UN appoints arbiter for blameless caught on anti-terror watch list

Canadian will act as gatekeeper for those accused of being terror supporters and hit by travel bans and asset freezes.

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 email to ombudsperson@un.org. 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. Ms Prost said: "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."

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 al Qa'eda's leader, 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 that 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 was placed on the list in 2006 and now cannot board an aircraft 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 supranational 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 were a "unique mechanism" that could not 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 analyst 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 would 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." jreinl@thenational.ae