Counter-terror steps, violate human rights in UK, US, Iraq – UN expert

10 October 2005 –

Proposed anti-terror laws in the United Kingdom might undermine human rights, United States military commissions on terror suspects violate the right to a fair trial, and Iraq’s special tribunal breaks international standards and should be replaced by a United Nations-backed independent court, a new report by an independent UN legal expert says.

“The bloody attacks in London and Sharm el-Sheikh clearly demonstrate that terrorists continue to commit acts which should be unanimously condemned and whose eradication requires concerted action by the international community,” the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, writes in a report to the General Assembly.

“At the same time, many States are debating the adoption of national measures that could undermine adherence to international human rights standards,” he adds, citing as an example the United Kingdom’s current debate on the adoption of domestic measures against suspected terrorists.

In what he called “another disturbing development,” Mr. Despouy notes that suspects detained by the United States at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are again being tried by military commissions which do not meet international standards on the right to a fair trial “in that they do not allow appeals to be brought before a civil judge, deny the right to defence, and discriminate between nationals and non-nationals, among other problems.”

The United States earlier this year continued to indicate that “the circumstances were not favourable” to honour requests by several UN human rights rapporteurs to visit Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and other detention centres, and the experts have decided to conduct an investigation, regardless of whether or not they are allowed to visit the detention centres, he adds.

Regarding the Iraqi Special Tribunal for crimes committed under the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Despouy points with “alarm” to both its powers and origin.

“The Tribunal’s power to impose the death penalty demonstrates the extent to which it contravenes international human rights standards,” he writes. “Because it was established during an occupation and was financed primarily by the United States, its legitimacy has been widely questioned, with the result that its credibility has been tarnished.”

Among its deficiencies he cites the fact that it may only try Iraqi citizens for acts committed prior to 1 May 2003, when the occupation began.

“The Special Rapporteur urges the Iraqi authorities to follow the example set by other countries with deficient judicial systems by asking the United Nations to set up an independent tribunal which complies with international human rights standards,” he adds, pointing to Sierra Leone as an example.

In many States, counter-terrorism measures have undermined other rights, such as freedom of opinion, expression, assembly and association and the right to strike, and have negatively affected specific groups, such as migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, Mr. Despouy writes.

“The Special Rapporteur reiterates his conviction that nothing can combat irrational acts and extreme forms of violence more effectively than the wisdom embodied in the rule of law,” he concludes.

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