Turtle Bay

U.N. sanctions are forever: even the dead can’t find relief

Former Taliban militants hoping to have their names removed from the U.N. Security Council terror blacklist should not underestimate the challenges. The 15-nation council rarely lets even the dead off the hook. Twenty-five deceased militants, including seven Taliban, remain on the U.N. terror list, which imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on targeted individuals. ...

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.

Former Taliban militants hoping to have their names removed from the U.N. Security Council terror blacklist should not underestimate the challenges. The 15-nation council rarely lets even the dead off the hook.

Twenty-five deceased militants, including seven Taliban, remain on the U.N. terror list, which imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on targeted individuals. Another twenty-eight, including eight Taliban, are suspected of having perished.

U.N. officials say that it has been difficult to remove the deceased because they need reliable death certificates, something that is often hard to come by in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the United States has killed some of the targeted individuals in drone attacks. Some council members have expressed concern that the financial assets controlled by the individuals may still be used for terrorist purposes.

Former Taliban militants hoping to have their names removed from the U.N. Security Council terror blacklist should not underestimate the challenges. The 15-nation council rarely lets even the dead off the hook.

Twenty-five deceased militants, including seven Taliban, remain on the U.N. terror list, which imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on targeted individuals. Another twenty-eight, including eight Taliban, are suspected of having perished.

U.N. officials say that it has been difficult to remove the deceased because they need reliable death certificates, something that is often hard to come by in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the United States has killed some of the targeted individuals in drone attacks. Some council members have expressed concern that the financial assets controlled by the individuals may still be used for terrorist purposes.

The debate comes as President Hamid Karzai is making a renewed push to persuade the U.N. to remove the Taliban form the list, a move aimed at rewarding former militants who have joined the government and persuading combatants to put down their arms and pursue peace talks. On Monday, the U.N. representative in Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura said that Afghanistan is planning to present the names of ten former Taliban to the council for possible delisting. The ten are part of a larger group of more than 30 to 50 individuals Afghanistan would like to be de-listed. Britain also has compiled a similar list of 30 dead or former Taliban it thinks should be removed from the blacklist. 

The presence of dead people on the list has long been a source of embarrassment to the council. In December, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that encourages states to report on the newly dead and encourages the U.N. committee responsible for overseeing the sanctions "to remove listing of deceased individuals where credible information regarding death is available."

The U.N. Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctions committee is expected to complete a major review of the more than 494 individuals and entities currently on the list, including 137 Taliban and 257 al Qaeda members and backers, by the end of the month. Officials said they were confident a substantial number of the dead people will likely be removed from the list. But the resolution also includes some hurdles to delisting the dead, including the requirement that assurances be given to ensure their assets are not used to serve the militants aims.

More than a decade ago, the U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on members of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time, for refusing to surrender Osama bin Laden to U.S. authorities in connection with al-Qaeda’s role in the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. In January 2001, more than 100 Taliban leaders were added to the list. The list was expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to include al-Qaeda members and their supporters. The measures include a travel ban, and arms embargo and a prohibition on the direct or indirect provision of funds or economic resources.

Among those believed dead are Mohammad Azam, a former deputy minister of mines and industry under the Taliban government; Ahmadullah, a Taliban intelligence minister; Adbul Samad, a deputy minister from the Taliban interior ministry. But the case of another former Taliban official, Jalahuddin Haqqani, underscores the risks of premature removal from the list. Haqqani was reported dead in June, 2007, only to resurface. "Still alive as of May, 2008," according to the U.N. list.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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