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Counter-Terrorism: Human Rights Concerns for the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights

Objective  
 
The Commission on Human Rights should follow the recommendations of its independent expert on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism and establish a mechanism to monitor states' counter-terrorism measures and their compatibility with international human rights law. The Commission should also reaffirm the importance of the respect for international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law in combating terrorism; request relevant mechanisms and bodies of the United Nations to continue monitoring counter-terrorism measures and urge that the Counter Terrorism Committee of the U.N. Security Council and the Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate address human rights in their work.

Background  
 
Acts of terrorism violate everything the human rights movement stands for. Human rights and humanitarian law provide clear norms explaining why deliberate attacks on civilians undermine the most fundamental principles of the law and are always wrong. At the same time, many of those leading the campaign against terrorism have been reluctant to allow human rights standards to constrain their efforts. Evidence increasingly demonstrates that this approach is dangerously short-sighted and counterproductive.  
 
Counter-terrorism measures continue to violate human rights in many countries. Although not all of them new, these concerns have taken on a more transnational and global dimension since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Abuses include prolonged, incommunicado detention without judicial review; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees; the transfer, return, extradition, and expulsion of persons at risk of being subjected to torture or ill treatment; and the adoption of security measures that curtail the right to freedom of association and movement and breach the principal of non-discrimination. Of particular concern is the denial of access to international monitors to terrorism suspects held in countries all over the world.  
 
Several extremely disturbing details of counter-terrorism practices around the world came to light in 2004. In late April, photos of U.S. forces abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad drew attention to the consequences of a series of policy decisions by U.S. officials to bend, ignore, or cast the rules aside. Each passing day seemed to bring new evidence that U.S. mistreatment of detainees-far from being an isolated incident at Abu Ghraib-was widespread in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.  
 
In August 2004, the second highest court in the U.K. ruled that the British government is entitled to rely on evidence obtained under torture from third countries in special terrorism cases, provided that the U.K. has "neither procured the torture nor connived at it." At the November 2004 session of the U.N. Committee Against Torture, the U.K. government went further, asserting the right to rely on such evidence in any court proceedings, albeit while denying that it had any plans to do so. These examples, involving countries that see themselves as countries that respect human rights, only underscore the urgent need for thorough monitoring of counter-terrorism practices worldwide by a specialized human rights mechanism.  
 
Other recent disturbing developments include:  
 

  • In December 2003, Tunisia adopted an anti-terror law containing a broad definition of terrorism that could be used to prosecute persons for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association. The law provides harsh penalties and allows for the referral of civilian suspects to military courts.  
     
  • Starting in March 2004, the Pakistan Army undertook an operation in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border in which it claimed that international humanitarian law was inapplicable, arguing that though the offensive was being conducted by its army, it was an anti-terrorist operation. While Pakistani authorities prohibited most independent verification of the events in South Waziristan, there were many reports of extrajudicial executions, house demolitions, arbitrary detentions and harassment of journalists.  
     
  • Following bombings, and shootings in Tashkent and Bukhara in late March and early April, Uzbekistan authorities tried some one hundred suspects on terrorism, murder, and other charges. Trials monitored by Human Rights Watch and other observers failed to meet international fair trial standards.  
     
  • In September, a few days after the worst terrorist attack in Russia's history ended in the massacre of hundreds of children, their parents, and teachers at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, Russian President Vladimir Putin linked terrorism to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the deficiencies of Russia's transition to democracy, and announced a package of repressive political measures.  
     
  • Since late 2003, Iraqi government forces have committed numerous human rights abuses in response to insurgent attacks. Human Rights Watch investigations in Iraq showed that detainees, including terror suspects, were subjected to gross violations of human rights. This included systematic use of arbitrary arrests, prolonged pre-trial detention without judicial review, torture and ill- denial of access by families and lawyers, and abysmal conditions in pre-trail detention facilities.  
     
  • Under the rationale of fighting terrorism, Israel is building a wall whose route intrudes far into occupied West Bank territory in violation of international humanitarian law. Israel has not adequately explained why building the wall on the 1949 Armistice Line (Green Line) between Israel and the occupied West Bank would fail to provide adequate security for those living inside Israel. Israel also uses other unlawful policies in the name of counter-terrorism including arbitrary detention and incommunicado detention, lack of due process or fair trail, extra-judicial executions and coercive interrogation methods.  
     
  • Following bombings in Taba in October that killed more than 30, Egypt's State Security Investigation agency conducted mass arrests in northern Sinai. According to Egyptian human rights groups, some 2,500-3,000 people were rounded up and held without charge under Egypt's emergency legislation. Many were held incommunicado for weeks and months, and tortured during interrogation, in violation even of the emergency laws. At this writing, an estimated 2400 persons remain in detention without charge. In many cases the government still had not released information on their whereabouts to families or lawyers.  
     
  • In the wake of suicide bombing attacks in Casablanca in May 2003, Moroccan authorities adopted sweeping counter-terror legislation that erodes rights protection and arrested more than 2,000 suspected militants, subjecting many to threats and abuse. In 2004, lawyers and family members reported that interrogators had subjected detainees to physical and mental abuse, in some cases amounting to torture, in order to extract confessions. Many were held incommunicado by police beyond the legal time limit and did not have prompt access to defense counsel.

Recommendations  
 
The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution on the protection of human rights in countering terrorism that would:  
 

  • Emphasize the importance of the respect for international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law in combating terrorism;  
     
  • Establish a monitoring mechanism on human rights and counter-terrorism. This mandate should be established for an initial period of three years. It should encompass all internationally recognized human rights and extend to all states; it should be authorized to provide technical assistance to government in the design of counter-terrorism measures; it should be asked to undertake in situ visits; and it should be authorized and encouraged to consult with and exchange information with the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee as well as with all relevant mandate holders and treaty bodies;  
     
  • Ask the High Commissioner to continue her leadership role in coordinating and encouraging the work of all relevant U.N. bodies and organs on matters related to terrorism and human rights; to make recommendations on safeguarding human rights in combating terrorism; and to seek, receive and exchange information from all relevant sources, including governments, international and non-governmental organizations for these purposes;  
     
  • Ask the High Commissioner to provide increased resources and visibility to the work of her office on human rights and counter terrorism;  
     
  • Request relevant CHR special procedures and the U.N. treaty bodies to monitor counter terrorism measures adopted and implemented by member states;  
     
  • Urge the UN Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate to assess the human rights impacts of counter-terrorist measures and work closely with the High Commissioner, U.N. treaty bodies and special procedures.

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