The United Nations' terrorist lists and the way they are compiled are not infallible. Mistakes can be made. But what happens when somebody’s name is wrongly added to such a list?
The case of Nabil Sayadi and his wife is heading to the European Court of Justice
After the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the fight against Islamic terrorists started in earnest. Lists of suspects, like those championed by the US and the United Nations, led the way in tracking down potential threats.
Terror lists contain data on persons and organizations suspected of supporting, financing or even being terrorists. But not all the information the lists contain can be trusted as accurate and sometimes the wrong information finds its way onto the list.
This is what happened to Nabil Sayadi. Sayadi lives in the quiet Belgian town of Putte, south of Antwerp. He describes the rural idyll with its apple blossoms and content chickens as his private island. Away from the pleasant surroundings of Putte, Sayadi faces the distrustful looks and probing questions of friends and colleagues.
This has been his life outside Putte ever since the United Nations put his and the name of his wife on its list of terrorist suspects. For five years, the Muslim couple have been suspected of being al Qaeda sympathizers, helping to finance the organization's jihad behind the facade of a charitable organization, Secours Mondial.
Names remain on terror list despite court clearances
For Sayadi, the accusation is incredible. His organization has been recognized as authentic after being probed by the Belgian government before its charitable status was approved.
"We even had a certificate from the Minister of Finance and can show donation receipts," Sayadi said.
The Belgian government allowed the UN to take names
Despite all the controls which have been observed before and after the organization was set up, and despite its involvement at many levels of these processes, the Belgian government allowed Sayadi and his wife Patricia Vinck to be put on the UN list.
To this day, they have yet to receive any explanation as to why. Nabil Sayadi is still labeled a terrorist despite being proved innocent a number of times in separate court cases throughout the Belgian legal system. This is something Georges-Henri Beauthier, the family's Belgian lawyer, can confirm.
"There was nothing one could accuse them of," Beauthier said. "There was no proof."
The lawyer also explained that one civil court even ruled that the names of Sayadi and his wife should be removed from the list. But this has still not happened which is why the family is now five years into a lawsuit against the Belgian state.
Family imprisoned in Belgium by red tape
It is not only the parents which suffer. Sayadi and his wife have four children. All of them have had their rights curtailed as a result of the terror list with the family name on it. They cannot leave the country; the police hold their passports and the bank accounts of the family have been closed.
Nabil Sayadi is a dental technician but he no longer goes to work. His last employer fired him when the terrorist list became public knowledge. Now no-one will employ him.
Today, the family survives on child benefit and the mother's invalid pension. In total, their budget per month is a mere 1500 euros [$2,338], almost half of which goes on rent.
"We pray that nothing happens to any of us which would costs a lot of money," said Patricia Vinck. "If there is an urgent doctor's visit or a car accident or a school excursion which we must suddenly pay for, then we must run up debts."
Case to go to the European Court of Justice
Together with his lawyer, Nabil Sayadi is locked in a battle for the freedom of his family. He has submitted a complaint to the United Nations. Since the names of the Belgians can only be wiped off the list with a unanimous decision from the Security Council, and United States has so far blocked this, Sayadi hopes for the support of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
While any decision in favor of Sayadi and his wife by the court would have no judicial effect over the United Nations, it could have a symbolic effect. At least this is what Georges-Henri Beauthier hopes.
"The advocate general in Luxembourg has already said that these lists infringe on human rights," the lawyer said. Only when this assertion is confirmed by a judgment, can the terror lists be finally abolished. Until then, the Sayadis must wait to see if something, finally, changes and that they can lead a normal life again.