On 17 June 2021, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee published its report, In the room: the UK’s role on multilateral diplomacy, a product of the Committee’s inquiry into the ways in which the governance and work of multilateral organisations are being undermined. The report paints a stark picture of the myriad threats facing these organisations, which range from obstructionism and rule-breaking to capture through funding, and the growing corrosive influence of Russia, China and other enabling states. It calls on the UK Government to take stronger action in order to “break the cycle of decline in multilateral organisations.”
The report is presented through the lens of six multilateral organisations, namely: the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the UN Office for the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL), the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation, and the International Criminal Court. In the course of its inquiry, the Committee received 28 submissions of written evidence and held eight oral hearings at which it heard evidence from a broad range of domestic and international stakeholders from across government, civil society organisations and the legal profession.
In respect of INTERPOL, the inquiry focussed its attentions on the serial attempted abuse of the Red Notice and Diffusion systems, INTERPOL’s financial relationships, the integrity of electoral processes and the independence of complaints mechanisms. Evidence given by witnesses, including David Armond, Managing Director at Armond Consultancy Ltd and former Deputy Director General at the UK National Crime Agency (NCA), Ben Emmerson QC, international lawyer and Judge of the Appeal Chambers of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, and William Browder of Hermitage Capital Management and an INTERPOL reform campaigner, criticised INTERPOL’s secretariat for failing to impose consequences on serial abusers. Jasvinder Nakhwal, Partner at Peters and Peters LLP, in her submission of written evidence, outlined the lack of fairness of the ‘Kafkaeque’ process for appealing against abusive Red Notices and Diffusions, which can see the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (‘CCF’) favour a bald denial of wrongdoing by the member state over compelling representations by the individual.
Concerns were raised that the levels of support (estimated to be €50m) given by the United Arab Emirates to the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World would give them undue influence in the organisation, despite its record of attempted abuse of INTERPOL’s systems. Bruno Min, Senior Policy Adviser at Fair Trials, commented in his evidence on the lack of rigour of the vetting process for entering into these “product-based” relationships. Contributors questioned the legitimacy of the process for electing INTERPOL’s president – candidates are not subject to vetting and, while the forthcoming election has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a candidate from the UAE is believed to be the frontrunner.
Further criticisms were levied at the CCF. Though marketed as an independent body, its members are voted for by the General Assembly making it a political process open to abuse. Jasvinder Nakhwal of Peters and Peters LLP advocated for the replacement of the CCF with a new, totally independent body with panel members comprised of senior lawyers and judges appointed through a fair and independent process.
In light of the evidence, the report concludes that, despite extensive efforts at reform, numerous structural and governance issues persist within INTERPOL and these allow states, including Turkey, Russia and China, to abuse the Red Notice and Diffusion functions with impunity. Further, the report recognises the role that INTERPOL’s governance and funding structures play in permitting “unacceptable interference” by both state and non-state actors. Criticising the failure of the UK Government and INTERPOL’s secretariat to acknowledge the existence of these problems, the report suggests that this sends a message to would-be abusers that their behaviour is acceptable.
The UK is heavily engaged in INTERPOL and, following the end of the transition period for the UK’s exit from the European Union at 11 pm on 31 December 2020, INTERPOL now plays an even greater role in the UK’s law enforcement arrangements. In recognition of this, and of the important role played by INTERPOL in the fight against international crime, the report makes a number of organisation-specific recommendations with a view to strengthening its systems against malign activity. Inter alia, the report calls on the UK Government to:
- publicly recognise the extent to which states still attempt to abuse the system;
- provide greater support for those whose lives are impacted by failed attempts to abuse INTERPOL’s systems, including through enhanced coordination between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (‘FCDO’) and the Home Office on the approach to Red Notices and Diffusions in individual cases;
- consider a Global Crime Coordination Group comprising the FCDO, the Home Office and other relevant Whitehall departments to harmonise the approach toward INTERPOL abuse and reform;
- take steps to ensure the independence and transparency of the CCF, including through a review of the existing structures for the selection of candidates for the Executive Committee;
- work with other democratic funders of INTERPOL to table a resolution to the General Assembly affirming the secretariat’s power to suspend abusive states;
- work with other democratic funders of INTERPOL to harmonise donor practices and reduce reliance on the INTERPOL Safer World Foundation;
- work with ‘Five Eyes’ partners (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) to lobby against any attempt to nominate a candidate from a state with a poor record of use of INTERPOL’s systems for the upcoming presidency;
- work with ‘Five Eyes’ partners to track and expose the abusive use of Red Notices.
In the context of multilateral organisations more broadly, the report expresses particular concern about the growing influence of China. Whilst acknowledging that the UK Government has had some success in countering hostile interference, it says that the UK has generally failed to adequately respond to the creeping capture of organisations by China. As the US re-engages in the multilateral sphere under the Biden administration, the report recommends that the UK seize this opportunity to reassert its commitment to multilateral organisations through actions as well as words. The UK is well placed to mobilise like-minded states to respond to the challenges in this sphere through its “world-class diplomatic network, significant soft power, and [as] a major financial contributor to multilateral organisations.”
In order to make meaningful progress on this, the report calls on the Government to embrace engagement over withdrawal and to place the FCDO at the forefront of that approach. The report endorses increased coordination between international delegations, in particular, to organisations in Geneva (where most of the human rights activity takes place) and New York (where much of the security and financing debate takes place). The FCDO is, in the Committee’s estimation, best placed to coordinate this unified approach across Whitehall and to mobilise its soft power to work with international allies. Specific recommendations for the Government include publicly calling out those states who are undermining or abusing the system and improving and investing in both domestic and international coordination to proactively identify and respond to threats posed by such states.