International human rights law have been seriously undermined by anti-terror measures worldwide, said a report by legal experts. (photo, from bbc.co.uk)
Following a three-year global study, the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said many states used the public’s fear of terrorism to introduce measures that included detention without trial, illegal disappearance and torture.
It also said that the UK and the US have “actively undermined” international law by their actions.
The conclusion was that many measures introduced to fight terrorism were illegal and counter-productive.
It called for justice systems to be strengthened and warned that temporary measures should not become permanent.
The ICJ is a non-governmental organisation that promotes the observance of the rule of law and the legal protection of human rights.
The framework of international law that existed before the 9/11 attacks on the US was robust and effective, concluded the panel of eminent lawyers and judges. But it said that now it was actively undermined by many states and liberal democracies like the US and the UK.
Justify abusive policies
Undemocratic regimes with poor human rights records have referred to counter-terror practices of countries like the US to justify their own abusive policies, remarks the report.
According to BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, the document will make uncomfortable reading for many in governments on both sides of the Atlantic.
The panel said the legal systems put in place after World War II were “well-equipped to handle current terror threats”.
Countries should use civilian legal systems to try suspects and “not resort to ad-hoc tribunals or military courts to try terror suspects”, it added.
The report’s authors expressed concern about several points : the lack of adequate safeguards in the use of control orders, the weakness of diplomatic assurances in relation to deportations and “excessive detention without charge”.
‘Human Rights Act’
Pre-trial detention time limit is 28 days in Britain, which is one of the longest in the world.
The British Home Office said the UK faced a severe threat from terrorism.
“We recognise clearly our obligations to protect the public from terrorist atrocities whilst upholding our firm commitment to human rights and civil liberties”, it said in a statement.
“Our policies strike that balance, with new legislation facing rigorous scrutiny through external consultation and in Parliament as well as being subject to the Human Rights Act, which the UK government enacted.”
In order to prevent serious and permanent damage to fundamental human rights principles, the ICJ report recommended an urgent review of counter-terrorism laws and policies.
Before writing their report, the panel reviewed counter-terrorism measures in over 40 countries, and heard from government officials, victims of terror attacks, and from people detained on suspicion of terrorism.
They found that many states have used the fear of terrorism to introduce measures which are illegal like torture, detention without trial, and enforced disappearance.
The ICJ panel included some of the world’s top international law experts, such as Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former United Nations human rights commissioner, and Arthur Chaskelson, former president of the constitutional court of south Africa.
Mr Chaskelson was chairman of the panel. He said: “In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the extent of the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world.
“Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights.
“The result is a serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework.”
The report also called on the US administration of President Barack Obama to repeal any policies that were instigated under the “‘war on terror’ paradigm” that were inconsistent with international human rights law.
“In particular, it should renounce the use of torture and other proscribed interrogation techniques, extraordinary renditions, and secret and prolonged detention without charge or trial”, the report recommended.
The US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay should be closed in a “human rights compliant manner”, with inmates either released or charged, added the report.
Last month, president Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay, as well as a review of military trial for terror suspects and a ban on harsh interrogation methods.