Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Seventeenth Report): Bringing Human Rights Back In - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. In the last year a number of international projects assessing the impact of counter-terrorism measures on human rights since 2001 have come to fruition, drawing out a number of important themes from experience around the world. Most notable among these is the Report of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, Assessing Damage, Urging Action (2009),[1] which urges governments to engage in a stock-taking process designed to ensure that respect for human rights and the rule of law is integrated into every aspect of counter-terrorism work.

2. The Report of the Eminent Jurists' Panel identifies a number of concerns that require urgent attention, many of them themes which have featured large in our work, for example:

  • The use of preventative measures such as administrative detention;
  • The need to re-establish the primacy of the criminal justice system in states' response to terrorism;
  • The use of secret procedures; and
  • The increase in international co-operation between intelligence agencies without appropriate safeguards and accountability mechanisms.

3. Our predecessor Committee began its work on Counter Terrorism Policy and Human Rights in 2004, with its Report on the Review of Counter-Terrorism Powers.[2] In this Parliament we have published 16 substantive reports in our ongoing inquiry into the subject, making many recommendations and proposing many amendments to the legislative framework to give effect to those recommendations.

4. The purpose of this report, which will be our final report on counter-terrorism policy and human rights in this Parliament, is to pick up some of the most significant themes in our work on this subject, with a view to identifying the most pressing human rights concerns in the area of counter-terrorism policy and suggesting the urgent action which is required to address them.

5. Reviewing our work over the course of this Parliament in this important field of policy, we find that there are several themes to which we have returned time and again, and we highlight some of these in this report. We welcome the fact that the Government has now accepted that political discussion about counter-terrorism policy should take place within the framework of human rights. In place of the supposed conflict between human rights on the one hand and public safety on the other, which pervaded political discourse in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it is now widely accepted that human rights law itself imposes positive obligations on the State to take active steps to protect people from the real risk of terrorism. Counter-terrorism measures may be positively required by human rights law, where they are necessary and proportionate, and human rights law provides the framework within which to assess the important evidential questions about the necessity and proportionality of those measures.

6. We are pleased to note that this shift in the terms of the debate is reflected in various Government statements that "the protection of human rights is a key principle underpinning all the Government's counter-terrorism work."[3] It is expressly mentioned, for example, as being central to the Government's National Security Strategy. All too often, however, we have identified examples in the Government's counter-terrorism policy of human rights being squeezed out by the imperatives of national security and public safety. It is easy to pay lip-service to the importance of human rights but the test of that commitment is in the substantive policy outcomes. On that score there is an enormous amount of urgent work that remains to be done by the next Parliament. It is time to bridge the gap between the rhetoric and the reality in the field of counter-terrorism policy and human rights. In short, it is time to bring human rights back in, in substance as well as form.

1   Assessing Damage, Urging Action, Report of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights (International Commission of Jurists, December 2008), at 40-42.The Eminent Jurists Panel is an independent Panel convened by the International Commission of Jurists, chaired by Justice Arthur Chaskalson (former Chief Justice of the South African Constitutional Court). Back

2   Eighteenth Report of Session 2003-04, Review of Counter-terrorism Powers, HL 158/HC 713. Back

3   See e.g. Memorandum to the Home Affairs Committee: Post-Legislative Assessment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, Cm 7797 (1 February 2010) at para. 58; Letter to the Chair of the Committee from Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP, Home Secretary, dated 15 September 2009, Ninth Report of Session 2009-10, Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Sixttenth Report): Annual Renewal of Control Orders Legislation 2010, HL 64/HC 395 (hereafeter "Report on 2010 Control Orders Renewal") at p. 43. Back

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