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Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force

Securing Fair Trials for Alleged Terrorists

Relentless terrorist attacks around the world have triggered counter-terrorism responses which, in some instances, have compromised the fundamental principles of fair trial and due process. Some States continue to use indefinite and incommunicado detention of terrorist suspects without the possibility of review of the legality of the detention. Some States have limited the access to the judicial process to those charged with acts of terrorism, while other States use evidence obtained through torture and ill-treatment, and broaden the use of anonymous witnesses and the kind of evidence that can be withheld from the defence. Guarantees for those charged with terrorist offences, such as access to counsel, are often limited.

The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) Working Group on Protecting Human Rights While Countering Terrorism is hosting a series of regional expert symposiums on issues related to the protection of human rights in the context of countering terrorism.

The first meeting, for South East Asia, took place in Bangkok on 17-18 February this year and focused on securing the fundamental principles of a fair trial for persons accused of terrorist offences. Participants included representatives of ministries of justice, judges, prosecutors and other practitioners working specifically on this issue who provided key first-hand practical knowledge from countries in the region, as well as international law experts, representatives of civil society and members of the CTITF.

The expert meeting assessed and analyzed the obstacles and challenges to implementing the requirements for fair trial as set out in international human rights law and standards; identified other rights key to securing the fundamental requirements of a fair trial in the context of counter-terrorism; and exchanged experiences and good practices to be recommended by and to Member States.

Leading CTITF efforts is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). “States are under the obligation to ensure that all guarantees of due process are respected where any individual is arrested, charged, detained and prosecuted regardless of the context. Guaranteeing due process rights is critical for ensuring that anti-terrorism measures are effective, respect the rule of law and are seen to be fair”, said Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, in New York.

He added that “safeguards must be put in place to ensure that anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention is entitled to take proceedings before a court, so that the court may decide on the lawfulness of the detention, and that governments do not act outside the law and do not bypass the judicial process”.

A report on the outcome of the expert meeting will be produced as guidance material on how human rights can best be protected in the context of fair trial.