The Cable

China and Russia Take the Helm of Interpol

Interpol’s election of a Chinese president and Russian vice president has human rights watchdogs scratching their heads.


Donald Trump isn’t the only president-elect sparking controversy this week. The International Criminal Police Organization elected a former Chinese paramilitary police force deputy as its president, and many human rights observers are up in arms about it.

Interpol announced the election results for its new chief, China’s Vice Minister for Public Security Meng Hongwei, on Twitter on Thursday. Meng is the first Chinese official to take the helm of the organization. Hongwei’s career history, and his country’s questionable human rights and policing record, have already drawn criticisms from day one.

“The appointment of Meng Hongwei is alarming, given China’s long-standing practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad,” said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director at Amnesty International in a press release Thursday.

“It seems at odds with Interpol’s mandate to work in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Bequelin added, referring to the U.N. declaration enshrined in Article 2 of Interpol’s constitution.

Before Meng became vice minister since 2004, he was deputy director of the armed police forces Beijing would send to quell unrest in Tibet, Xinjiang, and other unstable outskirts of China.

China has used Interpol’s “red notices,” a de facto international police warrant, to try to detain former officials and political asylum seekers that fled the country. China issued 100 of such notices last year.

“There now needs to be close scrutiny of the kind of notices that Interpol issues at the request of the Chinese government,” Bequelin said. The United States and many other countries do not have an extradition treaty with China, which has been regularly accused by human rights watchdogs of widespread police and judiciary abuses.

Meng is becoming Interpol president in the midst of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s major anti-corruption drive across China. Meng’s election, coupled China hosting Interpol’s 86th general assembly in 2017, could be a big PR score for Xis anti-graft campaign. Over 1 million officials in China have been punished in the past three years, BBC reported. But critics worry Xi is using the drive to consolidate power and target political rivals.

Interpol’s president is primarily a symbolic figurehead, but Meng can still drive the organization’s strategy and set guidance for its general assembly body. Interpol also has a secretary general; that job currently is held by Jürgen Stock, who chairs the organization’s executive committee. With 190 members, Interpol is the second-largest international organization after the U.N.

And just to round things out, Interpol also elected a Russian official, Maj. Gen. Alexander Prokopchuk, as its vice president on Thursday. Russia, like China, isn’t known for having a particularly fair and just police force. Prokopchuk has been with Russia’s Interior Ministry since 2003.

Photo credit: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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