September 13, 2005
Those who incite others to commit terrorism must be prosecuted. But the resolution’s sponsors have made it easy for abusive governments to invoke the resolution to target peaceful political opponents, impose censorship and close mosques, churches and schools.
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director

The British government has proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would give governments a pretext to suppress peaceful expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The Security Council is expected to vote tomorrow on this resolution, which urges countries to enact laws against incitement of terrorist acts.

Human Rights Watch supports international efforts to encourage countries, in accordance with international fair-trial standards, to prosecute individuals who deliberately incite others to commit terrorist acts. However, the proposed resolution fails to define “incitement to terrorist acts” and urges governments not only to criminalize but also to “prevent” such conduct, opening the door to suppression of unpopular political or religious views. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that the proposed resolution could easily be abused by governments seeking to justify politically motivated crackdowns on peaceful expression, association and assembly.

“Those who incite others to commit terrorism must be prosecuted,” said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. “But the resolution’s sponsors have made it easy for abusive governments to invoke the resolution to target peaceful political opponents, impose censorship and close mosques, churches and schools.”

In this resolution, the Security Council should define the term “incitement to terrorist acts” narrowly and unambiguously so as not to permit prohibitions on lawful expression and association, Human Rights Watch said. The resolution should require that laws only prohibit expression that: is intended to incite an imminent terrorist act; is likely to incite such an act; and, is directly and immediately connected to the likely occurrence of the terrorist act.

“By encouraging the ‘prevention’ of incitement, the resolution opens a loophole in free speech guarantees that an army of censors could drive through,” said Roth.

Instead, the proposed resolution uses vague and overbroad language in calling on states to “prevent” incitement and to “counter” incitement that is “motivated by extremism and intolerance” or that is “subvert[ing] educational, cultural, and religious institutions.” Human Rights Watch is concerned that such language opens the door to national laws that will undermine basic rights rather than provide real protection against terrorist acts.

The resolution encourages states to “deny safe haven to any persons with respect to whom there is credible and relevant information giving serious reasons for considering that they have been guilty of such conduct.” But Human Rights Watch was concerned that the resolution makes no mention of the Convention Against Torture, which specifically prohibits sending anyone to a state where they would be at risk of torture, and prohibits state complicity in the return of such persons.

“We welcome language in the resolution that encourages compliance with international human rights law,” said Roth, “But the open-ended language of the resolution means that it will be of greater help to abusive regimes than to the fight against terrorism.”