What An “Interpol Red Notice” Actually Means

You may have read that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is now an internationally wanted man.

I am probably the only full time blogger to ever have worked at Interpol, so it behooves me to explain the “Interpol Red Notice,” which is the mechanism through which the Swedish government is requesting the arrest and extradition of Jullian Assange for sex crimes.

A Red Notice is NOT an international arrest warrant.  Likewise, there are no such thing as globe trotting Interpol police officers who can execute arrest warrants.  Rather, the Red Notice is simply a request for the arrest and extradition of an individual for whom an arrest warrant has been issued in the requesting country.

So, in this case, Sweden has issued an arrest warrant for Julian Assange for sex crimes. Since Swedish police have good reason to believe that Assange may be abroad, they have contacted Interpol headquarters and ask Interpol to distribute to its member states the fact that Assange has a warrant for his arrest in Sweden. This is the Red Notice.  (And there are other color coded notices for things like missing persons — Yellow; or unidentified bodies –Black).

Some countries routinely ignore notices; some countries treat the Red Notice as good as an arrest warrant itself; some countries require further action before arrest and extradition.  It is really up to national authorities to decide how they treat the Red Notice.  But from a law enforcement perspective, it does have the advantage of the quick and reliable global distribution of the basic fact that an individual is wanted for arrest in an Interpol member state.  (And it should be noted that Interpol does turn down requests for Red Notices in cases that seem overtly political, though Assange has claimed this prosecution is politically driven.)

In addition to the potential for wide police cooperation, it is also my understanding that there is some diplomatic advantage to issuing a Red Notice.  That is because some countries have Red Notices built into extradition treaties, so having a Red Notice may help to expedite the extradition of wanted persons.

Sweden presumably has these kinds of extradition treaties with a number of countries. And if Assange is arrested by police in any country with this kind of treaty with Sweden, his extradition may be expedited in some way.

So that’s the Red Notice.

UPDATE:  I should point out that it is not at all unusual to issue a Red Notice for someone wanted for sex crimes.  There are at least 135 such notices for people wanted by national authorities for sex crimes.

Here is the full release from Interpol.


LYON, France – INTERPOL has made public the Red Notice, or international wanted persons alert, for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the request of Swedish authorities who want to question him in connection with a number of sexual offences.

The Red Notice for the 39-year-old Australian, which was issued to law enforcement in all 188 INTERPOL member countries on 20 November, has now been made publicly available by INTERPOL following official authorization by Sweden.

All INTERPOL National Central Bureaus (NCBs) have also been advised to ensure that their border control agencies are made aware of Assange’s Red Notice status, which is a request for any country to identify or locate an individual with a view to their provisional arrest and extradition.

Many of INTERPOL’s member countries however, consider a Red Notice a valid request for provisional arrest, especially if they are linked to the requesting country via a bilateral extradition treaty. In cases where arrests are made based on a Red Notice, these are made by national police officials in INTERPOL member countries.

INTERPOL cannot demand that any member country arrests the subject of a Red Notice. Any individual wanted for arrest should be considered innocent until proven guilty.