Our View: Countering Terrorism and Revisiting the Global Strategy and Ensuring Rights are Protected
In 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy as a unique global instrument to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism.
That’s just one year after the 7 July 2011 terrorist attacks that took place across London’s transport system.
The UK has been one of the member states implementing the strategy. There may be much the UK is doing well to halt attacks on UK soil and abroad. However, with the proliferation of violent extreme networks around the world and the growing threat of terrorism, there are further effective measures that can be adopted while adhering to human rights legislation andwithout alienating communities.
The Four Pillars
The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy has four pillars to its plan of action.
- Addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.
This includes giving victims of terrorism a voice; promoting good governance, the rule of law and human rights; and addressing unresolved conflicts and conditions that allow discrimination, political and social exclusion to exist or thrive.
- Measures to prevent and combat terrorism.
Rigorous measures are expected by states to ensure that terrorists are denied tolerance to conduct terrorist activities, a safe haven and resources. That includes weapons and defence-systems. States should also be implementing other relevant protocols and work with and create the relevant organisations to help prevent terrorism and stop the movement of terrorists. This also includes exploring how the internet can be used to combat terrorism and to stop it from spreading terrorism.
- Measures to build states’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system in that regard.
This pillar is about utilising and working across all of the UN’s offices to help combat terrorism: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, the International Criminal Police Organisation, the UNOffice on Drugs and Crime, the International Maritime Organisation, the World Customs Organisation, International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It’s also about working efficiently and effectively and building the capacity of the UN as well as individual states to help combat terrorism. This could involve encouraging donations, including from the private sector.
- Measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.
General Assembly resolution 60/158 of 16 December 2005 provides the fundamental framework for the “Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism”. It reiterates that we should always uphold human rights principles while combating terrorism.
Revisiting Pillar 4
One area that receives a lot of discussion is the compatibility of UK counter-terror policy with human rights. While once overly intrusive, counter-terrorism legislation does not have the same broad scope it did in 2001, which raised deep concerns regarding detention without trial for extensive periods of time and was ruled “incompatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights by the House of Lords in 2004. In contrast, in 2015 David Anderson QC, former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation,called the UK Terrorism legislation “appropriate” although he made recommendations for its reform.
There is deep scepticism and criticism over the use of Schedule 7 of the UK Terrorism Act 2000, which gives officials the power to stop, search or question individuals at ports, airports or international train stations, without any grounds of suspicion. This has also been considered to be broad and intrusive although Anderson noted a reduction in its application.
The UK has also developed the controversial Prevent strategy, part of the four-pronged counter-extremism strategy called CONTEST. However, as Prevent looks at both violent and non-violent forms of extremism, it deviates from the more focused definition of the UN, which is concerned only with violent forms of extremism and incitement to terrorism.
Therefore, under Prevent, unpopular yet non-violent views will come under scrutiny and can lead to authorities who have a duty to report behaviour they deem to be extreme or that could lead to extremism to take action. This can interfere with various rights including freedom of expression, religious freedom and freedom of association as well as the right to privacy if people’s activities are being monitored.
Prevent could also have an inverse effect in that controversial views are no longer being discussed in spaces where they can be debated and rebutted. Such discussions then go ‘underground’ or take place in circles where they may be encouraged instead.
This shows that the UK’s current strategy does not currently hold up to a fundamental pillar of the global strategy.
Preventing extremism that can lead to terrorism is important but should not occur at the expense of other rights. The UK’s Prevent agenda should be amended to ensure it is consistent with the law and is working to do what its title purports – preventing violent extremism and terrorism.