Court finds Switzerland violated rights of Iraqi man

This court found Switzerland to be in the wrong Fred Schaerli

The European Court of Human Rights has found that Switzerland deprived an Iraqi man of his right to a fair hearing regarding assets frozen by the Swiss authorities.

This content was published on November 26, 2013 minutes and agencies

After Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in 1990, the United Nations Security Council urged member and non-member states to impose a general embargo on Iraq.

Using a list provided by the UN sanctions committee, the Swiss economics ministry began freezing bank accounts in 2006. At the same time, it ordered that the funds be transferred to a development fund for Iraq.

One account owner – the director of a Panama-based company – happened to be the former chief financial officer of the Iraqi secret service. He complained to the Swiss Federal Court, but his case was dismissed in 2008. The court said that Switzerland was not in a position to challenge UN Security Council decisions.

On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Switzerland had breached Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which guarantees the right to effective judicial review.

“The fact that it had been impossible to challenge the confiscation [of funds] over a period of many years was barely conceivable in a democratic society,” said the ECHR in a statement.

The ECHR said that as long as there was no judicial review at the UN level regarding the legitimacy of including persons and entities on its list, “it was essential that the [targets] could ask national courts to examine any measure taken in application of the sanctions regime”.

Since there was no such examination available to the Iraqi business man, who lives in Jordan, the court said that his right of access to a court had been impaired.

The ECHR’s judgment is not final. Over the next three months, any party may request that the case be referred to the court’s grand chamber.

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