Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Promoting Human Rights While Countering Terrorism

26 October 2009

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Promoting Human Rights While Countering Terrorism

26 October 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Promoting


Human Rights While Countering Terrorism


States should consider gender-sensitive reparation schemes for victims of terrorism, as women undergo specific forms of abuse by terrorist groups, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, said today at a Headquarters press conference.

Briefing correspondents on his latest report, which he had presented to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) earlier in the day, Martin Scheinin said the document contained some 17 recommendations, including one which urged States to stop the detention and ill-treatment of women and children in an attempt to produce information on male family members suspected of terrorism.

Among other things, the report also recommended that torture and inhuman treatment must be prevented, investigated and punished, including when such acts occurred in the name of countering terrorism, when they targeted persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, or when they utilized homophobia in the selection of torture methods.  It further recommended that victims of gender-based persecution should be granted entry and asylum in other countries, and those falling victims to abuse by terrorist groups should never be treated as though that had provided “material support” to terrorism.

In addition, he said the report recommends that gender diversity, including the different experiences of men and women, as well as of persons belonging to sexual minorities, should be seen as a resource in the fight against terrorism, contributing to a design of counter-terrorism measures that was both in compliance with human rights and most effective in combating terrorism.

Mr. Scheinin stated that the report contained four specific recommendations addressed to United Nations bodies, including a request that relevant special procedures and other mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and the human rights treaty monitoring bodies give attention to gender and counter-terrorism.  It also recommended that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women incorporate the specific question on “the impact of counter-terrorism on women” in its examination of State reports and other work regarding the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.

As for recommendations to other United Nations bodies, he said that Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee, the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate and the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force were asked to take explicit account of gender as a relevant human rights concern, and that that those bodies continue the process of reforming the regime for listing individuals and entities as terrorists by including a gender assessment in that review.

He said that the present report looked at the impact of counter-terrorism measures on gender from a human rights perspective.  That topic was chosen to reflect the mandate of Special Rapporteur which had been changed during its last renewal to add a line to integrate gender perspective into the work of the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. Scheinin noted that the report had become the subject of controversy because of a somewhat provocative or radical dimension.  It went beyond merely focusing on human rights and women and included consideration of questions on how sexual minorities, including gays, lesbians and transgender individuals faced particular hardship due to insensitive, and in the worst cases, malicious, abuse of human rights in counter-terrorism efforts.

In response to a question by a correspondent on his assessment of the present United States Administration regarding investigating and punishing perpetrators of torture, Mr. Scheinin said that while “expectations are huge”, everyone realized it would take time before issues were adequately addressed.  He had undertaken measures and made recommendations on what should be done by that country on the legal front.  In cases where there had been torture, the matter was a serious enough crime that both those who set the rules and those who carried out the acts should be subject to prosecutorial decision.  Such decisions should be left in the hands of professional prosecutors to avoid any political filters.

He said that the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre should take place along the timeline announced by President Barack Obama and not through trial and sentencing detainees through military commissions.  Those commissions were very negative and making minor fixes to them would not make them compatible with international -- or even with United States -- standards.  There should be a division between those persons who could be tried in proper courts and those who would not be tried and should be released one way or the other.  The United States needed to acknowledge its own responsibility and be prepared to take in some of the detainees.  Other countries should assist the United States on humanitarian grounds, particularly with regard to those who could not be sent to their own countries because of fears of further persecution. 

He said that many of detainees had suffered great difficulties and should be treated as victims who needed rehabilitation.  Rehabilitation should, therefore, be waiting for them in the third countries.  With regard to those people described as “very dangerous”, but whose cases might have been tainted by allegations of torture, he said such individuals should be tried in United States courts and the matter should be left in the hands of the judiciary to apply the law.

Continuing, Mr. Scheinin said he had visited Guantanamo Bay, but not the detention centre.  Visiting the detention centre made sense only if it included unhindered access to the detainees without monitoring by United States officials.  Under the Bush Administration, officials had denied such requests, saying it was against United States policy to allow United Nations Special Rapporteurs access to the detainees without monitoring.  A visit now would not be so much for observing treatment as for obtaining witness statement from detainees.  Under the present Administration, the discussion was now more whether such a visit would be productive.  “The issue is still on the table,” he added.

Responding to another question, he said that in relation to the number of men, the number of women accused of terrorism “is a very small minority at about 5 per cent”.  The report he had prepared focused more on the collateral damage with regard to women as they were mostly affected indirectly.

On another question, he said that he had presented options to reform the United Nations system of listing alleged Al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists and their operatives or benefactors.  The more realistic option was to stop listing individuals by name, as that was “too blunt an instrument”.  Instead, he suggested that the Security Council decide on the criteria and have monitoring by Member States, with the listing done by individual countries.

He added that he had emphasized to the Third Committee that male sexuality and the role it played in countering terrorism was not restricted to gays but included sexual torture of straight males with homosexual fears.

He added that terrorist organizations often utilize women in their stereotypical roles in the home, for sexual favours and when hiding.  After those women were victimized in those ways by the terrorists, they were doubly victimized when they were refused asylum for aiding terrorism.

On the proposal for the creation of a World Court of Human Rights, he said that he had been pursuing that matter for over 10 years.  In fact, there were two such proposals and attempts were ongoing to consolidate them.  The proposals were based on the need for a legally binding authority within the rights system.  The absence of such an authority was the weakness of the system.  When the world changed and new actors emerged with the ability to affect human rights, a system was necessary to address human rights violations by those entities and others.  His own proposal was based on the traditional concept of consent in international law, meaning that each entity would accept the court’s jurisdiction and then be subject to complaints at the court.

The current system was not adequate with regard to dealing with abuse by United Nations peacekeepers, he went on to say.  The problem was immunity and impunity.  Immunity should only be in terms of a certain country’s jurisdiction.  When the jurisdiction of one country was excluded, the question of who took over jurisdiction should be answered.  There was currently a gap resulting too often in impunity and with crime going unpunished.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.