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Counterterrorism practices threaten global human rights: international panel

[JURIST] Counterterrorism policies adopted by countries around the world since 2001 pose a "serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework," according to a report [text, PDF; executive summary, PDF] issued Monday by a special panel of human rights experts convened by the International Commission of Jurists [organization website]. The panel, Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights [official website], said that the policies have resulted in torture, abductions, arbitrary and secret detentions, unfair trials, and other limitations on human rights, and that many such policies, originally designed to be temporary, have effectively become permanent. The panel concluded that legal frameworks that existed before 2001 were sufficient to address the risks posed by terrorism, and that any future attempts at combating the threat should be long-term and should not discount fundamental rights:

The Panel concludes that terrorism sows terror, and many States have fallen into a trap set by the terrorists. Ignoring lessons from the past, some States have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses, introducing an array of measures which are undermining cherished values as well as the international legal framework carefully developed since the World War II. Seven years after 9/11, and sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is time for the international community to re-group, take remedial action, and reassert core values and principles of international law. Those values and principles were intended to withstand crises, and they provide a robust and effective framework from within which to tackle terrorism. It is clear that the threat from terrorism is likely to be a long-term one, and solid long-term responses are needed.

Moreover, the Panel concludes that counter-terrorist policies can only be successful over the longer term with the active support of an informed public. Yet, many of the measures we observed tend instead to encourage an “us and them” approach, often alienating communities whose support is essential for successful counter-terrorism action. We need to strengthen, not weaken, civil society if terrorism is to be effectively countered.

Last but not least, political leadership is needed urgently at a national and international level to develop a comprehensive strategy committed to combating terrorism, that will inter alia – repudiate torture and all other serious human rights violations, restore respect for well-established principles of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and insist on the effective integration of human rights law into counter-terrorist initiatives.
The panel went on to make a series of recommendations on how countries could remedy past damage done by the policies and how better to address terrorist threats in the future. It specifically called for a rejection of the "War on Terror" concept, called for terrorism prosecutions to be brought back within the normal criminal justice system, and called for intelligence gathering efforts to respect privacy rights. It also called for the repudiation of the rights violations, and for those guilty of the violations to be held accountable.

Many of the panel's recommendations were targeted specifically at the new Barack Obama [JURIST news archive] administration in the US. In November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] made a similar plea [HRW press release; JURIST report] calling on Obama immediately to change what it said were the "abusive" policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush [JURIST news archive].

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