Groups Say Terror Lists Are ‘Arbitrary’

BRUSSELS – Government blacklists that proscribe groups and individuals as terrorists are arbitrary, secretive, and unjust, according to a new report by a network of civil rights groups.

Statewatch, which monitors the civil liberties in the European Union (EU), the Campaign Against Criminalizing Communities, and the Human Rights and Social Justice Institute at the London Metropolitan University say "proscribing" – or labeling groups and individuals as terrorists – in order to "criminalize their activities or impose sanctions against them with no right of appeal" has become an "integral" part of the war on terrorism.

The joint report, "Terrorizing the Rule of Law: The Policy and Practice of Proscription" released by the civil rights groups Wednesday, says the proscription of alleged terrorists raises serious human rights concerns.

"Terrorist lists are a recipe for arbitrary, secretive, and unjust decision-making," Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, said in a statement.

Proscription takes various forms and differs according to the jurisdiction, varying from complete bans that criminalize groups’ members and supporters, to the freezing of assets of individuals suspected of supporting terrorism.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Statewatch says proscription has been "embraced uncritically" by the international community despite the problems it poses for the application of human rights standards.

To date, hundreds of people around the world have been proscribed, and Statewatch says they often have no legal means to challenge the allegations against them or the legal basis for their proscription.

"The lack of effective judicial remedies at the national level and the minimal jurisdiction of the EU Courts mean that no proscribed group has yet had full access to court and the chance to challenge the underlying matters of law and fact in full, whether domestically or in an international court," the report says.

Britain and the U.S. have so far banned 25 and 41 so-called "international terrorist organizations" respectively, while the U.S. also has a list of over 350 groups that are believed to "support" terrorism and whose assets are frozen.

The EU has a terrorist list of 45 individuals and 47 groups, while the UN has frozen the assets of 322 individuals and 115 groups said to be associated with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Statewatch says terrorist lists are frequently drawn up on a basis of secret intelligence, and that the normal judicial process governing such serious accusations, and their prosecution, is "discarded."

Although the British parliament and U.S. Senate are briefly consulted on such lists, the civil liberties group says there is no democratic oversight whatsoever of the EU and UN lists.

Instead, the EU and UN create their lists on the basis of intelligence provided by their member states without any parliamentary scrutiny. These lists and the related sanctions are binding on all member states.

"Recent debates over new anti-terror measures have shown that it is unacceptable to sideline parliaments and exclude the courts. But this is precisely how the lists are agreed – by the executive on the basis of ‘intelligence’ alone. It is also clear that the UK and U.S. enjoy extensive and unchecked power as far as the EU and UN lists are concerned," the report says.

Statewatch adds that such lists make no allowance for groups and individuals who are engaged in acts of resistance to occupation or tyranny in their countries and warns that as a result, freedom fighters and their supporters are being criminalized.

"Hundreds of groups and individuals have now been criminalized around the world and the various lists are expanding as states attempt to add all groups engaged in resistance to occupation or tyranny. Those exercising what many people around the world see as a legitimate right to self-defense and determination are increasingly being treated – on a global basis – the same way as Osama Bin Laden," the report says.

The effects of proscription can be devastating not only for individuals, but entire communities, Statewatch says.

The human rights group Amnesty International agrees that a wide range of the EU’s counterterrorism initiatives, including its terrorist blacklists, are compromising human rights.

"It is clear that the lack of concrete, legally-binding human rights safeguards is not only leading to serious breaches of human rights but has created legal confusion and uncertainty," Dick Oosting, director of Amnesty International’s EU office, told IPS Thursday.

"Cross-border cooperation to prosecute and remove people suspected of terrorist involvement is increasing, but fundamental human rights safeguards are being left behind at the borders," he added.

Read more by Stefania Bianchi