Thursday, August 6, 2009

Abdelrazik v. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs: A Challenge to the Security Council's 1267 Regime?

The first of two quick posts today to flag some interesting and (relatively) recent posts (yeah, I've been on holiday...) over at EJIL:Talk!, both dealing in some way with the Kadi judgment and subsequent reactions to the UN' s sanctions listing mechanism. The first post that I want to discuss briefly is by Antonios Tzanakopoulos, and discusses a recent judgment from a Canadian Federal Court - Abousfian Abdelrazik v The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General of Canada - which involved a claim by a Canadian/Sudanese citizen, trapped at the Canadian Embassy in Sudan, that Canada had violated his Charter right to return to Canadian soil. The interesting part for our purposes here is that Abdelrazik has been listed by the Security Council's 1267 Committee, and as such – Canada argued – he could not be allowed to return to Canada without violating the travel ban.

Tzanakopoulos' post, entitled 'An Effective Remedy for Josef K: Canadian Judge ‘Defies’ Security Council Sanctions through Interpretation', gives a full account of the factual background to the case, and the legal arguments raised. In my view, however, he reads too much into it in suggesting that this is in any real sense a challenge to the Security Council's sanctions regime (although there is some dicta that makes the judge's distaste for that regime plain), or that it somehow 'goes further' than did the ECJ in Kadi. Two quick points in this regard.

Firstly, Tzanakopoulos argues that 'In Abdelrazik, the Court was prepared to go a step further than the ECJ as it asserted that the sanctions regime imposed by SCRs 1267-1822 was unlawful under international human rights law'. Certainly, the judge did state openly, after listing the now/familiar problems with the UN system, that '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 (para. 51), and that 'is frightening to learn that a citizen of this or any other country might find himself on the 1267 Committee list, based only on suspicion' (para. 54). These strong statements, however, and the many others like them, are all in the 'legal background' section of the judgment; I could find little to suggest that they were more than obiter dicta, forming part of the actual substantive basis of the judgment other than a passage that notes that 'in light of these shortcomings, it is disingenuous of the respondents to submit, as they did, that if he is wrongly listed the remedy is for Mr. Abdelrazik to apply to the 1267 Committee for de-listing and not to engage this Court' – para 53). In that sense, this judgment is nothing like as important an indictment of the procedural deficiencies of the listing mechanism as was Kadi.

Tzanakopoulos seems to acknowledge this, arguing instead that these statements indicate the 'underlying rationale' of the judgment: the 'international ilegality of the 1267 regime'. Again, however, I find this to be overreaching somewhat. While there is no doubt of the judge's disdain for the sanctions regime, it is equally clear that he was at pains to point out that compelling Canada to return Abdelrazik would not in fact violate the Security Council Resolutions in question. Far from mounting a legal challenge to the 1267 regime then, the judge in effect reaffirmed it (even if through gritted teeth), and simply dismissed a pretty flimsy Canadian attempt to use the travel ban to circumvent its domestic constitutional obligations.

Canada had argued that it was the Security Council listing, not Canada itself, that had prevented Abdelrazik's return, as Canada was bound by the Security Council Resolutions in question. In response to this, the judge simply noted that

The UN 1267 travel ban provides that States shall “prevent the entry into or transit through their territories” of listed individuals, “provided that nothing in this paragraph shall oblige any State to deny entry into or require the departure from its territories of its own nationals and this paragraph shall not apply where entry or transit is necessary for the fulfilment of a judicial process or the Committee determines on a case-by-case basis only that entry or transit is justified.” (para. 121)

In response to Canada's argument that to get him back onto Canadian soil from Sudan he would have to transit through the airspace ('territory') of a number of other States, thus violating the travel ban, the judge first noted that such an interpretation of the Resolution ran contrary to that previously expressed by Canada itself; and that, in any event,

...the respondents’ interpretation of the 1267 travel ban leads to a nonsensical result. According to their interpretation, the Resolution permits a citizen to enter Canada if and only if he happens to be standing at the Canadian border crossing, but it prevents that same citizen from reaching that border crossing as he cannot transit over land or through air to reach it. On the respondents’ interpretation the exemption that provides that no State is obliged to prevent its citizens from entry becomes meaningless as there is virtually no possibility that a listed person will be located at a border crossing and there is no possibility under current technology that he will be able to simply transport himself to the border crossing without transiting over land or through the air. Quite simply that could not have been the intention of the drafters of the Resolution. (para. 127).

As I said, this is more a reaffirmation of the primacy of the Security Council resolutions – procedural warts and all – than any sort of challenge to them. Moreover, it is achieved not through any interpretative gymnastics, but rather on an entirelyreasonable and persuasive reading of the text in question. An interesting case then, and Tzanakopoulos' post is worth reading in full; but Kadi it ain't.

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