Panel Decries Terrorism Blacklist Process
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
PARIS, Nov. 12 -- The methods used by the United Nations and the European Union for blacklisting terrorism suspects are "totally arbitrary" and "violate the fundamental principles of human rights and rule of law," a European human rights panel said Monday.
The Council of Europe's legal committee urged an overhaul of international regulations so that individuals and groups being blacklisted -- which imposes a freeze on assets and a ban on traveling -- would have access to evidence against them, rights to a fair trial or impartial review within a reasonable time and compensation for wrongful designation as a terrorist.
"The fight against terrorism is a need that nobody can put into question," said the panel, which is part of the 47-nation council, Europe's leading human rights watchdog organization. "But we consider it unacceptable to forego, in the name of this fight, the fundamental principles of a democratic society."
In a draft resolution to be considered by another council body, the committee said: "If one adds to this picture the practice of abductions ('extraordinary renditions'), of secret detention centers and the trivialisation of torture, this provides a worrying, devastating message: Principles that are as fundamental as the rule of law and the protection of human rights are optional accessories applicable only in fair weather."
The vote Monday to approve the report grew from the latest Council of Europe investigation into a range of anti-terrorism activities in recent years. A report by the council last summer said the CIA exploited NATO military agreements to help it run secret prisons in Poland and Romania, where the report said alleged terrorists were held in solitary confinement for months, shackled and subjected to other mental and physical torture. Poland and Romania have both denied that the CIA established such prisons on their soil.
The resolution approved by the Legal Affairs Committee is scheduled to be debated by the council's Parliamentary Assembly in January. The council's actions serve as recommendations to members of the 27-nation European Union.
Approximately 370 individuals and 60 organizations worldwide have been blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council or the European Union, the investigation found. In addition to the freeze on their finances and the prohibition on travel, they have little recourse for getting delisted, according to Dick Marty, a Swiss legislator who led the investigation. Marty also headed the council's probe of secret prisons.
"The person or group concerned is usually neither informed of the request, nor given the possibility to be heard, nor even necessarily informed about the decision taken -- until he or she first attempts to cross a border or use a bank account," Marty wrote in his account for the committee.
"A serial killer in Europe has a lot more rights," Marty said at a news conference in Paris after the parliamentary committee met in the French city of Strasbourg.
Marty cited the case of Youssef Nada, a 75-year-old native Egyptian, Italian citizen and successful businessman, who lived in Switzerland "for decades, without ever having had any problems with anyone." In 2001, he was blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council on suspicion of having helped fund the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
"He was included in the 'black list' without having been informed of this fact, without having been heard and without possibility of appeal," Marty wrote in his report. Swiss authorities conducted a four-year investigation of Nada, but could find no evidence to support his inclusion on the blacklist, Marty wrote. Nada is a Muslim and has long been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the Arab world's oldest Islamic organizations.
"How can one today justify as part of the fight against terrorism the blacklisting for more than six years of a man . . . against whom the law enforcement authorities of two countries have not found a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing?" Marty said in his report. He did not identify the second country.
Both the United Nations and the European Union have relaxed some of the secrecy surrounding the blacklists in recent years, the committee said. The E.U. issued a new regulation allowing those who are blacklisted to receive a letter of notification and information on how to appeal the listing.
"Despite any recent procedural improvements, it remains nearly impossible de facto for an individual or an entity to get . . . removed from a blacklist," the committee said, adding that the new procedures "are just as flawed as the previous ones."
The panel said the "most grievous human rights violation" is the disregard for fair trial, noting that no type of hearing -- public or private -- is held before an individual or organization is listed.
The committee's report said that a growing number of cases are being taken to the European Court of Human Rights and other courts, but that "no court has yet addressed the unlawfulness of the underlying U.N. resolutions and E.U. regulations."