From Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, November 2, 2008, by Craig Whitlock:
BRUSSELS -- The global blacklisting system for financiers of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups is at risk of collapse, undermined by legal challenges and waning political support in many countries, according to counterterrorism officials in Europe and the United States.
In September, the European Court of Justice threw the future of the United Nations' sanctions program against al-Qaeda and the Taliban into doubt when it declared the blacklist violated the "fundamental rights" of those targeted. The Luxembourg-based court said the list lacked accountability and made it almost impossible for people to challenge their inclusion.
Courts in Britain and France have also questioned whether European countries can enforce the U.N. sanctions and other blacklists without violating local laws, including a defendant's right to see evidence. The United Nations keeps such evidence secret.
The U.N. blacklist is the backbone of an international effort to prevent al-Qaeda supporters from raising or transferring money. All U.N. members are required to impose a travel ban and asset freeze against the 503 individuals, businesses and groups on the list. About $85 million in al-Qaeda and Taliban assets is frozen worldwide.
Enforcement, however, is inconsistent; some countries have quietly permitted alleged supporters of al-Qaeda to travel and to access their bank accounts.
Moreover, the U.N. program is just one of several terrorism-financing blacklists sponsored by the United States, the European Union and Britain. Although each is intended to prevent terrorism, they overlap and sometimes clash with one another, leading to confusion over whose assets, besides al-Qaeda's, should be frozen, and under whose authority. Hezbollah, for instance, is included on the U.S. and British blacklists. But it is not considered a terrorist group by the European Union.
Some counterterrorism officials say the blacklists are a vital, if imperfect, tool in fighting al-Qaeda and other groups -- particularly the U.N. sanctions program, which is the only one that governments and banks are compelled to enforce worldwide.
But other officials say the sanctions have outlived their usefulness. They note that al-Qaeda largely avoids the international banking system and needs only small sums of money to finance terrorist plots. The number of assets frozen in recent years by the United Nations, for instance, has remained static.
...The United Nations has made several modifications in response to the criticism. But Richard Barrett, a British diplomat and coordinator of the U.N. team monitoring the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which maintains the blacklist, said the world body would probably not go as far as some European courts and governments would like.
For example, he said, it was highly unlikely that the United Nations would ever agree to allow a court or independent panel to review its decisions. Such a move could infringe on powers granted under the U.N. charter, he said.
Barrett warned that a solution was elusive. If European governments stop enforcing the blacklist because of local court decisions, he said, other countries might also effectively abandon the program.
"It can clearly lead to collapse," Barrett said in an interview in New York. "People are worried about the whole procedure, about the difficulty in getting people off the list and the possibility of legal challenge. . . . We have to address these problems."
...Victor D. Comras, a former State Department official who served on the U.N. monitoring group until 2004, acknowledged that many countries had lost faith in the blacklist and that as a result, the number of new names had dwindled in recent years.
But he said the blacklist ought to be expanded rather than curtailed, arguing that it does not reflect al-Qaeda's evolution into a decentralized movement and that it needs to include financiers of affiliated terrorist groups.
The list is much too short. It is significantly out-of-date," he said. "It's not used as effectively or efficiently as it could be."...
...The U.S. Treasury maintains its own blacklist of suspected terrorism financiers. Established shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks under an executive order signed by President Bush, the list of "specially designated global terrorists" originally focused on al-Qaeda but grew to include other groups....