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Press Conference: Mr. Thomas Mayr-Harting, Chairman of the 1267 Committee and Permanent Representative of Austria, presents the new ombudsperson for the 1267 (The Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee), Ms. Kimberly Prost, whose past experience includes serving as a judge for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former YugoslaviaJohn McIlwaine/UN photo

The men deemed the most dangerous in the world - blacklisted by unanimous consent of the world's biggest powers - now have an advocate of sorts, a diminutive Canadian jurist with a disarming laugh who vows to shine some light on what has been a very dark process.

If Osama bin Laden believes he has been unjustly targeted by the United Nations 1267 al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, then he should contact Kimberly Prost, the first-ever UN Security Council ombudsperson. She is charged with bringing some fairness, transparency and justice to the terrorism blacklist that has had none, until now.

The 52-year-old Canadian with a track record that includes time as a war-crimes judge and plenty of exposure to the tough, often-murky worlds of international drugs and terrorism trials, is under no illusions. She knows that if the world powers routinely reject her opinions about who is wrongly on the 1267 list, she will be regarded as a fig leaf for an already much-maligned effort that bans anyone deemed to be connected to Mr. bin Laden, al-Qaeda or the Taliban from travelling or working and requires that their assets be seized.

Judge Prost brims with cautious optimism.

"This is the first opportunity for an individual to have an independent third party to look at their cases," she said in long, wide-ranging interview. "I want to bring as much due process as I can."

It's a huge conundrum. From mountain caves and remote compounds, from Saudi prisons to low-rent apartments in Montreal and Hamburg and Jakarta, those who feel they have been smeared are supposed to contact - and then trust - Judge Prost in her mid-town Manhattan office block and seek her help in persuading the world powers that a mistake has been made. "Of course it is not perfect … but it is an enormous step forward," she said.

Judge Prost will report twice a year, the first time next month.

"I tell them [the Security Council]what I think," she said with a forthrightness that suggests there will be little room for misunderstanding. The council can then ignore or over-ride her "observations."

Whether the creation of an ombudsperson passes the test of international credibility and delivers fairness will take months, perhaps years, to determine. Much will depend on how willing Judge Prost is to make public those instances in which the Security Council refuses to delist someone she believes deserves to be removed.

While the al-Qaeda leader seems unlikely to call, there are hundreds of less infamous people on the 1267 list who will seek Judge Prost's intervention.

Abousfian Abdelrazik is among them. He's the Canadian kept in forced exile for six years by successive governments in Ottawa, both Liberal and Conservative. They used the 1267 listing as an excuse to deny him a passport and refused to allow him to return to his home in Canada.

Mr. Abdelrazik is now back in Montreal after a Canadian federal judge ordered his repatriation and blasted government ministers for riding roughshod over his constitutional rights. Never charged with any crime, Mr. Abdelrazik remains in a twilight zone imposed by Ottawa and the UN blacklist. He can't work, he can't travel and his assets, including his dead wife's estate, have been seized by Ottawa. This is all because some unnamed country added him to the 1267 list and despite being cleared by Canadian security agencies.

Until now, getting "delisted" - to use the UN's jargon - was almost impossible. Even dead men (there are no women) were kept on the blacklist. Getting on was easy. Any one of the 15 Security Council states can nominate anyone (not just their own citizens) to the list. Getting off required the unanimous consent of the entire Security Council and, even UN insiders acknowledge, there as a certain amount of insider collusion. "You keep my dissident on the list and I won't back delisting the guy that arouses your suspicions" was - and perhaps remains - the norm. Creating an ombudsperson was widely seen as a response to cases in Canada, Britain and the European Union, denouncing the 1267 process as woefully unjust.

Judge Prost has no illusions about the scope of her task. Those on the blacklist are almost all Muslims, many of them fugitives. They have little reason to trust the Security Council or the United States, the biggest contributor to the list, which is named for the number of the resolution that created it in 1999.

"I appreciate the devastating effects that being on the 1267 list" has on individuals, Judge Prost said. But, she added: The list is "a preventative measure used to cut off the capacity of terrorist groups to carry out terrorist attacks" and therefore "the standards are very different from those used in criminal offences."

Canada, then holding one of the 10, two-year terms on the council, was a co-sponsor of the resolution creating the blacklist.

The list reflected a shift in sanctions philosophy, from broad measures imposed on states and which affected whole populations to an attempt to target the "bad guys."

The strategy continues, with sanctions focused not just on terrorists and those who support them but - in the case of Iran for instance - on key figures involved in Tehran's nuclear project.

But, as Judge Prost acknowledged, "when a country or even a political regime is subject to sanctions [by the Security Council] they have a political recourse, but for an individual, they don't have any form of redress."

Her role is to provide some.

Already, six people (including Mr. Abdelrazik, although Judge Prost won't confirm that) have filed petitions for delisting.

"This is the first time someone has actually talked to me about this, first time someone has looked at my case," Judge Prost quoted one of the listed individuals as telling her, a stark illustration of the arbitrariness that turned many people into unconvicted prisoners for years.

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