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Kurdish group no longer on EU terror list

A European Union court on Thursday overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A European Union court on Thursday overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list.

The Luxembourg-based Court of First Instance said that decisions made by EU governments in 2002 and 2004 to blacklist the two groups and freeze their assets were illegal under EU law.

It is the latest of several court rulings overturning similar EU decisions, on the ground that the groups added to the terror list were not properly informed of the decision to blacklist them or given a right to appeal the decision.

It also once again underlines the complexity of the procedure by which EU countries and courts decide who belongs on the terror list, and what groups can do to get off it.

The EU court said the autonomy-seeking PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, and its political wing, known as KONGRA-GEL, were not in positions "to understand, clearly and unequivocally, the reasoning" that led EU governments to add them to the terror list.

The EU's 27 national governments said, however, they had no intention of removing the PKK or any other groups from the list, sticking to previously stated justifications that it had already implemented "a clearer and more transparent procedure" by which it adds people or groups to its blacklist.

The EU nations are obliged to implement the EU court rulings. However, recent changes made by the EU are likely to lead to months, if not years, of complex legal wrangling between the governments, the EU courts and those appealing to get their names off the list before the situation is resolved.

"Today's ruling does not affect the validity of this list," the EU said in a statement, concluding that its interpretation of the ruling does not include the removal of the PKK or others from its list.

The PKK was added to the list in 2002, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Its political wing was added in 2004. The United States and Turkey also list the PKK as a terrorist organization. Fighting between the guerrillas and Turkish troops has claimed more than 37,000 lives since 1984.

Listing annulled
The Kurdish group won an appeal last year giving it a right to a hearing and a new case to get it removed from the EU list.

An Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, won a 2006 EU court case annulling its listing by the EU. That case set a legal precedent and forced the EU to revamp the way it decides which groups and people to add to its terror list.

The EU court also recently overturned a decision to freeze the assets of an exiled Philippine rebel leader and the Netherlands-based Al-Aqsa foundation because they were not informed why their assets were frozen — a breach of EU law.

Despite their court victories none of the groups that appealed have so far been removed from the list or have had their assets unfrozen.

Lawyers representing the Mujahedeen group filed a new case at the EU court last month aimed at forcing EU governments to remove it from the list, arguing that changes to the way EU governments operate the list were still wrong.

EU legal experts have said, however, that the court's 2006 ruling focused on procedural problems and did not imply that a group needed to be removed from the list.

The experts claim the EU has complied with the judgment by supplying documents explaining its decision and allowing people and groups on the list to present counter arguments.

Europe's human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, has said the EU's anti-terror rules violate democratic principles.

EU nations decided in April 2007 to inform groups and individuals when they are placed on the EU terror list. Those listed will now be able to ask why they were put on the list and why their assets are frozen. But there are still no procedures for an independent review and for compensation for possible human rights breaches.

The EU's list, last updated in December, includes 54 persons and 48 groups and entities. The next review of the list is planned for June.