EU terror list criticised

20.02.08 @ 16:43

  1. By Renata Goldirova

BRUSSELS - Members of the civil liberties committee in the European Parliament have called for changes to the EU's system of putting people on its terror list.

  • The list was established in 2001 (Photo: EUobserver.com)

The bloc's blacklist is designed to crackdown on terrorist organisations and individuals by freezing their assets and restricting their movements across Europe, but it has attracted mounting criticism recently for the way the list is drawn up.

"Again, we find episodes where people were suspected while they had nothing to do with terrorism", Italian socialist MEP Claudio Fava said on Monday evening (18 February), comparing the existing mechanism with the CIA extraordinary renditions of terrorism suspects to the US authorities.

The EU lawmakers were debating a report by Dick Marty, a member of the human rights watchdog Council of Europe, which harshly criticises the union's blacklisting practices due to a lack of transparency and legal deficiencies.

"I am not putting into question the principle of having terrorist blacklists", Mr Marty told MEPs in Strasbourg, adding however that the lists "can be useful only for a limited period of time, after which the court and legal authorities have to act".

Mr Marty pointed to the fact that once a person is included on the EU terror list, there is "no possible procedure for taking him or her off that list". "So their assets are frozen and their movements restricted, regardless of their claim to innocence", he said.

"The procedures need to be made more fair and transparent. The rule of law cannot be short-circuited like that", the former Swiss prosecutor concluded.

The deputies backed Mr Marty's proposal to set up an independent body to control how EU member states decide who goes on the EU blacklist, which was set up in 2001.

Currently, the European Council [representing national governments] take the decision based on the request of an individual member state. A person or an organisation is notified about being included on the list, but with little explanatory detail.

The issue came to prominence after an EU court annulled a 2005 decision to keep the People's Mujahidin Organisation of Iran on the union's blacklist. But the organisation remains part of that list, with the EU claiming it has evidence that justifies the decision, but cannot reveal it for security reasons.

German liberal Alexander Alvaro warned that the lack of fairness and transparency could end up making the blacklist counterproductive. "If we foster sympathy among people for terrorists, then that's totally wrong", he said.

Definition of terrorism

Meanwhile, in a separate vote on Tuesday (19 February), the MEPs rejected a proposal to sentence those who glorify terrorism - something suggested by Spanish conservative Jaime Mayor Oreja.

Based on the Spanish example, Mr Oreja's report on radicalisation and recruitment for terrorism called on member states to consider changing the EU's definition of terrorist offences so it includes "the glorification of terrorism (...) with full respect for freedom of expression".

Some 241 MEPs voted in favour of the report, 332 were against and 87 abstained.

"We have been round this circuit before in UK legislation and it does not work", UK liberal Sarah Ludford said after the vote, underlining "there is a chilling effect on free speech in discussing conflict situations or 'liberation struggles' like [former South African President] Nelson Mandela and the ANC [African National Congress]".