The United Nations General Assembly, which today opens a debate on curbing terrorism worldwide, must ensure that international efforts to combat terrorism respect civilian life, Human Rights Watch said today.

"What made the September 11 attacks so appalling is that civilians were the targets," said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. "International law insists on exactly the opposite: that even in times of war, civilians must be protected. We hope the General Assembly will demand that human rights principles not be compromised in any action taken as a consequence of the attacks."

In an open letter to members of the General Assembly made public today, Human Rights Watch urged United Nations member states to:

  • reaffirm that any action undertaken in the name of combating terrorism, including military action, will be conducted strictly within the terms of international human rights and humanitarian law;
  • assure that refugees and asylum seekers do not become another casualty of the attacks perpetrated in the United States and reaffirm that provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention will continue to be applied to refugees worldwide, and that the right to seek asylum is fully protected;
  • reaffirm that law enforcement officials carrying out anti-terrorist actions in member states must comply fully with international human rights standards; and
  • assure that any attempt to reinforce existing international treaties enabling national courts to investigate and prosecute international crimes such as hijacking and hostage-taking, be carried out in a manner consistent with the most essential standards of international human rights law.

The open letter can be found here.

For more information on the United States, Afghanistan, and other countries in Central and South Asia, please visit Aftermath of the September 11 Attacks.