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Terrorism

Balancing Counter-Terrorism Measures with International Human Rights

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In his statement at a special meeting of the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee on 6 March 2003, the Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan has noted:

 “….Our responses to terrorism, as well as our efforts to thwart it and prevent it, should uphold the human rights that terrorists aim to destroy. Respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law are essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism – not privileges to be sacrificed at a time of tension.”

Acts of terrorism are one of the gravest forms of human rights violations that can potentially shake up the spirit of society. People acquire a hateful approach towards the terrorists and those involved in terrorist activities. Moreover, governments do not hesitate to take all possible hardest actions against terrorism to secure their citizens and nation. It can be understood that any counter-terrorist measure taken to satisfy this sentiment of society will more likely be appreciated rather than being criticized. In the wake of this situation, it becomes crucial for the state and its agencies to observe the human rights laws while enacting and exercising the anti-terrorist measures (OHCHR 2008). It has been found that there exists a continuous struggle between national security interests and the protection of the human rights of individuals. In numerous cases, European and American Courts have preferred human rights over the draconian legislative provisions to curb terrorism. When one is dealing with terrorism, measures taken for counter-terrorism shall give high regard to human rights. If States fail to achieve this balance, they will ultimately defeat the success of their counter-actions. Thus, it is to be remembered that one should not become a demon that they are fighting.

Understanding International Human Rights

Human rights are the core universal values available to every individual and group being a human. It provides fundamental freedoms to individuals and protects them from the arbitrary use of power by the state (OHCHR 2008). International human rights are the rights reflected under various core international human rights treaties and customary international law. It includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and others. Moreover, the prohibition of genocide, torture, and slavery is widely recognized as peremptory norms from which no derogation is possible. All the concerned state parties are under an obligation to protect human rights enshrined under these instruments. They shall not take any action in the breach of their commitments.

The immense importance of human rights raises a few considerations before the state. Whether human rights can be compromised in the name of national security? How should states deal with a situation where human rights fall between their national security or other interests? This short note will try to reflect on these essential issues.

What Is Terrorism?

There exists no universal definition of the term ‘terrorism’ (Acharya 2009); however, General Assembly has tried to define it as “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them” (UNGA 1995). This term finds its mention under International Humanitarian Law that prohibits ‘terrorism’ and ‘acts of terrorism’ committed during an armed attack (Kaponyi 2007). During peacetime, such acts are dealt with under national laws, international criminal law, and human rights laws. Terrorism has been observed as a criminal act rather than an act of war (Acharya 2009); however, this definition is still evolving.

Terrorism is a controversial term, and its meaning differs from context to context and time to time. A person or group who acts as a terrorist for some might be a hero for others. However, it should be presumed that all such violence and destruction that constitutes terrorism and terrorist activities are done in the breach of human rights. These activities cause severe injury to the life and liberty of the individuals and the unity and integrity of the nation (Kaponyi 2007). In the interest of humanity, the state needs to adopt counter-terrorism measures in its legislation and enforcement actions to prevent and suppress terrorist activities while observing the rule of law.

Interaction Between Counter-Terrorism Measures And International Human Rights

There exists an unavoidable link between counter-terrorism measures and international human rights (Kielsgard 2013). Acts of terrorism provide legal justification to the threatened state to take actions that can cause severe human rights abuses. The interplay between these two concepts aims to address three dimensions of human rights: concerning the victims of the terrorist attacks, concerning the suspected terrorists, and concerning the people subjected to terrorism (Kaponyi 2007). The first category requires the right to life and dignity and the right to justice. The second category talks about the right to life, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the right to a fair trial, freedom from arbitrary detention, torture and degrading treatment, and the right to asylum. The third category talks about the right to life, right to information, freedom of association, strike, and expression. It is to be noted that the list of these rights are not exclusive and may include other related rights. Therefore, the state’s actions must not defy its international human rights commitments in the guise of national security. There have been instances when courts have curtailed unnecessary and vague security measures found in infringement of human rights.

In Hamdan v Rumsfeld US Supreme Court held that the structure and procedures of the Military Commissions been set up to try detainees of Guantanamo Bay violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Common Article 3 of Four Geneva Conventions, 1949. It was a landmark case that restrained the Presidential power vis-à-vis the treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners (Philips 2006). In Hamdi v Rumsfeld Supreme Court rules, US citizens detained as enemy combatants have the right to due process and the ability to challenge their enemy combatant status. However, in Rasul v Bush Supreme Court provided that it has jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions foreign nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay. This case attracted several petitions from foreign citizens challenging the basis of their detention. To prevent a large number of petitions from detainees, the US government came up with Military Commission Act in 2006 that bars foreign nationals from challenging their detention that was ultimately held unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in the case of Boumediene v Bush. It can be observed that the Supreme Court has generally prioritized human rights over its national security issues (Wald 2010).

Similarly, the Court of Appeal in Miranda v Secretary of State for the Home Department found arbitrary ‘stop powers used against journalistic information’ contained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, 2000 of the UK to violate freedom of expression provided under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In another case of Gillan and Quinton v United Kingdom European Court of Human Rights held blanket power to stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, 2000 to violate the right to respect for private life that later got repealed and replaced by the legislature.

Counter-terrorism measures provide incentives to the government authorities to reinterpret their law justifying interrogation, detention, and ‘targeted killing’ (Sanders 2017). It provides immunity and legitimacy to their acts of human rights abuses with the least accountability. Under its ‘War on Terror’ against the Taliban Government in Afghanistan, the US has denied applying human rights and humanitarian law to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and termed them as “enemy combatant” (Duffy 2005). However, from the International Humanitarian Law perspective, it can be counter-argued that the US is detaining combatants by creating a category based on a weak claim supported by reliable facts. They are arrested for an indefinite period without providing them the rights of prisoners. From the International Human Rights approach, a State is obliged to fulfill its international commitments over the persons who are present under its authority and control. This global outreach of the subject founds its applicability even in the areas beyond national jurisdiction, thus holding the US responsible for Guantanamo Bay that lies outside US territory.

Counter-terrorism measures are abused on the pretext of discrimination (Kaponyi 2007). General Assembly Resolution and UN Council on Human Rights Resolution prohibit discrimination that treats people from one ethnic or racial origin, religion or belief, disability different from the others. The creation of plausible legality of human rights violations by the state establishes a requirement to promote human rights (Sanders 2017). Where the UN General Assembly and Security Council have taken several counter-terrorism measures to combat terrorism, UN bodies also aim to respect human rights even in emergency cases. Law is undoubtedly evident that counter-terrorism measures cannot be fulfilled without considering human rights (Kielsgard 2013). States should respect human rights along with its counter-terrorism and security measures.

Conclusion

The real issue lies in determining the legality of counter-terrorist measures that occasionally fall short of the state’s international commitments under its human rights regime. It has been observed that the absence of any definition of terrorism provides ample scope for the state to interpret the term ‘terrorism’ with a political bias favoring its interest (Kaponyi 2007). Further, a State can easily justify its actions in the name of national security that denies human rights to the individual and ultimately raises questions on the rule of law (Duffy 2005). Under the case laws, judges have shown an inclination to respect the international commitments on human rights regime. However, this cannot be said affirmatively for the legislature and enforcing authorities.  It is not the counter-terrorism measures, but their abuse is problematic. Arbitrary and poorly-implemented counter-terrorism measures have their consequences. Co-lateral damage must be proportional. Since both counter-terrorism measures and human rights are important issues for a country; thus, it is essential that a balance be struck between them. It should be noted that fight against terror and the observance of human rights must go hand in hand. The State’s responsibility is to respect human rights and not use counter-terrorism measures as a justification for their violation.

REFERENCES

  • Acharya, Upendra D. (2009): “War on Terror or Terror Wars: The Problem in Defining Terrorism,” Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Vol 37, pp 653.
  • Boumediene v Bush (2008): 553 U.S. 723
  • Duffy, Helen (2005): The “War on Terror” and the Framework of International Law, Cambridge University Press
  • General Assembly, Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, A/RES/58/187 (2003)
  • General Assembly Resolution, U.N. Doc. A/RES/49/60 (Feb. 17, 1995)
  • Gillan and Quinton v United Kingdom (2010): ECHR 28 (2010)
  • Hamdan v Rumsfeld (2006): 548 U.S. 557 (2006)
  • Hamdi v Rumsfeld (2004): 542 U.S. 507
  • Kaponyi, Elisabeth K. (2007): “Upholding Human Rights in the fight against terrorism,” Society and Economy, Vol 29, pp 1.
  • Kielsgard, Mark D. (2013): “Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: Uneasy Marriage, Uncertain Future,”Journal Jurisprudence, Vol 19, pp 163.
  • Miranda v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2014): EWHC 255 (2014);
  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2008): “Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism” <https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Factsheet32EN.pdf>
  • Philips, Dennis (2006): “Hamdan v Rumsfeld: The Bush Administration and ‘The Rule of Law’,” Australian Journal of American Studies Vol 25, pp 40.
  • Rasul v Bush (2004): 542 U.S. 466
  • Sanders, Rebecca (2017): “Human rights abuses at the limits of the law: Legal instabilities and vulnerabilities in the ‘Global War on Terror’,” Review of International Studies Vol 44, pp 2.
  • UN Commission on Human Rights, Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2003/68: Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, E/CN.4/RES/2003/68 (2003)
  • Wald, Patricia (2010): “National Security versus Human Rights: An uneven playing field,” American Society of International Law, Vol 104, pp 458.
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Terrorism

A Virus Yet to Be Eradicated

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Much as everything in this world, human memory knows its limits. Increasingly receding into a background of the past, episodes of our life—be they thrilling at the thought or intensely dramatic—grow faint and fade, as they are gradually eclipsed by latest events and fresh experiences.

On September 11, 2001, I happened to be a first-hand witness to the most heinous terrorist attack in humanity’s contemporary history—the hijacked passenger jets heading to crash into the towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Twenty-one years later, I’m somewhat in doubt that all of this happened to me for a fact: blinding flares of orange against the backdrop of a blue September sky, swirls of smoke and dust slowly blanketing the city’s downtown narrow streets, a high-pitched cacophony of fire-truck and police sirens, crowds of disoriented people having no idea where to run and what the next moment might bring.

In the wake of 9/11, international terrorism has predictably become a thing to bandy about. Like many of my colleagues, I was attending numerous conferences and seminars as well as partaking in various research projects on the subject. Besides, a stroke of fate gave me a rare opportunity to have personal conversations with such heavyweights of world politics as Vyacheslav Trubnikov, Richard Armitage, Thomas R. Pickering, Kofi Annan and others, who made their meaningful contribution to fostering cooperation in countering the terrorist threat. In a way, their efforts have borne fruit as the world has seen nothing similar to 9/11 since 2001.

Still, we have to admit that the war on terror has not ended in a decisive victory. Terrorist attacks no longer claim lives of thousands—however, hundreds have died in the massive attacks in Paris and in Madrid, in Bagdad and in Berlin, in Beslan and over Sinai, in Gamboru (Nigeria) and in Mumbai (India), with new names added to this tragic list every so often. Large-scale terrorist attacks are now few and far between in the United States, but there have been more of them in Europe, let alone in the Middle East. The recent suicide bombing near the Russian Embassy in Kabul is yet another reminder that the terrorist threat is still here. Why, then, is the goal to wipe out terrorism—now dating two decades—not achieved so far?

In the first place, the international community has failed to agree on a common definition of terrorism’s origins, driving forces and character. What some actors explicitly dub as “terrorist” may look like a national liberation struggle for others. Bring up the issue of terrorism in Kashmir in a conversation with Indians and Pakistani, only to see there can hardly be a common denominator in this matter.

Second, any success in the fight against terrorism entails a high level of trust between the interacting parties—simply because they would have to exchange sensitive and confidential information. In today’s world, trust is thin on the ground. An apparent and mounting deficit of this resource is not only present in the relations between Moscow and Washington; it also takes its toll on the relations between Beijing and Brussels, between Riyadh and Teheran, between Cairo and Addis Ababa, between Bogota and Caracas, and the list goes on.

Third, international terrorism is far from an issue that is set in stone. It is gradually changing and evolving to become more resilient, sophisticated, and cunning. Similar to a dangerous virus, the terrorist threat is mutating, generating ever new strains. Ironically, what is especially dangerous today is the kind of terrorism bred by anonymous mavericks and amateurs rather than the sort represented by well-known transnational extremist movements—individualists are the hardest to track and neutralize, while plans of amateurs are harder to reveal.

The current progress in military technology, coupled with other trends in the contemporary international arena, portend a new spike in terrorist activities in the coming years. Modern and increasingly complex social and economic infrastructure, especially in large metropolitan areas, is an enabling environment for hard-hitting terrorist attacks. Besides, international and civil conflicts—like the one raging in Ukraine—drastically heighten the accessibility of modern arms for would-be terrorists.

Add to this a comprehensive setback in the resilience of global economy, which may be fraught with more social tensions and an inevitable rise of pollical radicalism and extremism in a broad range of countries. An obvious foretelling: In this “nutrient broth”, the virus of terrorism, which has not been wholly eradicated, stands all the chances for an “explosive” growth.

It may well be possible that all of us will in the years ahead be lucky enough to avoid a second edition of the events that shattered the world on September 11, 2001. Still, taking terrorism off the agenda is only possible if humanity effects a transition to a new level of global governance. It is either that the leading powers are wise and energetic enough for this, or the tax that international terrorism imposes on our common civilization will be progressively higher.

From our partner RIAC

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Terrorism

ISIS Rises from the Dust in the Syrian Desert

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Over the last few months Syria’s northeast has been spiraling downwards to chaos amid the surge of violence and terror attributed to Islamic State (IS). After almost five years of dormant existence the terror group is once again making its way to prominence in Syria. With the so-called territorial califate no longer viable, the IS members have switched to hit-and-run attacks on remote outposts and prolific use of improvised explosive devices (IED) against vehicles. These attacks target both US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian army units operating in the northeastern provinces of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. At the same time the terrorists managed to restore afinancial safety net by extorting money from local professionals, including small business owners, doctors and teachers. Those who refuse to pay are subjected to threats and torture. The resulting insecurity enables the terror group to widen the scope of its activities even further.

The deterioration of the security situation in Syria went almost unnoticed by the international community distracted by the Ukrainian conflict. Under these circumstances the U.S. has a window of opportunity to curb the Russian influence in Syria and undermine theimage of power projected by Moscow in the Middle East.

Indeed, the areas held by the Russians and the Syrian army in Deir Ezzor and Homs have witnessed an increase in bloody attacks, supposedly carried out by IS fighters. The terrorists were able to avoid retaliation by retreating to no man’s land in the areas abutting the U.S. bases, namely Al-Shadadi, the Green Zone near Abu-Kemal border crossing and Al-Tanf base. Moreover, previously each IS attack in US-controlled areas had been followed by joint raids of SDF and the US special forces. It is no longer so. Considerable resources that might otherwise have been used for counterinsurgency operations are allocated to maintaining security in Al-Hol camp, where some 12,000 IS fighters and their family members are held. Add to that the imminent threat of Turkish invasion from the north. The SDF was led into a deadlock and is loosing the grip on the region. Meanwhile IS sleeper cells exploit the situation to their advantage and infiltrate territories controlled by the Syrian army.

These suspicions are confirmed by a high-ranking source in the Syrian intelligence. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source claimed that the U.S. helicopters transported 200 former IS fighters from prisons in Haseke to the 55-km security zone around Al-Tanf. The terrorists will be split up into groups of 10 – 15 people. These groups will be then sent to provinces with Russian presence including Homs, Latakia, Tartus and Damascus with the task of conducting terror attacks with IEDs at the Russian military sites. Most of the selected militants originate from Northern Caucasia or Central Asia and therefore are fluent in Russian.

The source added that the list of the primary targets of the terrorists includes the phosphate mines in Hneifis guarded by Russian security companies as well as Russian military bases in Lattakia, Tartus, Damascus and Aleppo.

Ultimately, the recruitment of IS members to create disturbance for the Russians would only become a logical development of the proxy policy adopted by the U.S. in Syria. After all, Washington is killing two birds with one stone by destabilizing the area of Russian influence and making use of the IS prisoners. However, there is another conclusion to be made: Washington has failed in its initial mission to defeat IS and is now resorting to the use of terror group splinters in its political power games.

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Terrorism

Pakistan is a victim of terrorism

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Terrorism

A High-Level Ministerial the first Session of the UN Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism was held on 8 September 2022, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s remarks:- 

“I am honored to speak today at the first UN Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism. This subject has special resonance for me personally, having lost my illustrious mother, the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan, in a dastardly act of terrorism.

2.​ The Government and the people of Pakistan pay solemn tribute to all those who have suffered at the hands of terrorists. I express my profound support and solidarity with the victims and families of those who have been affected by this scourge.

3.​ The international community has an abiding responsibility to protect and support victims of terrorism. This has to be the basic tenant of our efforts to promote peace and security in the world.

4.​ While waging kinetic efforts to eradicate terrorist groups is imperative, we cannot fully win the fight against terrorism without preserving the rights of millions of innocent, defenseless, and vulnerable people who have suffered immensely because of terrorism. There should be more focus on retribution and rehabilitation and justice. Equally important is the need to work together to prevent further attacks, hold terrorists to account, and adopt a uniform victim-centric approach while addressing the challenges faced in conflict zones.

5.​ It is also unfortunate that political expediency and real politick have been allowed to dictate international response towards terrorism. Our tolerance for terrorism must not be a function of our foreign and domestic policies. This selective approach toward terrorism is the biggest injustice to the victims of terrorism.

6. ​For the last two decades, Pakistan has been one of the worst victims of terrorism – with over 80,000 causalities and economic losses exceeding $150 billion. We pay tribute to the families of martyrs of our law enforcement agencies and armed forces, who have rendered invaluable sacrifices while defending our motherland.

7.​ If we are to chart a way forward for victims, we must look beyond narrow political interests and geo-political agendas. We must examine why, despite global strategies, the terrorist threats continue to proliferate and give rise to the number of victims.

8.​ To further debate this issue, I would like to make a few points: First, we must address the root causes of terrorism and conditions conducive to terrorism. Second, we must distinguish terrorism from legitimate struggles for self-determination. Third, we must address state-sponsored terrorism, especially in cases of foreign occupation, and reject occupying powers’ propensity to use brute force against occupied people in the name of counter-terrorism operations. Fourth, we must have a consensus definition of terrorism and take into account new and emerging threats. Fifth, we must address challenges emanating from the use of new technologies by terrorists, especially on social media and the dark web. And finally, we must counter disinformation campaigns.

9.​ Pakistan condemns terrorism in all forms and manifestations including right-wing, Islamophobia, racially and ethnically motivated, and state-sponsored terrorism.

10.​ Terrorism can only be completely eradicated by fighting extremism and the mindset that breeds violent extremism. I would like to urge that this global problem requires continuing international cooperation without any prejudices or preconceived notions against any particular religion, race, civilization, or country.

11.​ I would also like to take this opportunity to pay special homage to the oppressed people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) and Palestine who deserve our special attention for their continuing suffering as victims of the worst forms of state-terrorism. The international community must hold the perpetrators of such state terrorism, and crimes against humanity, to account.

12. ​Our inability to address these issues will continue to increase victims and add to their suffering. It will also add to the physical and psychological trauma that may outlive many conflicts. The international community owes it to the victims of terrorism to take effective steps to address terrorism, wherever it may be, in whatever form it exists, without political considerations. This is our moral as well as legal obligation.”

Pakistan’s sacrifices in the Afghan war are much more than the collective damages caused to the 46 nations alliance led by the US in Afghanistan. Pakistan suffered the loss of around 80,000 precious human lives and an economic loss of estimated worth US Dollars 250 billion, in addition to the menace of terrorism, drugs, and gun cultures. The international community should acknowledge Pakistan’s sacrifices and compensate.

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