Posts Tagged ‘Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin’

Post 9/11: where did ‘human rights’ go?

September 8, 2021

LUNCH BRIEFING 9/11 Twenty Years On
Tuesday 28 September, 12:30-13:30
Auditorium A1A, Maison de la paix, Geneva, and online

Two full decades have elapsed since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. In the aftermath of these events, the world has entered a period characterised by a number of dynamics, which have persisted and shaped significantly the configuration of the global order. What is the nature of these transformations, notably the militarisation of international relations, the securitisation of social affairs, the rise of cultural and religious tensions and the crisis of democracy? Has the post-COVID-19 moment in turn ushered the end of the post-11 September world? Ultimately, what historical meaning can we ascribe to legacy of ‘9/11’?

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou is Professor of International History and Politics, and Chair of the Department of International History and Politics at the Graduate Institute. Previously the Associate Director of the Programme on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University, he is the author of a trilogy on the post-11 September era and recipient of the 2021 International Studies Association (ISA) Global South Distinguished Scholar Award.

The Lunch Briefing will be moderated by Julie Billaud, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology.

On cue Imogen Foulkes wrote on 7 September 2021 a post for Swissinfo “When the world became a ‘human rights free zone’ September 11, 2001″.

No one will forget the shock of that day. It’s hard even now, two decades later, to describe how it felt to watch something so unimaginable, so horrific. When I returned to my newsroom that evening, a colleague said to me “well, Imogen, that’s it, our world has changed forever”. I was still so focused on the immediate event that I didn’t quite understand him, and it took me a while to realise how right he was.

Our world did change forever that day; from smaller inconveniences around how we travel, to fears over how safe we are, to prejudices and intolerance towards groups perceived as a threat, to sweeping changes in security laws.

In the latest episode of our Inside Geneva podcast, we look at those changes, and the consequences, in particular for human rights. Gerald Staberock, secretary general of the World Organisation Against Torture, tells me: “I want my government to fight terrorism. I want those who did 9/11 or whatever terrorist attacks to be brought to justice.” But he also regrets the fact that the 9/11 attacks, which he describes as “a denial of the very values of human rights”, led to – in his view – “another attack on human rights, through counterterrorism”. 

Looking back now, with all the knowledge we have of extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and so on, it is quite hard to remember that in the first months and even years after 9/11, none of us, not even human rights defenders, were quite aware of how the “war on terror” was being fought.

Once that war was being conducted in earnest in Afghanistan, I remember getting a hint, off the record, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who told me that they were aware of detainees being transferred from Bagram airbase, but had no idea where they were being taken. It is the ICRC’s role, under the Geneva Conventions, to visit those detained during conflict, a role which was, for a while at least, impossible to fulfil.

Fionnuala ní Aoláin, currently UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, also joins us on the podcast. Her position, she points out, was not created until five years after 9/11, and, she says “in that absence lies the story of a human rights free zone”, during which “the United States moved to engage in practices of torture, of rendition, or the establishment of a black hole where people were held arbitrarily”. 

Governments have argued that extraordinary measures are necessary to counter extraordinary threats. Certainly no political leader wants a 9/11 type attack on his or her watch. And, many opinion polls show, the public are prepared to compromise some fundamental human rights standards in the name of defeating terrorism.

A 2016 study by the ICRC found that, among millennials in industrialised countries, many agreed that torture was justified if it led to information that could save lives. Strikingly, among young people living in conflict zones, or under repressive regimes, a large majority remained opposed to torture.

This shift in opinion is a concern for ní Aoláin, who points out that some governments have taken to justifying increasingly repressive laws in the name of the war on terror. “Right now, in…Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, we see governments saying that human rights defenders are terrorists, that eco warriors are terrorists, that women’s rights defenders are terrorists.”

Interestingly, ní Aoláin comes from Belfast. She grew up with terror attacks, and counterterrorism measures. She believes that “actually it is counterproductive to security to violate human rights”, a point of view Staberock agrees with. He remembers research done in Northern Ireland in which senior security officers admitted that preventive detention had been a disaster, not just from a human rights perspective, but from a security perspective because “it made the cause much broader, it made the problem much bigger…by victimising people, you weaken the cause”.

Both ní Aoláin and Staberock believe the term “terrorist” is too widely used, and that it can become a convenient slogan for governments to introduce all sorts of legislation which would otherwise not easily be justifiable.

Staberock argues that “the best answer to terrorism is to demask it as killings. Not allow it to hide behind ideology. Demask it in an ordinary criminal process, bring people to justice, punish them, stick to your rules”.

The first shots in the war on terror were fired, 20 years ago, in Afghanistan. Today, in that same country, we are watching a humanitarian and foreign policy disaster unfold. As western diplomats made a panicked dash for the airport, they left millions of Afghans to live, again, under the Taliban, the very “terrorist” group the US and its allies entered Afghanistan to defeat.

So have we learned anything from the last 20 years? Do listen to Inside Geneva to find out more, but I’ll leave you with these final thoughts from ní Aoláin.

“We appear not to have learnt any lessons,” she says. “What we appear to be doing is betraying civil society, leaving women, human rights defenders and girls…when we conveniently decide that we’ve had enough and it’s time for us to leave.”

But, as a human rights defender herself, she is not deterred: “If you fight for human rights you’re always pushing big rocks up mountains, and you watch them fall down, and you push the same rocks up the mountain again. I think those of who work on human rights in the context of counterterrorism are looking at an enormous big rock.”

http://view.com.graduateinstitute.ch/?qs=03593ae72d465f424c62524fcb3b0674a1400adcb8708ad99947e5c2a73185ef84f12eb7b35f47251d236364d73d73396f7f3d03e7c28892b24b62800c3fbf2a0ccfc7e543a7d5d02fcd6e2c5427714a082f2ab63c8151e4

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/response-to-9-11—counterterrorism-attack-on-human-rights/46906238

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/09/blacklisting-terrorist-groups-911-wars

UN rapporteurs decry Saudi Arabia’s use of anti-terror laws against human rights defenders

January 3, 2018

Independent Expert on Human Rights Michel Forst. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré

On 2 January 2018 a group of four UN Special Rapporteurs (Michel ForstMr.  David Kaye, Ahmed Shaheed and Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin) joined by José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention) deplored Saudi Arabia’s continued use of counter-terrorism and security-related laws against human rights defenders and urged the release of all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights.

We are witnessing the persecution of human rights defenders for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and belief, as well as in retaliation for their work. The Government has ignored repeated calls by UN experts and others to halt these violations, rectify them, and prevent their recurrence.”

More than 60 prominent religious figures, writers, journalists, academics and civic activists are reported to have been detained in a wave of arrests since September, adding to a list of past cases which had already been raised by UN experts with the Government. “We have written to the Government requesting detailed information about these numerous arrests on terrorism, cyber-crime or any other state security-related charges during that period,” the experts said.

The experts noted that they are also seeking government clarification about how these measures are compatible with Saudi Arabia’s obligations under international human rights law, as well as with the voluntary pledges and commitments it made when seeking to join the UN Human Rights Council. “Despite being elected as member of the Human Rights Council at the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia has continued its practice of silencing, arbitrarily arresting, detaining and persecuting human rights defenders and critics,” they said.

In addition to previous cases and new arrests since September, the experts pointed to the country’s failure to implement two recent opinions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, calling for “the release of all the human rights defenders concerned in these cases.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/28/saudi-arabia-imprisoned-waleed-abu-al-khair-receives-another-human-rights-award/

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22570&LangID=E