Terrorism sows terror
Assessing Damage, Urging Action: many states have fallen into a trap set by terrorists.That's the conclusion of a recent report into the effect counter-terrorism measures are having on human rights and the rule of law.
Assessing Damage, Urging Action was commissioned by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and warns that countries are ignoring the lesson of history and allowing themselves to be rushed into introducing measures that undermine cherished values and the international legal framework.
The result of three years of research carried out by a panel of international jurists, the report is one of the most comprehensive surveys on counter-terrorism and human rights to date. The authors say they were shocked by the extent of the damage done by abusive counter-terrorism measures since 9/11. Hina Jilani, an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and former UN human rights envoy, calls for the rejection of the "war on terror" paradigm, saying many states have used war rhetoric to introduce measures which undermine the rule of law. Ms Jilani says,
"Many of the laws that were either introduced or re-inforced after 9/11 do not provide sufficient guarantee of due process and fair trial for one thing. People have been held for long periods of time without any charge or trial. The criminal justice framework has been thoroughly weakened because of the whole attempt to take shortcuts, to cut corners, not to provide the guarantees and safeguards that are necessary for doing justice."
Ms Jilani also points out that this wartime paradigm has been applied without the actual rules of wartime engagement being respected.
Legal systems well-equipped
The panel heard testimony in dozens of countries from government officials, victims of terrorism, rendition survivors and civil society groups. One consistent theme that emerged was that the legal systems put in place after World War II were well-equipped to handle current terror threats, without new, harsher laws being introduced. Ms Jilani, continues,
"The panel members are lawyers; many of us have expertise in the criminal justice laws and systems. We are not un-aware people. We are also not unaware of the real threat that terrorism poses. Many of us come from countries where the roots of terrorism are the strongest. So we really know what the threat is and we know the legal framework that would be adequate to deal with situations that governments are confronting. This is not a situation in which an exception is merited."
The report emphasises that criminal justice systems should be at the heart of the legal response to terrorism - and not secret intelligence. As the role and powers of intelligence services have expanded, they have encroached on law enforcement. The problem becomes particularly acute when intelligence services from different countries co-operate, excluding national judicial systems and resulting in what amounts to collusion in lawlessness. Intelligence services around the world, says Ms Jilani, are acting with insufficient accountability, and intelligence co-operation is being undertaken outside the rule of law.
The report does not "name and shame" any particular countries, - but there is an implied criticism of Western democracies. As Ms. Jilani says,
"We are more concerned with trends, and we feel that in certain countries, certain very pernicious trends have become pervasive. Nevertheless, I would say that we believe that democracies and countries who claim that they have championed the cause of human rights, when they commit practices which amount to human rights violations, it certainly becomes a cause for more serious concern. And it gives other countries the justification to cite their examples and to carry out human rights violations and deviations from the rule of law."
The report concludes with a series of recommendations, and warns that action must be taken now, before "temporary" counter-terrorism measures become entrenched in law and practice. The change in administration in the United States has created a favourable political climate for change, which should be taken advantage of. Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and current President of the ICJ, is urging all states to restore their commitment to human rights. If we fail to act now, she warns, the damage to international law could become permanent.
The full report can be found at: www.icj.org.
Listen to the interview with Hina Jilani: click here.
Radio Netherlands / Expatica