Former ICTY Judge Prost Describes Challenges of Ombudsperson’s Role at Harris Institute Lecture

Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, signed in 1945, gives member states the power to impose sanctions on countries that display “threats to the peace, breaches to the peace, and acts of aggression.”

“Those are the strongest powers states have short of military intervention,” said the Hon. Kimberly Prost, a United Nations ombudsperson and former ad litem judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), at her recent Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute lecture, “Fair Process and the Security Council: A Case for the Office of the Ombudsperson.”

Prost currently serves as the Ombudsperson for the United Nation’s Security Council’s Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee. In addition to her role at the ICTY, she previously worked as a lawyer in many areas of international law, including as chief of the Legal Advisory Section of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, head of the Criminal Law Section of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and director of Canada’s International Assistance Group.

As an ombudsperson, she deals daily with people who are “at the collision of two sets of human rights—the right to security protected by the United Nations Security Council, and the right to fair process.”

The problem with sanctions, Prost explained, is that they punish entire countries for the actions of a few individuals. As a result, the idea of “targeted sanctions” was introduced. Targeted sanctions freeze assets and impose other undesirable consequences on specific individuals in a country rather than the country as a whole.

The list of sanction targets maintained by the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee has its roots in the 1999 bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of names were added to the list, especially those involved with financing Al-Qaeda. But just as with broader sanctions, the targeted sanction is not perfect; sometimes innocent people are added to the list.

“The National Security Council created my office to provide a process for being removed, or ‘de-listed,’ from the sanctions list,” Prost said. Often people don’t know that they’re on the list until they try to withdraw money and discover that they no longer have access to it. Those who believe they have been added to the list erroneously, must contact Prost’s office and provide proof of why they should be de-listed.

Today, there are about 360 names on the list. Prost said the United States has added about 80 percent of them. Thirty-three people have appealed to Prost for “de-listing,” and de-listing has been granted in 19 cases. Prost must report her progress regularly to the Security Council.

While Prost enjoys her work and said that the Ombudsman Office has been effective, she isn’t against the idea of targeted sanctions. “The international community needs every method at its disposal to end aggression,” she said.

However, Prost said one drawback of being de-listed is that it can give a “false sense of security.”

“The Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee’s list is just one list,” she said. “It doesn’t prevent states from setting up their own lists.”

By Timothy J. Fox