From Bali in Indonesia, to Najaf in Iraq, to Mumbai in India, hundreds of civilians have been killed in acts of politically motivated violence. The bombing of the United Nations office in Baghdad, killing more than twenty people, marked a new low in the history of attacks against humanitarian workers. In Israel and the Occupied Territories, scores of civilians have been killed in repeated suicide bombings by Palestinian armed groups.
These terrible crimes cry out for justice. They have flouted the fundamental values of international human rights and humanitarian law, and those responsible should be held accountable and brought to justice before a court of law.
But for all the political rhetoric and the enormous human and financial resources invested in the international campaign against terrorism, many counter-terrorist strategies are undermining the rule of law and the fundamental values they seek to defend.
Around the world, states have responded to the indiscriminate violence of terrorism with new laws and measures that themselves fail to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent. Numerous countries have passed regressive anti-terrorism laws that expand governmental powers of detention and surveillance in ways that threaten basic rights. There has been a continuing spate of arbitrary arrests and detentions of suspects without due process. Unknown numbers of detainees have been transferred between countries by means beyond regular extradition procedures and without judicial oversight, including to countries with known records of torture and unfair trials. In some places, those branded as terrorists have faced assassination and extra-judicial execution.
In the United States, for instance, those suspected of involvement in terrorism have been charged or bought before a court in only a handful of cases. Hundreds more remain in incommunicado detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, in military custody inside the United States, or at other U.S. bases or undisclosed locations around the world.
In many European Union member states, new laws and policies have undermined fundamental human rights protections, including the right to seek asylum and prohibitions against arbitrary detention and torture. Sweden, for instance, returned two asylum seekers to Egypt on security grounds with inadequate guarantees and monitoring of their treatment. In the United Kingdom, suspects continue to be detained indefinitely based on secret evidence without charge or trial.
Israeli forces continue to use force unnecessarily and indiscriminately, and reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention are on the rise. Israeli destruction of civilian homes, fields and water resources has left more than ten thousand civilians homeless. The building of the separation barrier will make punishing movement restrictions cut still deeper.
In India, a new Prevention of Terrorism Act has been used against political opponents, religious minorities, Dalits, tribals and even children. In Indonesia, new legislation and presidential decrees threaten fundamental rights, invoking broad definitions of terrorism that could be used to target political opponents.
In Russia and China, the authorities have used the rhetoric of counter-terrorism to justify bloody crackdowns against separatist opponents in Chechnya and Xinjiang, often with tacit support from formerly critical Western countries.
These abuses advance neither the cause of justice nor the goal of defeating terrorism. The bitter experience of the past year shows that repression and human rights abuse fuels the cycle of grievance from which terrorism grows. It closes off peaceful and political channels for political dissent and moves it towards extremism and violence.
Terrorism will not be defeated solely by military or security means. By indiscriminately attacking civilians, terrorism breaches the most basic values of human rights.
Yet, true security will only be achieved in an environment in which human rights are protected. Justice for the victims of September 11, 2001, and attacks elsewhere requires a reaffirmation of human rights values, not their rejection.