Counter-terrorism must never be used as excuse to curb human rights – UN expert

Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights Ben Emmerson. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

21 October 2011 – The fight against terrorism must never be used as a pretext for abusing basic human rights or silencing the opposition, as has happened in many professedly democratic countries over the past decade, a United Nations expert warned today.

“Most States dealing with counter-terrorism problems have over the past 10 years in one form or another taken or used measures which are incompatible with fundamental human rights,” UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson told a news conference in New York.

“If I was to single out one as perhaps the most important overarching principle it is that the concept of terrorism should not be abused through an over-broHuman rights compliant counter-terrorism measures are not solely a question of legitimacy. They are also a question of effective prevention.ad definition by States that wish to use national security provisions to silence opposition.”

Mr. Emmerson, a United Kingdom jurist who serves in an independent capacity and reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, said an important part of his job is to review national legislation and national definitions of terrorism to ensure States do not abuse the rubric of counter-terrorism as a means of suppressing and taking action against those who disagree with them on State policy.

“What we’ve seen in the past decade is many, many examples of States, including States with a proud record of adherence to principles of democracy and the rule of law, take and exercise measures which involve significant and systematic violation of basic and internationally agreed human rights standards,” he added.

“What we’ve also seen, going hand in hand with that, is the abuse of human rights, which is very frequently cited by those who support terrorist philosophies as a justification for their actions.”

Yesterday Mr. Emmerson briefed the General Assembly’s third committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, stressing that it is now widely accepted within the international community that by promoting and protecting human rights, States contribute to preventing terrorism by addressing the conditions conducive to its development.

“Human rights compliant counter-terrorism measures are not solely a question of legitimacy. They are also a question of effective prevention,” he told the committee.

Mr. Emmerson, who was appointed Rapporteur in August, has previously appeared before the UN Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) which is trying alleged perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the European Court of Human Rights.

“The guiding single philosophy for my exercise of my mandate is that human rights abusive counter-terrorism policies, far from solving the objective of preventing terrorism, have over the past 10 years all too often contributed to the grievances and perceived grievances which cause people to take the wrong choices and to engage in crimes of terrorism around the world,” he said today.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN human rights expert questions targeted killings and use of lethal force

Related Stories






More videos »


In-depth Interviews