Now that the United Nations has decided to schedule more time to complete a comprehensive treaty on international terrorism, governments should revise the text in order to avoid doing serious damage to human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said today.
As a result of a resolution adopted today by the General Assembly's Sixth Committee, negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism will recommence at the end of January. Human Rights Watch warned that portions of the treaty, as now drafted, undermine refugee protections, freedom of expression, and the laws of war.
"In the rush to take action against terrorism, governments must be careful not to trample on human rights," said Richard Dicker, Director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "There's time to fix what is wrong with this treaty."
International refugee law already prevents individuals who have committed terrorist acts or other serious crimes from benefiting from refugee protection, Dicker said, and the tighter restrictions on refugees in the draft treaty could keep innocent refugees and asylum-seekers from gaining protection.
The draft text could also greatly restrict freedom of expression by treating a journalist who supports a political objective as a potential terrorist. Finally, the treaty could undercut the laws of war by criminalizing acts committed in an internal armed conflict that are not prohibited by humanitarian law.
Although negotiations on this treaty had been underway for several years, pressure to complete the text intensified in the wake of the September 11 attacks. However, negotiations stalled at the end of a two-week session on October 26, in large part because of an effort to exempt individuals struggling against "foreign occupation" from consideration as terrorists.
After the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373 on September 28 and the General Assembly held its Plenary Debate on terrorism in early October, Secretary-General Kofi Annan tried to bring the opposing sides together. The Secretary-General convened several meetings with key ambassadors in early November. During last week's General Debate, high-level discussions with foreign ministers continued, but no agreement was reached.