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Counter-Terrorism Should Not Undermine Rights

Counter-Terrorism Should Not Undermine Rights To Assembly Or Association: UN Expert

New York, Oct 25 2006 7:00PM

Countries need to pay “increased attention” to ensuring that critical basic freedoms – of peaceful assembly and of association – are not unduly compromised in the fight against terrorism and that any restrictive measures be “necessary, proportionate and subject to judicial safeguards,” an independent United Nations expert warned today.

Protecting these rights was fundamental because they serve as the platform for the exercise of other rights, such as freedom of expression and the right to political participation, Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, told the General Assembly's Third Committee which deals with human, social and cultural rights.

Governments listing entities as terrorist organizations should also be done only on a temporary basis – and automatically reviewed every 6 to 12 months – so as “not to amount to criminal sanctions,” which would require acceptable rules of evidence and procedure, he said.

“It is my firm conviction that sanction regimes that incorporate human rights guarantees are in the long run more efficient tools against terrorism than arrangements falling short of international standards,” Mr. Scheinin said.

“There is growing support for the position that human rights are not a mandatory concession that compromises the effective fight against terrorism but, rather, a cornerstone of any successful strategy against terrorism,” he added.

Mr. Scheinin later told a press conference that defining terrorism is central to his mandate because “as long as there is no internationally agreed understanding of what terrorism is, and is not, governments often feel free to define as terrorist whatever they wish to outlaw.”

“This leads to a huge degree of abuse….minorities, indigenous people, religious movements…may all be stigmatized as terrorists and then authoritarian governments tend to criminalize their actions,” he added.

Against what he said were some overly broad definitions, terrorism should be defined by the choice of tactics, i.e., attacks on innocent bystanders.

Mr. Scheinin said although his mandate includes highlighting “best practices in the fight against terrorism” this has not resulted in many invitations for country visits.

He thanked Turkey for their “exemplary facilitation” of a February trip but noted he is still waiting for replies to requests to visit from the U.S., Tunisia, South Africa, Philippines, Malaysia and Egypt.


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