests that violate key provisions of INTERPOL’s Constitution, which obligate the organization to uphold international human rights standards and strictly avoid involvement in politically-motivated charges.
One notable example of autocratic leaders using this power to harass their political enemies occurred in Rwanda. Paul Rusesabagina, a staunch critic of the Rwandan government, was arrested while traveling through Dubai after Rwanda asked INTERPOL to issue a Red Notice. Rusesabagina was then returned to Rwanda on false terrorism charges.
Turkey’s government has also abused INTERPOL to target Enes Kanter, an NBA basketball player, who lives in the United States. Kanter is an outspoken member of a religious group that largely opposes the Turkish President.
Original cosponsors of the legislation include Helsinki Commission members Senators Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Marco Rubio, R-Fl. Senators Ed Markey, D-Mass., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., are also original cosponsors.