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A Dark Anniversary

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July 7, 2010

A Dark Anniversary

Abousfian Abdelrazik marks one year back in Canada, languishes under UN watch list

by Amy Miller

Photo: Coco Riot

MONTREAL—“There are certain anniversaries that should never take place. The lack of action by the Harper government is unacceptable. Why is Abousfian still waiting for his name to be cleared?” asks Mary Foster, an organizer with the Abousfian Abdelrazik support committee "Project Fly Home."

On June 4, 2009, Federal Court Judge Rossel Zinn issued a stern ruling that Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon had been acting in bad faith and that the Canadian government would need to bring Abdelrazik back to Canada from Sudan. One year later, Abdelrazik continues to wait for his name to be removed from the United Nations Security Council Committee 1267 "Consolidated List," colloquially known as the Al-Qaeda and Taliban Terrorist List, or, for short, the "1267 List." Being on the list impedes Abdelrazik from functioning in the most basic of ways.

Abdelrazik recently sat down at a busy coffee shop in downtown Montreal to speak with The Dominion about what he has dubbed "living in a prison without walls."

A victorious grassroots movement brought Abdelrazik home last fall after six years of forced exile and imprisonment in Sudan. Abdelrazik tried to establish the cornerstones of a regular life—reconnect with family; find an apartment; see what work was available; and get through administrative tasks such as opening a bank account.

“It was very confusing and shameful how I was treated. Less than a week after depositing a small amount in my new account, I was contacted by Caisse Desjardins and told my account had been frozen and that they were unsure as to why but that there was nothing they could do. So no pension and no money and what I am supposed to do?” Abdelrazik asks quietly.

His legal team quickly learned that the reason behind the freeze was that he is still on the 1267 List. Beyond the complete asset freeze, Abdelrazik is also subjected to a total flight ban, and it is illegal for any employer to hire him or for him to receive social assistance, making it difficult to cover his and his children’s basic expenses. Listed individuals face vague allegations; they have no right to a hearing before they are placed on the list; and they are provided with no evidence to support the claims against them. In response, Project Fly Home launched a “Break the Silence” campaign to have him de-listed and to create a surge of popular support.

“Once again it is Lawrence Cannon and his department who have the ability to take me off the list. They refuse to tell me why I am on it, and why they have not worked to take me off of it,” Abdelrazik explains.

Break the Silence has been gaining momentum, with major unions and labour federations such as the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian section of the International Machinists and most recently the Canadian Association of University Teachers publicly endorsing the initiative and agreeing to hire Abdelrazik for short term contracts. Despite large labour organizations engaging in acts of civil disobedience, Cannon continues to reject responsibility for de-listing Abdelrazik and claims it is up to Abdelrazik himself to get off the list. So far there have been no legal repercussions for unions and organizations actively working to oppose the sanctions against Abdelrazik.

While individuals can apply to be de-listed, says Foster, the process is highly politicized and nearly impossible to get through without state support. But the Canadian government could lift the sanctions itself. “Cabinet could immediately pass an Order in Council to modify or repeal the regulations which implement the 1267 regime in Canada,” Foster explains.

The Dominion received no response from Cannon or Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) by the time of print, but on May 18, Canwest Global quoted Cannon as saying: “All I can say is that in the past I tried to make sure that Mr. Abdelrazik had the support he needed to be removed from the UN list. That attempt, unfortunately, failed.”

A precedent backs Abdelrazik’s assertion that the responsibility for de-listing falls upon Cannon and the Department of Foreign Affairs. On June 3, 2002, on a recommendation from the then-Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs, the regulations implementing the 1267 regime in Canada were modified to exempt Liban Hussein, an Ottawa citizen who was arrested November 7, 2001, at the request of the United States. The US accused him of supporting terrorism. The exemption effectively ended the sanctions against the only Canadian on the list at the time, and his name was subsequently removed from the Security Council’s 1267 List.

In the first week of June, Abdelrazik’s legal team filed to the Federal Court of Canada a challenge against the United Nations 1267 List. Comparable challenges have been filed in Switzerland and Belgium; both countries saw their federal courts strike down the 1267 regime as unconstitutional and undemocratic. “It is quite risky for countries to put people on the 1267 List because it will undoubtedly be challenged in the high courts because it is so starkly against basic due process,” says Foster.

In his judgment that forced the Canadian government to bring Abdelrazik back to Canada, Federal Court Judge Zinn wrote, "I add my name to those who view the 1267 Committee regime as a denial of basic legal remedies and as untenable under the principles of international human rights. There is nothing in the listing or de-listing procedure that recognizes the principles of natural justice or that provides for basic procedural fairness...It can hardly be said that the 1267 Committee process meets the requirement of independence and impartiality when, as appears may be the case involving Mr. Abdelrazik, the nation requesting the listing is one of the members of the body that decides whether to list or, equally as important, to de-list a person. The accuser is also the judge."

University of Ottawa Law Professor Amir Attaran has been closely following the case of Abdelrazik and cautions against putting the responsibility solely on the Canadian government. “While Canada’s almost certainly illegal error has been to follow an unjust UN system, the deeper problem lies with the UN, which created and administers the 1267 sanctions system, and which oddly believes it is consistent with human rights law. It is time to call into question the belief, too frequent and trusting on the political left, that the UN are good guys. They are not: Abdelrazik’s unjust persecution amply proves it.”

The 1267 List was established as a sanctions regime measure “to deter terrorism” by the United Nations Security Council in 1999 after the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the list was broadened to target Al Qaeda as well as the Taliban. The resolution has been widely understood to be serving a political agenda to target countries the United States deems problematic. However, it seems to have evolved to become a tool numerous states are using to stifle political dissent and internal sovereignty movements, including Russia against Chechnyans and India against members of the Khalistan movement.

When asked what he would like to see happen next, Abdelrazik smiles softly and with quiet determination states, “The government could revoke the regulations entirely. This step would send a clear signal to the United Nations Security Council that Canada will no longer participate in this unjust regime and will let me continue on with my life. Until then we will continue with the campaign.”

Amy Miller is a media maker and community organizer who resides in Montreal.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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