Anti-Terror Laws Prone to Abuse, Amnesty Says

By Haider Rizvi | (IPS) -Numerous governments around the world are using anti-terror laws to suppress political dissent and civil liberties, according to a new report released by one of the world’s most respected human rights organisations.

Amid calls for increased U.N. scrutiny, in its report, the London-based group Amnesty International raises serious questions and concerns about the impact of the so-called war on terror on human rights and freedom of speech in many countries.

”There is a huge gap between governmental rhetoric and the reality of human rights observance on the ground,” said Amnesty in its report, entitled ”Security and Human Rights: Terrorism and the United Nations.”

The rights group released its report Thursday just a few hours before the U.N. General Assembly plenary was due to start biennial review of the ”Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” a documented adopted by the member states some two years ago.

The report’s authors say in a number of countries government leaders are violating human rights, although there is no provision in the document that would allow them to do so while pursuing anti-terror policies.

The report says that many governments have ”rushed through problematic laws formulating often vaguely-defined crimes, such as banning organisations, undermining fair trial standards, and suspending safeguards aimed at protecting human rights.”

The so-called war on terror, according to the report, is being used by both democratic governments and repressive regimes alike to justify restrictions on their political opponents and dissidents.

”Unfortunately,” the authors say, ”countries which have long claimed to be leaders in promoting human rights have now taken the lead the lead in enacting draconian laws.”

In addition to the United States and its close allies in the ”war on terror”, the report also names and shames several countries, including some Western democracies, for lowering their standards on human rights in the name of security.

Contrary to its image as a champion of human rights, Denmark, for example, has widened its definition of terrorism and the scope of ”aiding abetting terrorist activities,” raising concerns that the laws could be applied to those involved in non-violent activities.

Amnesty criticised the U.N. Security Council for its lack of emphasis on human rights and demanded it take responsibility for adverse impacts of the fight against terror on human rights situation worldwide.

”Human rights and security go hand in hand. Human rights are the key to achieving peace,” said Yvonne Terlingen, who represents Amnesty International at the U.N. ”The only way of countering terrorism is with justice.”

The 50-page report is laden with scores of cases illustrating human rights abuses in the name of security and counter-terrorism, such as extrajudicial trials and killings, use of torture, and enforced disappearances of suspects.

In its report, Amnesty urged the Security Council to adopt ”unambiguous and strong” language in its future resolutions on counter terrorism that member states meet their human rights obligations in the measures that it requires them to take.

The rights group also called for the Security Council to set up an independent review mechanism to examine delisting of terrorism suspects subjected to sanctions, and provide direct access to those listed to fair hearings providing basic human rights guarantees.

Amnesty’s findings appear be fully in line with those of the various U.N. rights bodies. In expressing their concerns as far back as October 2005, they warned that attempts by many states to adopt new anti-terror policies could undermine human rights standards.

In a report submitted to the General Assembly at the time, U.N. rights officials emphasised that terror required concerted action by the international community, not legislative steps that deny individual rights to a fair trial, freedom of speech, assembly, or to strike.

”Nothing can combat irrational acts and extreme forms of violence more effectively than the wisdom embodied in the rule of law,” U.N. special rapporteur on human rights Leandro Despouy told the General Assembly.

As in the past, the General Assembly meeting Thursday failed to reach a consensus on a definition of terrorism. While some think of terrorism in terms of extremists acts of non-state actors, others insist that certain states are also responsible for terrorism.

The fight against terrorism, according to a Cuban diplomat who spoke at the plenary session, is also used as a ”pretext to justify interference in the internal affairs of the other states, the aggression, and the breach of the states’ national sovereignty.”

”[It’s] a phenomenon that has to be combated by the entire international community, in an environment of close cooperation and with due respect of the Charter of the United Nations and international law,” Cuban envoy IIena Nunez Mordoche told the General Assembly plenary meeting.