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UN rights body should reject misuse of “deradicalization” agenda as pretext for violations

Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Promotion & Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism

Thank you, Madam Special Rapporteur,

Your report on the potentially damaging human rights consequences of overly broad state agendas relating to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism could not be more timely.

This very session, China is presenting a draft resolution on “the role of counter-terrorism and deradicalization in promoting and protecting human rights.”

As your report makes clear, the pitfalls of such an approach are numerous: the lack of definitional clarity around concepts such as “extremism” and “deradicalization” is often used as a cloak for sweeping rights violations. Restrictive policies and programs are often based more on stereotypes than science. In numerous jurisdictions, these restrictions are not subject to legal oversight or challenge before independent tribunals. “Prevention” is often used as an excuse to target those who have committed no crime.  Many laws and programs abuse those who lack any intent to commit any act of violence. This overreach can violate the rights of entire communities based on nothing other than their identity, language, culture or religion. Faith communities are particularly at risk, with a common target being the practice of Islam, whether it be Rohingya in Myanmar, Muslims in India or Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The report references the joint letter by a dozen UN Special Procedures, expressing concerns at China’s counter-terrorism legislation, and noting that: “Special procedures mandate holders have expressed concern about legislation that enables the widespread use of arbitrary detention and ‘re-education’ as a method of preventing and countering violent extremism.”

As the joint letter notes, practices that violate human rights risk “fueling further radicalization.” Human Rights Watch shares these concerns. In the guise of countering terrorism and deradicalization, China has perpetrated mass arbitrary detentions, separated Uyghur children from their families, and targeted those whose only “crime” was expressing their faith in peaceful ways, such as wearing a veil or praying after meals. There are also reports of the authorities deliberately destroying Uyghur cemeteries.

The Special Rapporteur’s report is a crucial reminder that the Human Rights Council should reject any attempt to instrumentalize “deradicalization” as a pretext for rights violations.

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