Interpol’s headquarters on Monday refused a request by Egypt's authorities to issue worldwide notices for the arrest of 15 nongovernmental workers—12 of them Americans—accused of illegally operating pro-democracy programs and stirring unrest.
As first reported by National Journal, State Department counsel Harold Koh and Justice Department Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz had for weeks been trying to convince Interpol to dismiss as “politically motivated” Egypt’s request for so-called 'red' notices to arrest personnel from several nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. funding.
Cairo’s move to seek help from the international police organization was a sharp rebuke to the U.S., which has pressed Egypt to drop criminal charges against the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, Freedom House, and International Center for Journalists.
Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, France, announced on Monday that its office of legal affairs concluded Egypt’s request “is not in conformity with Interpol’s rules.” In a statement, Interpol referenced Article 3 of its constitution, which mandates neutrality and strictly forbids it to undertake any intervention in matters of “political, military, religious or racial character.”
Tensions between Washington and Cairo had eased on March 1 when seven American democracy workers were allowed to leave Egypt after their institutions paid some $5 million in “bail” to lift the travel ban against them. These Americans—including IRI’s Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood—still face charges, but are not wanted for arrest in Egypt.
Just days after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed off on $1.3 billion in military aid to Cairo on March 23, Egypt asked Interpol to issue the red notices for other nongovernmental workers who were not in Egypt at the time, or in some cases, who never worked there at all. Among the 12 Americans in this group are prominent figures in Washington, like Freedom House’s Charles Dunne, a former U.S. diplomat who also served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.
Interpol's review also concluded that no information about the individuals in this group—which also includes two Lebanese and one Jordanian national—be maintained in its databases. Egypt had directly asked countries for help in locating and arresting the individuals in a secret alert known as a diffusion, circumventing the formal process of seeking a red notice for the NGO workers through Interpol's headquarters.
“Following the diffusion sent by the Egyptian authorities, all 190 INTERPOL member countries were advised that a legal review of the request was being conducted, and all 190 member countries have now been updated as to the General Secretariat’s decision to refuse the Red Notice request,” Interpol said in a statement.
Cairo’s Interpol push came just after Clinton waived congressional restrictions that would have required her to certify the country was respecting the transition to democracy, and implementing policies to protect due process of law and freedom of expression, association, and religion.
“This has been a positive development and I appreciate the efforts of the U.S. government to weigh in on the Interpol request. But the situation is far from resolved,” David Kramer, president of Freedom House, told National Journal, adding his concerns for the local Egyptian staff still facing prosecution in the country and 400 NGOs in Egypt still under investigation for similar charges.
“Until the whole case is dropped, we have to continue to push back against what we have claimed from day one is a politically motivated effort to go after civil society,” Kramer said. “The threat against Egyptian civil society has only gotten worse. It hasn’t gotten better, despite the positive development on Interpol today.”