NEW YORK // Ever been accused of ranking among the Taliban or al Qa'eda and found your way onto the UN Security Council's watch list? Don't worry. You can now protest your innocence by sending one simple e-mail to email@example.com. The Security Council body responsible for keeping the list of those linked to the extremist groups - and subjecting them to asset freezes and travel bans - has appointed the Canadian judge, Kimberly Prost, to launch an appeals process.
The so-called "Consolidated List" of some 500 people, groups and companies has faced mounting criticism in recent years for riding roughshod over long-established principles of fairness, justice and accountability. Some of those added to the list complain of a Kafkaesque process involving secret intelligence reports they have never seen, denying them due process, the right of appeal and the cornerstone principle of "innocent until proven guilty". "The objective of this position is to provide individuals, organisations and entities affected by this sanctions regime with an avenue for recourse, in order to provide fundamental fairness to the process and for the overall efficiency effectiveness and enforceability of the sanctions regime," Ms Prost said. Security Council resolution 1267 of October 1999 established the UN blacklist and imposed travel bans, asset freezes and an arms embargo on people or groups associated with the Taliban, al Qa'eda and its terror chieftain, Osama bin Laden. Any state may ask the sanctions committee to add or remove names from the list, although deletion requires approval from all 15 members of the Security Council's sanctions panel, which is chaired by the non-permanent member, Austria. Some complain they have been unfairly listed, saying backdoor reports have condemned them to UN sanctions penury. Others say it targets Middle Easterners, mentioning the name "Abdul" more than 100 times among the listed aliases, for example. Critics include Abousfian Abdelrazik, an al Qa'eda suspect who joined the list in 2006 and now cannot board an aeroplane or open a bank account. The Canadian is challenging the constitutionality of the sanctions levied against people on the list. His critique has support at high levels, including the UN's expert on human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, who said listing procedures did not meet the "due process requirements of a fair trial". European courts have ruled that the list undermines judicial principles. During a hearing in Mr Abdelrazik's case, the Canadian judge, Russel Zinn, said "there is nothing in the listing or de-listing procedure that recognises the principles of natural justice" and warned that it turns due process on its head: "The accuser is also the judge." In 2006, an internal UN report grappled inconclusively with the thorny issue of whether the Security Council, a supra-national body, is above international law, or should uphold the human rights principles espoused by the world body. Ms Prost has her own answer. Addressing journalists for the first since time her appointment last month, she said UN sanctions are a "unique mechanism" that cannot be compared to prosecutions for murder, rape or theft in a city courthouse. "It is not a criminal law process, it is not a national trial process, it's not an international criminal law process per se," she said on Thursday. "I don't believe there's only one recipe for fairness or rule of law ... and I'm anxious to try and take the responsibilities and capacities I have been given towards that fairness and to make it as effective as possible." Letta Tayler, a terrorism expert for the New York-based pressure group, Human Rights Watch, said the ombudsperson's office was an "important first step" in bringing transparency but warned Ms Prost will likely face an "uphill battle" in convincing committee members to de-list anyone. "Because the ombudsperson's recommendations are not binding there remains the risk that the position will become mere window-dressing," said Ms Tayler. "The proof will be in the pudding as to whether this brings due process to the committee, and this will depend in great part on the dynamism and the persistence of the ombudsperson." While Ms Prost offers a method for the wrongly-accused to seek de-listing, the process of removing names from the blacklist has been carried out by states for some time - with rights activists pointing to shady, politically-motivated deals. This week, the UN revealed that Afghan officials submitted 10 names linked to the Taliban for consideration for de-listing. President Hamid Karzai has pushed for the removal of some Taliban figures from the blacklist as a way to encourage militants to stop fighting or enter peace talks. "That's the irony - on one hand there are significant concerns about the Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctions list process and whether those on the list have the right to appeal," said Ms Tayler. "On the other hand, we hope that president Karzai does not remove individuals from the sanctions list purely for political gain, if indeed they should legitimately be on the list." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org