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UN counter-terrorism review should make human rights a priority

4 September 2008

As the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) conducts the first major review of its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, an Amnesty International report shows how governments have so far failed to uphold the Strategy's human rights standards.

Adopted on 8 September 2006, the UN Strategy was the first global attempt to agree on a set of practical action points to combat terrorism. In the Strategy, all States recognize, unequivocally, that human rights are the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.

However, Amnesty International's report, Security and Human Rights: Counter-terrorism and the United Nations, concludes that there is a huge gap between governmental rhetoric and human rights observance on the ground.

Published on 3 September, a day before the UNGA review, the report also says that much more needs to be done to mainstream human rights throughout the UN system and that States must demonstrate the political will to translate stated human rights commitments into action.

The report considers the impact of terrorism on human rights, examines UN work on counter-terrorism, notably of the Security Council, and conducts a brief review of the type of human rights violations committed in the pursuit of counter-terrorism measures, citing a range of country examples from all over the world.

The report says that since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the USA and in other countries since then, a wide range of counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices have eroded human rights protection - such as that to freedom of expression and not to suffer torture or other ill treatment - as governments claim the security of some can only be achieved by violating the rights of others.

The Security Council, in pushing for the criminalization and suppression of terrorism worldwide without taking due care for the protection of human rights, must also take some responsibility for the adverse consequences.

The UNGA review is a crucial opportunity for the UN to act. Amnesty International has therefore called on the UNGA to mark the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by making the implementation of the human rights provisions of the Strategy a top priority for the coming year.

The Security Council must also address the human rights deficit in its work by adopting strong human rights language in its resolutions dealing with terrorism and giving greater importance and resources to the protection of human rights in its counter-terrorism work.

“The response of governments to the threat of terrorism is one of the fundamental human rights challenges of our time,” said Yvonne Terlingen, Head of Amnesty International's Office at the United Nations.

"Human rights and security go hand in hand. Human rights are key to achieving peace. The only way of countering terrorism is with justice."

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