Then-Interpol President Meng Hongwei at an International Cybersecurity Congress at Moscow’s World Trade Center, July 6, 2018.

© 2018 Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Image

“There was no reason for me to [suspect] that anything was forced or wrong.”

So said Jurgen Stock, secretary general of the global police organization Interpol, on the fate of its former president Meng Hongwei, on November 8, just days before throwing a glittering ceremony at its general assembly, at which Meng’s replacement was to be elected. 

Meng, who served as Interpol president as well as China’s vice minister for public security, went missing on his return to China in late September. On October 7, Chinese authorities – still not revealing Meng’s whereabouts or status – transmitted Meng’s resignation to Interpol. Interpol then tweeted only that it had received Meng’s “resignation,” citing no concerns about him. Meng’s Interpol biography still makes no mention of his forced disappearance or “resignation.”

After Meng was elected in 2016 to head a body that touts its preeminent role in global policing and claims to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch wrote to Stock. We detailed Chinese police violations of human rights inside and outside China, the Chinese government’s abuses of Interpol procedures, and Meng’s own problematic background. We never received a reply. A few months later we published research detailing Chinese authorities’ harassment of Interpol targets, but Interpol did not comment.

In the two years since Meng assumed Interpol’s presidency and his apparent disappearance into the black hole of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s deeply politicized anti-corruption campaign, China’s police have been implicated in the arbitrary detention of a million Turkic Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region, the enforced disappearance of human rights lawyers, and the torture of suspects in detention. 

No reason to suspect anything was wrong? Stock’s reaction to Meng’s “resignation” reflects poorly on Interpol, which prides itself on providing “criminal intelligence analysis” and training “investigative techniques for frontline officers.”

Stock stressed that Interpol’s rules “forbid him from probing [Meng’s] fate.” Yet as the organization seeks to repair its badly damaged credibility, its leadership could try that simplest of tactics: a mere expression of concern about a colleague who has vanished under enormously suspicious circumstances. There is no rule anywhere against that.