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Interpol interview:  Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, who recently visited the Interpol secretariat in Lyon, the second French capital, spoke in this exclusive interview with the organisation's Secretary General Mr. Ronald Kenneth Noble


SHAW : What initiatives have you put in place to improve information exchange in the police within the African region ?

NOBLE : The first initiative put in place to improve the exchange of information in Africa involves something that had happened a couple of years ago when we eliminated all debts for all interpol member countries, including a large number of countries in Africa, because part of that time the countries that hadn't been able to pay those debts were not able to participate in all the activities. So we wanted to make sure that all the members in the world were full participants.

The second thing that we did was we had a rescheduling of the dues of member countries throughout the world, and by doing so we had a reduction of dues percentages required to be paid by the poorest countries throughout the world-a reduced obligation by almost 75 per cent. By reducing their dues we allowed them to take those resources that they would otherwise pay interpol and use them to improve their police system.

The third is that we are putting in place the Interpol I/24/7 communication system at interpol offices around the world and that system allows member countries to use the Internet and the state of the art technology to send any cryptive messages -messages that cannot be read by unauthorised persons-and at the same time receive these cryptive messages from other member countries. And that I/24/7 communication system would enable the police in Africa to send photographs and finger prints, down load documents and reports, and thereby facilitate their exchange of information.

SHAW: Speaking at the 32nd Interpol European Regional conference on May 14 in the Netherlands, you recognised the involvement of some criminal groups operating in Europe in arms trafficking in Africa leading to the circulation of tens of millions of small arms and light weapons making it very difficult to bring an end to conflicts in Africa. How has your organisation been reacting to this trend and how do you think the threat assessment of crime would be tackled in Africa ?

NOBLE : One is the organisation has been supportive of the African regional chiefs of police organisations that exist such as SAACPO (Southern Africa Association of Chieves of Police), EAACPO in East Africa and WAACPO in West Africa-these regional police organisations that are tackling problems in these African regions including the establishing of projects. Secondly Interpol is in the process of analysing something called IWETS(International Weapons Explosives Tracking System). In effect if we find out that that system is workable that would allow us to gather data about weapons and explosives trafficking not only in Africa but throughout the world. And thirdly, what we've been trying to do is support the sub-regional efforts in Africa by making sure that we have qualified and trained police officers working there so that they can focus on projects in that area as well.

SHAW: Talking about this new ultra-modern 1/24/7 global communication system …

NOBLE : I/24/7-I for Interpol, 24 for 24 hours a day , 7 for seven days a week…

SHAW : Thank you ! Considering the fact that Africa is still far behind in modern communication infrastructure how fast do you think the police in Africa would benefit from this system. ?

NOBLE : One is we are going to provide hardware, software and training free for African member countries. So one benefit is that African countries would be able to get this system forthwith. Two, right now for African member countries to communicate to one another, and to interpol, is expensive ; for them to use codable telephone systems ; the land line system in some African countries is non-existent ; and faxing is very expensive as well. So by giving African member countries this technology-hardware and software, they would be able to communicate with one another more cheaply and more efficiently, and outside of Africa, more cheaply and more efficiently.

 SHAW: Despite international efforts to put an end to human trafficking especially women and children for the purpose of exploitation by way of prostitution and sweetshop labour, respectively, this practice has continued unabated. How do you explain this ?

NOBLE : One is …there are…When one thinks of the trafficking of women issue, one has to think of two categories : One category is made of people who are deceived and lulled into going from one country to another with the expectation that they would get a better job, they would get a better life, but when they in fact reach that country, their passports are taken away from them and they are then forced into prostitution, and it is a very very serious organised crime problem. But what we've done is we have specialy targetted investigations targeting organised crime groups that trafic women for those purposes.

The second category is that where people knowingly and voluntarily wish to travel from point A to point B in order to engage in prostitution. That is a much more difficult crime problem to deal with when there isn't the organised crime aspect in it because you have a number of people travelling, it is not obvious the type of people travelling, the reasons that they want to engage in illegal immigration. So it is a difficult crime problem to tackle. What Interpol has focused on is the organised crime aspect and especially the people who are deceived into leaving their countries with expections of improving their lives only to be forced into prostitution and other criminal activities.

SHAW : Is Interpol directly involved in trying to tackle this problem…Have you been working with other organisations in this regard and have you recorded some concrete you can see this problem is becoming more and more serious in Europe. ?

NOBLE : What I would do is may be ask the person in charge of the human trafficking department to give examples of successes we have had in these cases. But the way that Interpol tries to tackle the problem is-there are a number of things we're trying to do-one is to target organised crime groups that engage in the trafficking of human beings for these purposes, and we have had specific projects with significant successes that we've done ; two is we try to improve the way in which police examine passports and other travel documents to make sure that people coming across borders have lawful and proper travel documents because we know when organised criminals engage in such activities they tend to give false passports to these people ; and three is we try to talk to member countries like the IOM and other organisations that try to focus on the migration problem. It's not just a criminal problem, is a problem of people not having the right opportinities in their own countries, is a problem of some countries having too strict immigration laws or requirments and therefore some people feel they have no option but to try to go illegally, a sort of a very very complex problem. But Interpol has a very specific role to play, and the role we have been playing is the one that targets organised crime involvement in the illegal trafficking of human beings.

SHAW: Have you made any attempt to try and see how best to tackle this problem from the source…from the countries for instance in Africa or Asia where the victims of this practice are taken from ?

NOBLE : Yes, we have. We have. For example in China, Interpol has encourged that country which has in fact implemented a policy where by they would accept back all the chinese people who have illegally fled China to other countries. Which means a person leaving China for example who knows once she is arrested she is going to be sent back to China is going to be less likely to do it, where as before when they know China wouldn't accept them back ,they would be more likely to leave. So we work with the source country to agree to accept its people back. We also work with the countries which …

SHAW: What about African countries ? Have you been able to succeed in this way in any African country ?

NOBLE : With China, the volume and number of people from one country were so large that it was easier to work with China. With Africa, what we've done is work with African member countries police forces generally to try to fight the illegal immigration in their countries. For example at the point of departure from Africa, Morocco, and at some entry points such as Italy, Greece and Spain, we try to co-ordinate with the police in those border crossing points to try to discourage the illegal immigration.

SHAW : With Africa increasingly becoming the transit point, and even destination of drugs, what in your opinion do you think would be the new practical strategies aimed at combating this menace ?

NOBLE : One is that Interpol member countries, each time they seized drugs, need to collect information about the kind of bag it was carried in ; the kind of secret compartments it was stored in and the characteristics of the person carrying the drugs. That information is to be shared with member countries so when a person comes in carrying a black brief case with a certain mark on it, a certain brand name, and if that brief case was seized in the US containing drugs or was seized in Spain containing drugs, then an African border control person or customs control person would say : " black brief case ! It's the same kind of brief case that was seized in Europe, in Africa and in America, let's examine that ", we've had great success in this strategy. That's one area. Two, is a point I keep going back to, time and time again. The police have to share information about the ways in which they are tackling drug trafficking, and about the shifting patterns of drug trafficking. And this is what we call the threat assessment for Europe, Africa, Asia and the America's and it says that we believe that this kind of activity-this kind of criminal activity-is on the increase and therefore be on the look out for smuggling coming through South Africa for example, or coming through Harare, or coming through Nairobi, where ever it might be ; the important point to keep in mind is that drug traffickers normally have their illegal products mixed in legal products and so if you have an increase in legal trade you've got to worry about an increase in drug trade. It sounds bad, but it is true.

SHAW: Talking about corruption in high places in the police system in Africa, most observers think this has hampered efforts at checking the increasing crime rate in Africa. What specific efforts have been taken, if any , by your organisation to tackle this problem ?

NOBLE : The corruption problem is one that people have been trying to handle world-wide and not just in Africa. It is a problem that people have been trying to tackle by establishing best practices and encouraging member countries to put best practices in place. But it's not only a police problem in terms of enforcing the law against corrupt police. It's also a societal problem. We keep telling member countries you got to make sure you pay the police a proper salary because it is much easier for a police officer who is making a solid wage which can pay his family, pay his housing, pay for his food and clothing to be honest than it is for a police officer who is not going to make money to pay for food and clothing for his family. I'm not justifying corruption ; what I'm saying is that it's a very complex issue that's got to be approached globally-from recruiting the right people, training the right people, paying them, equiping them and educating them, and then enforcing very very strongly any violations that might be to the law in terms of a corrupt police officer. And a corrupt police officer in one African country taints the image of police officers in all African countries, and a corrupt officer in Africa, or Europe or Asia or the Americas taints the image of police officers around the world. So police have a common interest in ruling out corruption. It's wrong. It undermines the rule of law. It undermines the profession that they have sworn to honour.

SHAW: I would want to believe that you've made such remarks at some conferences you have attended in Africa. If so, have you been getting positive feedback from some African leaders especially with regards to your concern that better conditions of service for the police may serve as a deterrent to police corruption ?

NOBLE : First what I want to be clear about and what I dont want any misimpression on is that I'm making statements on behalf of Interpol ; chiefs of police from African countries are making the same statements on behalf of their police forces and changes are occuring. But more needs to be done in Africa and throughout the world to make sure that police are properly paid, are properly trained and are properly monitored. And what African member countries and all member countries have been embracing is the Interpol's initiative of establishing best practices in the area of fighting corruption ; we already have a working group established in that regard. At last year's Interpol's General Assembly we had the best practice policy approved and at the African regional conference in Zambia I expect the police to embrace this initiative as well.

SHAW : Talking about the global threat of terrorism, how do you think Africa fits into the equation ?

NOBLE : Okay, it's clear that Africa has been a target of some of the worst terrorist acts that have occurred over the last five years. It's clear that is the region of the world where terrorists believe that they can move around freely and that they can engage in terrorist activity without the same risk of being caught unlike in other countries. But the terrorist problem is not only an African problem ; it is an American problem, European problem and Asian problem. What Interpol would like to see happen is that wealthier countries need to make sure that African police officers receive the proper training and equipment, and the support to fight terrorism at the local level. The Commissioner for the South African police, Mr. Salebi has sponsored and is in support of an initiative that the Southern Africa Chiefs of Police have put in place for an early warning system for a possible terrorist activity in Southern Africa. At the Interpol regional conference in Zambia we followed up the importance of fighting terrorism as it relates to putting in place the I/24/7 communication system.

SHAW : The Zimbabwe Police Chief, Augustine Chihuri, recently resigned his honourary vice president for Africa post in the Interpol Executive Committee. Did he resign because of Western pressure ? If so, what does it say about Interpol being non-political.

NOBLE : Interpol is not only considered to be non-political, it's apolitical. And with Mr Chihuri; his resignation did not come about because of pressure from any large country or any large group of countries. His resignation came about because a member of his police force made an unfortunate statement suggesting that his appointment or his receipt of the honorary vice president title was an endorsement of the Zimbabwean police force. It was not an endorsement and it was not a non-endorsement ; rather it was an authomatic honour given to all executive members who completed their term of service. Once that unfortunate statement was circulated in the press, the appointment received political attention ; and so to avoid any politicisation of Interpol, Mr. Chihuri resigned honourably.

SHAW: Finally, how has Interpol been coping with the problem of sovereignty among the 181 member countries in tackling organised crime such as terrorism, genocide and other crimes against humanity ?

NOBLE : Interpol embraces and supports one hundred percent the view that each of its member countries is a soverign. But what Interpol tries to do is get all its member countries to co-operate towards a common enemy that is helping member countries track down dangerous fugutives, terrorists, organised crime figures and certainly any persons sought for any of the genocide crimes handled by the International Tribunals. But Interpol leaves it to each member country to decide if it will in fact enforce a request for arrest that comes from another member country. And that is the only way Interpol can function because you never gonna be able to get all 181 member countries to agree on all issues 100 per cent.

A NOBLE CV…Interpol's secretary general

Ronald Kenneth Noble, the first African-American secretary general of Interpol, was nominated by the Interpol Executive Committee in July 1999, and confirmed by the 69th General Assembly on 2 November 2000. Noble has extensive international law enforcement expertise. Currently professor of Law at the New York University School of Law, Noble's law enforcement career includes service in both the US Department of Justice and Treasury.

In addition to service as an assistant attorney and deputy attorney general, he more recently was chief law enforcement officer in the US Treasury Department from 1989 to 1996.

In this position, he had command over-seeing several of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States such as the Secret Service, Customs Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service.

A former member of Interpol's Executive Committee, Noble has also been president of the 26-nation Financial Action Task Force, the anti-money laundering organisation established by the G7 (now G8) in 1989.

Raised in New Jersey and Germany, Noble holds a Bachelor's degree in economics and business administration from the University of New Hampshire and a J.D from Stanford University Law School.