New Report on UN ‘Blacklisting’

There is a new report out from the European Centre on Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) on blacklisting practices, particularly the UN’s , after 9/11. The report by Gavin Sullivan and Ben Hayes, suggests that the UN 1267 list of supposed Taliban and Al-Qaeda members and supporters in particular, which I have described as ‘kafkaesque’ in the past here, is:

“beyond the powers of the Security Council. While international terrorism remains an atrocious crime … it does not justify the exercise by the Security Council of supranational sanctioning powers over individuals and entities. “

UN 1267 and kafkaesque justice

I have just come back from a talk by Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen of Sudanese origin who has just in June returned to Canada after six years in Sudan. He wasn’t there by choice but because he was arrested by the Sudanese intelligence services (NISS) – who have been frequently condemned by Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – imprisoned and tortured and then prevented from returning by the Canadian government, until a Federal Court Judge, Russel Zinn, ruled in his favour.  He has never been charged with any offence let alone convicted, and it has been made clear on a number of occasions that there is no evidence against him. Furthermore he alleges (and Judge Zinn agreed) that the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service (CSIS) was involved almost every step of the way, including harassing him and his family, and participating in his interrogation in the Sudan – CSIS is, of course, as unacountable as most of the intelligence agencies of supposedly democratic western states.  You can read more about the case here.

Now he’s back, but he is effectively a persona non grata, as since 2006, at the request of the US government, he has been on The Consolidated List established and maintained by the 1267 Committee with respect to Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden, and the Taliban and other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with them (the ‘UN 1267 List’). This list, established by UN Resolution 1267, and administered by the permanent members of the Security Council (not the General Assembly or other more accountable UN organisations), goes much further than the US ‘No-Fly List’. It is supposedly a list of the most dangerous Al-Qaeda and Taliban members and affiliates and no signatory state is allowed to provide those listed with any financial or material assistance, including services, employment, healthcare and so on. You would think that this extraordinary (and so far as we know, indefinite) punishment would require equally extraordinary proof, but the situation is the opposite: there is no public evidence or accountability offered. It is theoretically possible to get off the list, but appeal is only to the UN 1267 List committee itself, seems to work on the principle of ‘prove that you are not a terrorist’ – an all but impossible task for anyone – and no reason for refusal is published or given to the appellant.

But the list itself is entirely public. On the website, you can find Abdelrazik, listed under ‘Individuals associated with Al-Qaeda’ – and let’s make it clear, no evidence has been offered to suggest that he is in any way associated with that terrorist organisation or its affiliates. The entries are telling in that they are basically a series of ‘known aliases’ of various degrees of apparent strength of evidence (which of course is not provided). Each group of aliases could really be anyone or any number of people for two main reasons. Firstly, there is the acknowledged lack of expertise of western intelligence agencies in Arabic and Muslim countries – just as a random example, see this article from earlier this year which makes clear that the CIA is still massively deficient in all foreign language skills. The second is the fact that any information they do have was in many cases either paid for or obtained by forced confessions through intimidation and torture, which as everyone knows, provides nothing of value and is counterproductive in a wider political sense (in addition to being wrong, of course). And to add another layer of bleak irony, some of this unreliable information is obtained from the very organisations (like NISS) condemned by the UN for their appalling human rights records! Yet a web of certainty and indefinite punitive restriction is being spun around these dubious data.

Judge Zinn in his judgement, compared the situation to that of The Trial by Franz Kafka, and it’s hard to imagine a more apt word for it than kafkaesque. He not only decried the Canadian government’s attitude to this individual case as flawed (as have been the actions of almost all the major western nations in this area), but he argued that the UN 1267 list as a whole was  “a denial of basic legal remedies and untenable under the principles of international human rights” and – I would add – morally indefensible.

Keep quiet or get labelled a terrorist…

BoingBoing brings this piece from the Daily Kos to my attention. It’s a disturbing story of what has happened on a number of occasions to people who annoy flight attendants and end up being labeled as terrorists. These ridiculous rulings have been severely debilitating – in the most extreme case, one woman lost access to her children, and in a Kafkaesque twist was unable to argue the case because she could not reach the custody hearing (in Hawai’i) because she was banned from flying!

These rulings have all occurred through extreme interpretations of the provisions of the US PATRIOT Act. However both this tendency for laws to extend their reach is not unique to the USA, indeed Britain may be far more culpable in this regard but in its mundane, bureaucratic way. Examples include the way that the Harassment Act, designed to protect people from stalkers, has become a tool of corporations against protestors, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which has enabled local authorities to employ intensive surveillance of individuals for such heinous acts as recycling wrongly.

The other issue here is once again, one of responsibilization, the enabling of ordinary people in minor positions of responsibility, or none, to use powers that would previously have been reserved to law enforcement officials or the court system. In the USA, it is flight attendants, whose role has increased markedly as post-9/11 provisions have ratcheted up expectations of passenger behaviour, but in Britain, the New Labour administration has enabled hundreds of bureaucrats to issue fines without any court process through the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanction Act, passed last year.

Basically, there are more and more people who, on a whim and with little or no evidence, can make life extremely difficult if you don’t conform to increasingly tight behavioural norms based on pre-established categories – ‘acting like a terrorist‘ being just one. Some of these norms we may even agree with – no-one likes rudeness – but what is happening is a process of desocialization and the replacement of what used to be matters of civility by narrow protocols.