Swiss Senator explains opposition to blacklists

Senator Dick Marty Credit: COE
22 December 10 - Swiss senator Dick Marty is now in the news for his investigation into alleged organ trafficking in Kosovo, but his efforts on behalf of human rights are far ranging.

Carole Vann/InfoSud/ - One of his successes earlier this year was to persuade both houses of parliament to pass a motion limiting the abuses of the blacklists instituted by the United Nations Security Council to combat the threat of al-Qaida and Taliban terrorism.

In an interview conducted before the release last week of his draft report on alleged human rights abuses in Kosovo, Marty explained to what he believes is wrong with the blacklist system. Not only does the way it is run violate international law, but it plays into the hands of terrorists, he says.

Switzerland is so far the only country to have adopted measures under which the government is obliged to lift sanctions against a blacklisted person if no judicial authority has been asked to examine their dossier within three years.

In what sense do these lists flout UN principles?

The problem isn’t with the lists as such, but in the way in which they are administered. Any state belonging to the Security Council has no problem in adding a name. All it has to do is to tell the sanctions committee [which consists of the 15 Security Council members] that such and such an individual supports al-Qaida or some other terrorist network, but doesn’t have to provide any proof.

The person finds themself on the list, without being informed or given a chance to put their case. They cannot find out the details of the accusation against them, which are declared to be state secrets, nor can they appeal to an independent authority to defend themselves. It is all totally arbitrary.

In concrete terms what does it mean to find yourself on these blacklists?

All your goods are seized, you can’t have a credit card or any bank accounts, and are no longer allowed to pursue gainful employment. You are given only what is strictly enough to live on. Nor can you travel outside the country where you live. There is no time limit placed on these restrictions. For some people, this means economic ruin.

How was your motion received by the two houses of parliament?

The Senate approved it unanimously. When the dossier was submitted to the House of Representatives, the foreign ministry lobbied to try to ensure that the motion, which promotes the rule of international law, should not be passed as presented. Switzerland wants to become a member of the Security Council, and wasn’t happy to take a divergent line.

The government wanted me to soften the text. But I refused. The House of Representatives adopted my motion last March, despite Swiss government pressure.

What impact has it had?

The UN has started to move as a consequence of the motion: a few names have been removed from the blacklists. I must stress that the Swiss delegation in New York, headed by ambassador Peter Maurer, worked hard to get the Security Council to add some safeguards to the sanctions connected with these lists.

The UN has also just appointed an ombudswoman, a Canadian. But she can only give an advisory opinion. So this is not a real appeals court. She has already discovered that people who died some time ago still have their names on these lists.

The 15 members of the sanctions committee are representatives of particular states. Doesn’t that pose a problem of independence?

Absolutely. A lot of horse trading goes on in the committee along the lines of: “If you let me put ‘my terrorist’ on the list, I’ll let you put ‘your terrorist’ on when the time comes…” It’s a scandal that they can work this way within the Security Council.

Doesn’t the arbitrary way the black lists are run serve to widen the gap between the West and the Muslim world?

Yes indeed, and governments, especially European ones, are not showing much courage about being consistent with the principles they preach. And that gives terrorism a certain legitimacy - the legitimacy to combat states which use illegal methods: black lists, secret CIA flights, secret prisons. This system of illegality is currently growing.

In the name of the fight against terrorism people have been kidnapped and held for years without trial. They are released nine years later, for lack of proof. Not one word of apology or a dollar in compensation. This creates a wave of sympathy for terrorists, which is an extremely dangerous thing.

How is this weakness of western countries to be explained?

An explanation which I find terribly disappointing: up to now, these measures have only affected Muslims. If a citizen of a western Christian state was involved, that would get things moving.

Translated from French by Julia Slater

See online: Council of Europe
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