The lone Canadian on the UN Security Council's no-fly list may have a new avenue for striking his name from the travel ban after the council voted Thursday to appoint an ombudsman to investigate claims.
Abousfian Abdelrazik was allowed to return to Montreal this year after he was stranded for six years in Sudan after being blacklisted as a terrorist in 2003.
But Abdelrazik's name still remains on the UN Security Council's no-fly list, where it was added in 2006 by the Bush administration, despite protests from Canada.
The Security Council's unanimous decision to appoint an ombudsman is aimed at ensuring that UN sanctions target the right people, companies and organizations for links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Fairness of list questioned
Since the council imposed sanctions against the Taliban a decade ago, questions have been raised about the fairness of the list and the rights of those subject to punitive measures to argue their case for being removed.
There is also a problem of insufficient information about some people on the list, which prevents police, border authorities and financial institutions from implementing sanctions.
The new measures should strengthen the current sanctions regime, making it more transparent and employing an ombudsman to address the shortcomings, supporters said.
"For the first time ever, individuals and entities seeking a de-listing will have a chance to present their cases to an independent and impartial ombudsperson appointed by the Secretary General," Thomas Mayr-Harting, Austria's ambassador to the UN, said following the vote.
Austria, which heads the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, said about 30 court cases have been filed by listed individuals in Europe, Pakistan, Turkey and the United States protesting against their inclusion.
Mayr-Harting said between 30 to 40 people still on the list are believed to be dead.
The UN council unanimously authorized the establishment of the office of the ombudsman for an initial period of 18 months to help the UN's sanctions committee as it considers delisting entries on the list.
The ombudsman will be appointed by the UN Secretary General, and will be someone who should be "an eminent individual of high moral character, impartiality and integrity with high qualifications and experience in relevant fields, such as legal, human rights, counter-terrorism and sanctions", a UN release stated.
More than a no-fly list
After the ombudsman is named, Abdelrazik's lawyers could fight to get their client's name off the list. The 47-year-old Sudanese-born man returned Canada in June.
A Canadian citizen since 1995, Abdelrazik was arrested in Sudan in the spring of 2003, a few months after he arrived to visit his ailing mother. He was accused of being an associate of al-Qaeda and spent almost six years in Sudan. He claims he was tortured during two stints in custody, one lasting 11 months and the other nine months.
Paul Champ, one of Abdelrazik's lawyers, told CBC News in June said the no-fly list means more than travel restrictions and called it a blacklist.
"He's unlikely to be able to open a bank account. He likely will not be able to have a job, because anyone paying him or giving him money in any way could be regarded as a crime. So he's going to be living with some severe restraints that we're going to be working very hard to lift by whatever means possible."
The Security Council imposed sanctions against the Taliban in November 1999 for refusing to send Osama bin Laden to the United States or a third country for trial on terrorism charges in connection with two 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.
The sanctions — a travel ban, arms embargo and assets freeze — were later extended to al-Qaeda. In July 2005, the council extended the sanctions again to cover affiliates and splinter groups of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Under the new measures, the Security Council committee monitoring the sanctions would have more time to verify that a proposed name merits inclusion.
The sanctions committee is reviewing all 488 individuals and entities on the list. As of Nov. 17, the committee had reviewed 84 names, delisted nine and confirmed 56.