After the horrendous attacks of September 11 in New York and Washington DC, the administration of US President George W. Bush reacted aggressively and with little respect for human rights: torture, secret or indefinite detention without trial, and mass surveillance became standard counterterrorism responses.
These policies, replicated by many other governments around the world, have undermined rights and stigmatized and alienated entire communities–and failed to end the threat they sought to address.
With recent mass attacks against civilians in Paris, Bamako, Beirut and over Sinai, calls are mounting worldwide among political leaders and other influential figures to implement similar policies that restrict liberties and –notwithstanding the greatest crisis of people forced from their homes since the end of World War II, with 60 million uprooted– push back against humane policies for refugees and asylum seekers. Those fleeing the very violence and cruelty that was manifested in these attacks are essentially being scapegoated and punished.
It is both incorrect and morally wrong to conflate armed extremists with refugees: according to the French authorities, most of the attackers and planners of the Paris attacks, for example, were European citizens or longterm residents. And while all governments are obligated to protect their people, they can do so without rejecting those fleeing death and destruction in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. A more orderly and coordinated process at Europe’s borders and an increased commitment from countries around the world to resettle refugees would benefit people seeking asylum and allow for better security screening.
Brazil has, so far, taken in some 2,100 out of more than 4 million refugees from Syria’s brutal civil war out of some 8,500 refugees in the country. President Dilma Roussef has said that Brazil is open to receiving more. We commend this policy and urge Brazil to stick to her principles, avoiding the xenophobia that has led several governments in Europe and most Republican governors in the US to insist that they will not accept any more refugees.
This open-door policy should be coupled with an orchestrated effort from various levels of government to promote genuine integration and provide healthcare and other targeted services to refugees at risk of abuse, discrimination, and neglect. Particularly vulnerable arrivals include unaccompanied children, families with young children, victims of trafficking, people who have suffered or are at risk of gender-based violence, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, women traveling on their own, female heads of household, mothers who are pregnant or lactating, and people with disabilities.
Brazil also should not let the horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut and beyond become an excuse to enact a deeply flawed counterterrorism bill that is before the Chamber of Deputies. Human Rights Watch has found that overbroad and vague language in the proposed law could be misused to restrict basic human rights such as freedom of association and expression. A law this imprecise risks being neither just nor effective: it may violate Brazil’s international legal obligations by wrongfully targeting peaceful protesters and others who have no links to violent extremism, while failing to protect against genuine terrorist threats.
As the world continues to reel from the recent attacks in Paris and beyond, governments may be tempted to respond as the Bush administration did after 9/11. Instead all governments, particularly regional leaders such as Brazil, the country that has received the largest population of Syrian refugees in the Region, should recognize that now more than ever is the time to stand firm on core principles.