Posts Tagged ‘counter-terrorism’

20 Years later, Guantanamo’s legacy still there

March 16, 2022

On the 20th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay Kasmira Jefford of Geneva Solutions looks at the legacy of the so-called “war on terror”. She does so in conversation with UN special rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. From camps in north-eastern Syria, where thousands are detained without legal processes, to China where detention camps are posing under the guise of “education facilities” – secret detentions and enforced disappearances are still happening every day under the banner countering terrorism. Here some lengthy extracts:

In 2010, UN experts from four different working groups and special procedures joined forces to produce one of the most comprehensive studies to date on widespread systematic torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and secret detentions taking place across the world and condemning the wide range of human rights violations committed by countries.

In a follow-up report presented on Wednesday at the Human Rights Council 49th session, the special rapporteur said 10 years on, these practices are still rife and deplored the “abject failure” by states to implement the recommendations of the 2010 study.

GS News: In 2010, UN experts published a milestone study on secret detentions. What does your follow-up report show?

Fionnuala Ni Aolain: The 2010 report was unusual because it involved… four special procedure mechanisms coming together and identifying each in their collective way the scale of the problem of systematic torture and rendition of persons across borders, and systematic disappearances, arbitrary detention, and secret detentions. The [follow-up] report we’ve just published does a stock-taking and assesses whether or not the recommendations of the special experts were implemented. And possibly the single most depressing thing about that review is that the annex lists every single person who was named in the 2010 report – hundreds of names who were rendered, tortured, or both – and not a single individual received an adequate remedy [for the violation of human rights they experiend]. There was no accountability, no person was ever charged with crime for any of those acts.

The second part of the follow up report focuses on what that culture of impunity enabled. And what I find is that the culture of impunity, fostered and enabled by the “war on terror” as it was called essentially has created and enabled the conditions in which other places of mass detention have emerged. The report focuses on two of them : Xinjiang, China, and the situation in [in detention camps] in northeast Syria.

One of the observations you make is that ‘secret’ detention has evolved in the past two decades to encompass more complex forms of “formally lawful” or legalised transfer. Can you explain?

In the evolution that we’ve seen…dark-of-night arrivals into places like Poland and Lithuania and other countries that were accepting these rendition flights stopped because the global heat, if you want, on that kind of rendition was simply too high. It just became intolerable and unacceptable for states who were cooperating in enabling torture and rendition to continue to do it. But there’s been this transition into this ‘lawful transfer’. These are diplomatic assurances, [for example], where one state offers an assurance to another state that they will not torture the person who’s transferred into their custody.

But as the report makes clear, if you have to provide an assurance that you’re not going to do that, it tells you that there’s something fundamentally dysfunctional about the legal system that’s producing the assurance  – and there’s a fundamental question about the trustworthiness of the assurance if it happens. And what we know in practice is that so many of those assurances are not worth the paper they are written on. People have had the worst kinds of practices meted out to them under the cover of diplomatic assurance. And there have been no consequences for states in breaking those assurances.

One of the issues you raise in the report is the lack of a globally agreed definition on terrorism or acts of terrorism. Why has it been so complex to agree upon a definition?

Part of what happened is that 9/11 spawned this culture where everybody agree that terrorism was a bad thing but nobody ever defined it. …What we see in practice is the systemic abuse of counterterrorism across the globe. We see it in multiple countries. Over 67 per cent of all the communications the mandate has sent since 2005 have involved the use of a counterterrorism measure against a civil society actor. So this tells you that actually, they’re doing really bad counterterrorism.

We have to understand that, in fact, there’s a structural endemic problem. And in many countries, states’ security is governed by counterterrorism. The example I often use is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, when women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was jailed on terrorism charges and processed through a Special Criminal Court. So this shows terrorism being everything and nothing.

…….

In your annual report presented to the General Assembly in October last year, you said that efforts to improve counter terrorism measures are in fact damaging human rights. Would you say that counterterrorism is incompatible with the respect of human rights?

Security is a human right. It’s found in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Our most fundamental right that enables us to have other rights is the right to be secure. So I don’t think they’re incompatible and I don’t think the drafters of the Universal Declaration thought they were incompatible. I grew up in Northern Ireland in a society which was, in many ways, defined for decades by counterterrorism law. The problem is that expansive counterterrorism law, which is what we have, is imprecise – and vague counterterrorism law is fundamentally incompatible with the rule of law.

The fundamental idea contained in the rule of law is that if you are to be charged with an offence by the state, that you know precisely what acts you engaged in that are likely to make you subject to the course of power of the state. And the fundamental problem with terrorism is that it really, in so many countries, kind of injures that the concept of the rule of law, because it’s not precise. A reasonable individual could not know what kind of actions they would engage in would implicate the use of a state or measure against them. So I don’t think it’s incompatible but unfortunately, we have very few examples of good practice.

One of the key examples you highlight in your report are the camps in northeast Syria where thousands of people – the majority women and children – are being detained. You describe this as “a human rights black hole”. What can or should be done immediately for these people who are living in desperate situations?

You have thousands, almost over 60,000 men and  women being held in detention centres, prisons, who have never been through any legal process; the idea that we would hold people in these conditions is simply abhorrent. And then we turn to look at the conditions in those camps. The special rapporteur on torture and I have found that the conditions in the camps reach the threshold of torture, inhumane, and degrading treatment under international law. So the fact that they are there is also unacceptable. But the bottom line is that we have states, mostly western states, who simply will not take back their nationals including children, who refuse.

So, there’s a large-scale political solution that’s required to fix the challenge in northeast Syria, which involves all of the significant parties to the conflict. However, in the short run, the only international law compliance solution to the situation in these camps is the return of women and children to their countries of nationality. We have some states who have made active and ongoing efforts to do so and some who have made no effort.

https://genevasolutions.news/global-news/twenty-years-after-guantanamo-mass-detention-a-worrying-legacy-of-war-on-terror

International Civil Society Week: counterterrorism used against human rights defenders

May 2, 2019

More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries took to the streets of Belgrade, Serbia in solidarity with those whose basic freedoms are at risk. They participated in the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, which took place in Belgrade, April 8-12. I blogged about contributions to this meeting before [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/14/international-civil-society-week-2019-call-for-more-ngo-voice-in-the-un/]. Here another one: “Civil Society Under Attack in Name of Counterterrorism” b

Civil society has long played a crucial role in society, providing life-saving assistance and upholding human rights for all. However, counterterrorism measures, which are meant to protect civilians, are directly, and often intentionally, undermining such critical work. “Civil society is under increased assault in the name of countering terrorism,” Human Rights Watch’s senior counterterrorism researcher Letta Tayler told IPS, pointing to a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions as among the culprits.

…..The newly approved Resolution 2462, passed at the end of March, requires member states to criminalise financial assistance to terrorist individuals or groups “for any purpose” even if the aid is indirect and provided “in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.” While the resolution does include some language on human rights protections, Tayler noted that it is not sufficient. “It is not sufficiently spelled out to make very clear to member states what they can and cannot do that might violate human rights on the ground,” she said…

Among the major issues concerning these resolutions is that there is no universal, legal definition of terrorism, allowing states to craft their own, usually broad, definitions. This has put civil society organisations and human rights defenders (HRDs) alike at risk of detention and left vulnerable populations without essential life-saving assistance. “I think it is irresponsible of the Security Council to pass binding resolutions that leave up to States to craft their own definitions of terrorism…that’s how you end up with counterterrorism laws that criminalise peaceful protest or criticising the state,” Tayler said.

Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Paul Scott echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “The Security Council, by being overly broad, is just giving [governments] the tools to restrict civil society.”

According to Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based human rights organisation, 58 percent of its cases in 2018 saw HRDs charged under national security legislation.

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin .. noted that country’s counterterrorism laws are being used as a “shortcut to targeting democratic protest and dissent.”

…..

….The problem has only gotten worse since then, Paul noted. “The measures imposed by governments are unnecessarily broad and they prevent us from working in areas that are controlled by designated terrorist entities. What they have essentially done is criminalise humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Tayler highlighted the importance of the UN and civil society to monitor how counterterrorism resolutions such as Resolution 2462 are used on the ground. “While we would love to see amendments to this resolution, pragmatically the next best step is for all eyes—the eyes of civil society, the UN, regional organisations—to focus on just how states implement this resolution to make sure that overly broad language is not used by states to become a tool of repression,” she said…

Paul pointed to the need to educate both the public and policymakers on counterterrorism and its spillover effects as well as the importance of civil society in the global system.

Civil society is a key part of effective governance. We don’t get effective public services, we don’t get peace, we don’t get to move forward with the anti-poverty agenda if civil society actors aren’t strong and empowered,” he said…

What the Human Rights Council did on HRDs in March 2015

April 7, 2015

For those (few, I hope) who do not regularly read the Human Rights Monitor of the ISHR, here is a wrap-up of the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in relation to human rights defenders:ISHR-logo-colour-high

5 Resolutions adopted: Read the rest of this entry »

Report on a panel: Counter-terrorism laws must not criminalise human rights defenders

March 17, 2015

I was in Geneva last week where a number of interesting meetings took place. One of the side events I attended (a picture went out on Twitter), concerned the crucial issue of  “ Human rights defenders and national security”, on 9 March organized by a group of NGOs (International Service for Human Rights, Article 19, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights House Foundation, the International Commission of Jurists and the World Organisation Against Torture).ISHR-logo-colour-high

The panel was moderated by ISHR Director Phil Lynch, and had a very knowledgeable speakers such as Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Hina Jilani, Pakistani human rights lawyer and former Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders; Jimena Reyes, Director of the Americas Desk at FIDH; Roselyn Hanzi from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights; Gerald Staberock, Director of the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT); and Tanele Maseko, human rights defender from Swaziland.
A short report below:
Restrictions on human rights defenders

Phil Lynch opened the discussion by referring to unequivocal examples of restrictions imposed on human rights defenders by the operation of counter-terrorism laws, with examples cited including the recent amendments to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act in Australia which criminalises the disclosure of information about ‘special intelligence operations’, even where such disclosures expose or relate to serious human rights abuses; draft legislation in China which vaguely defines ‘terrorism’ to include ‘thought, speech or behavior’ that is ‘subversive’ or seeks to ‘influence national policy making’, and Law 8/2015, passed recently in Egypt, which allows individuals and associations which ‘infringe public order’ or ‘harm national unity or national security’ to be designated as terrorists. Concern was also expressed that renewed US efforts to combat extremism do not contain adequate human rights safeguards and that the imperative to counter-terrorism is being used as a subterfuge by regimes in allied States – such as Bahrain, China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – to further restrict and repress civil society.

Panelists built on these examples throughout the discussion, referring to significant limitations on, and prosecution of, human rights defenders under the guise of national security in their regions, including the prosecution of indigenous activists campaigning against major development projects in Chile under the Anti-Terrorist Act; human rights defenders being spied on by intelligence authorities in Cuba which consequently contributed to their murder; human rights defenders in Zimbabwe being charged for allegedly participating in a disruptive demonstration, or under the Official Secrets Act which forbids the release of information, even if that information regards human rights violations; and human rights defenders being imprisoned and labelled terrorists for voicing disagreement with the government in Swaziland. Members of the audience provided further examples, including defenders in South Korea being charged under a law that prohibits support for North Korea.

Legislation protecting the rights of defenders

A schizophrenia currently exists in many countries where authorities laud their own human rights mechanisms in the international sphere and then actively criminalise the activities of human rights defenders at home,’ said Hina Jilani. It is essential that along with a national law for the protection of human rights defenders, counter terrorism laws do not impose restrictions on those protections.

Counter terrorism laws should be developed in a manner that fights terrorism, while at the same time, respecting the legitimate work of human rights defenders,’ said Gerald Staberock of OMCT.

The panelists also stressed the importance of ensuring the rights of human rights defenders are not constrained under other laws, such as laws prohibiting criticism of the head of state, emir or the army.

Independence of the judiciary and the military

The discussion also highlighted the necessity to ensure the independence of the judiciary. In this regard, Jimene Reyes of FIDH referred to the use of the judicial system in Cuba as an ‘instrument of uncritical oppression’. Members of the audience identified the importance that the judiciary, as well as the executive, must be able to recognise and respect the legitimate activities of human rights defenders.

Similarly the importance of the separation between the State and the military was emphasised. Ms Reyes stressed the risk for human rights defenders if they are ‘considered by the military to be the enemy’.

Importance of civil society participation

While there is a clear trend of governments using counter-terrorism legislation to conflate the legitimate activities of human rights defenders with actions that threaten national security, the panelists were in clear consensus that human rights defenders and a strong and healthy civil society is essential to the stability of the State and good governance.

‘The work of human rights defenders and other civil society actors is crucial to address inequality and to promote good governance, accountability and inclusive development, all of which contribute to national security,’ said Phil Lynch of ISHR. ‘However, to ensure this is possible, it is essential to raise national and international awareness of the pitfalls of counter-terrorism legislation and the importance of civil society participation’.

The event concluded with a reflection of the need to counter the ‘rhetoric of fear’ and firmly establish that ‘the rights to peaceful assembly and of association do not encourage extremism, chaos, or violence but are, in fact, the best antidotes we have against all of these ills’.

Myself and others brought up the need to fight back in the public domain and the media against campaign to delegitimize the work of human rights defenders and show more the positive contribution their legitimate work brings to society.

[The high-level segment of the Council session has called on all States to fully implement Human Rights Council Resolution 22/6, which was led by Norway and adopted by consensus in March 2013. It urges States to ensure that ‘measures to combat terrorism and preserve national security … do not hinder the work and safety’ of human rights defenders.]

National security: Counter-terrorism laws must not criminalise human rights defenders | ISHR.

Conference on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, 16-17 February in Geneva

February 6, 2015

An international conference on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism is being convened in Geneva on 16-17 February by The Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) headquartered in Stavanger, Norway. Reported by Business Wire on 4 February. The main topic of discussion will be the draft of the International Convention on Balancing Counter-terrorism and Human Rights, as well as an introduction of the International Initiative on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, coordinated by GNRD.

Read the rest of this entry »