Just because the United States is in the final days of its election campaign doesn’t mean nothing important is happening anywhere else. Next week, the General Assembly of Interpol, the worldwide federation of law enforcement agencies, will meet in Bali, Indonesia.
The General Assembly is Interpol’s governing authority, and it decides who joins Interpol. Both Taiwan and the Palestinian Authority are seeking admission. It’s time Interpol welcomes Taiwan — but letting the Palestinians in would be a serious mistake.
Interpol is nothing like what you see in the movies. It doesn’t have agents who investigate crimes. It doesn’t arrest anyone. In reality, Interpol’s job is to administer databases of wanted notices from police agencies around the world. It is, basically, a bulletin board.
Most of Interpol’s work is laudable. The United States is both Interpol’s biggest funder and the biggest user of its systems. All civilized, law-abiding nations need ways to alert friendly nations about fugitives from justice, and Interpol is one of the ways we do that.
But Interpol can be — and has been — perverted. Almost every nation in the world, with the exception of North Korea, is a member of Interpol, and nations like Russia and Iran have realized that they can persecute exiled dissidents and inconvenient investors by asking Interpol to send out wanted notices naming them as criminals.
If you’re named in an Interpol wanted notice requested by Russia, you might be extradited to Russia. You’ll find it hard to travel, and dangerous to do so. You could be imprisoned in a foreign nation. Your bank accounts can be closed. All of these things, bar extradition, have happened to American citizens, and citizens of other nations have been treated even worse.
The problem is that not all of Interpol’s member nations are law-abiding. If you belong to Interpol, you’re supposed to respect its rules, which include only using it to locate criminals who commit genuine offenses like murder, rape, or robbery. Using Interpol to pursue anyone for racial, political, or religious reasons is forbidden.
But the restrictions are mostly on the honor system. Interpol deals with thousands of requests a year: it doesn’t have the ability, or the desire, to investigate each one of them. It trusts its member nations, and only looks into a request if someone formally complains.
We, and the rest of the civilized world, made a serious mistake by letting so many autocracies and lawless nations into Interpol. But we have an opportunity now not to make that mistake again. We can, and we should, start doing the right thing.
Admitting Taiwan is the right thing. It was a member of Interpol from 1962 to 1971, when its membership was transferred to the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan is a well-established democracy, ranked as “Free” by Freedom House, a nonprofit that promotes democracy. It is not likely to abuse Interpol. The only reason it’s not in Interpol today is that China doesn’t want it to be.
The Palestinian Authority is completely different. Freedom House ranks it as “Not Free,” and as only marginally better than Russia. The Palestinian president is 11 years into his four-year term, the media is not free, and the Authority makes generous payments to the families of terrorists and celebrates them as martyrs.
The Palestinians aren’t seeking admission to Interpol because they want to support it. They want to join Interpol for the same reason they want to join every international organization: because it is a cheap way to win a legitimacy they do not deserve on their merits. And if they can use Interpol to persecute a few supporters of Israel, that would be a bonus.
Giving the Palestinians rewards they do not deserve only incentivizes them to keep on governing badly. We should stand on our principles, and vote against giving the Authority the opportunity to join the parade of dictatorships that already abuse Interpol.
Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Thatcher Center for Freedom.