Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue on protecting human rights while countering terrorism

Human Rights Council


1 March 2019

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.

Presenting her report, Ms. Ni Aolain reminded that security and human rights were fundamentally entwined and co-dependent. The clear link between the impact on civil society space and the enlargement of the security framework could be seen. Since its inception, 66 per cent of all relevant communications sent by the mandate of the Special Rapporteur related to the use of counter-terrorism, preventing and countering violent extremism or broadly defined security-related measures on civil society. For the last two years, the number was slightly higher, at 68 per cent. This was an extraordinarily high figure, which underscored the abuse and misuse of counter-terrorism measures against civil society and human rights defenders over a decade and a half. Restrictions on civil society did not make a country safe from terrorism. States had to assess the overly-broad definitions of terrorism and to establish independent mechanisms to review and oversee the exercise of emergency powers. The Special Rapporteur also briefed the Council about country visits to Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, France and Belgium.

Sri Lanka, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and France spoke as concerned countries. The National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and the National Consultative Commission of Human Rights of France also spoke.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted that it was no coincidence that the proliferation of security measures related to terrorism and violent extremism on one hand, and the adoption of measures that restricted civic space on the other, were happening simultaneously. Speakers opposed any harm or exploitation of children by terrorists, noting that children needed to be protected from being influenced by extremist ideologies. Some speakers found it unacceptable to use human rights rhetoric to provide impunity for terrorism, using it as an instrument of political pressure and applying double standards rather than joining forces in a broad anti-terrorist coalition in order to act rapidly against terrorist acts. Others drew attention to remotely piloted aircrafts that had been used to target and kill terrorists outside the scope of a traditional armed conflict, thus violating the right to life and other human rights arbitrarily.

Speaking in the discussion were Angola on behalf of the African Group, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, Pakistan, Estonia, Sudan, United Kingdom, Israel, State of Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Australia, Uruguay, Cuba, Syria, Nigeria, Russian Federation, United Arab Emirates, Philippines, Mexico, Maldives, Egypt, Morocco, Myanmar, Iceland, Chad, Algeria, Ireland, Iran, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Senegal, China, Burkina Faso, Albania, Lebanon, Trinidad and Tobago, India, Cameroon, Ecuador, Afghanistan and Qatar.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Iraqi Development Organization; China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS); Right Livelihood Award Foundation; Franciscans International (in a joint statement with Amnesty International); Human Rights Advocates Inc; Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries; International Commission of Jurists (in a joint statement with Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship, Amnesty International and International Federation for Human Rights Leagues) and the Open Society Institute.

Armenia, State of Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Qatar spoke in right of reply.

The Human Rights Council will next meet in public on Monday, 4 March, at 9 a.m., when it will hold the first part of its annual full-day discussion on the rights of the child entitled empowering children with disabilities for the enjoyment of their human rights, including through inclusive education.

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism

FIONNUALA NA� AOLA�IN, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, underscored the contribution of the mandate to one of the most important global interfaces, the intersection between security and the protection of human rights. Security and human rights were fundamentally entwined and co-dependent. The mandate’s work was not only through its authorizing resolution to engage States, consider and respond to individual communications, and to issue thematic reports, but also through its broader role in the United Nations counter-terrorism architecture. Country reports had been issued for Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka, completing the mandate commitments of the former Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson. Ms. Ni Aolain said she had undertaken country visits to Belgium and France in May 2018 that were reported on in the report and would visit Mali and Kazakhstan in the months ahead.

The Special Rapporteur outlined four strategic priorities of the mandate addressing the importance of advancing the protection of civil society in parallel with regulating counter-terrorism. Since 2001, civil society space had been shrinking and civil society had been stigmatized. This had become a structural global challenge. Civil space was repressed in 111 countries across the world, and only four per cent of the global population lived in areas where civic space was open. According to Front Line Defenders, 321 human rights defenders had been killed in 2018 alone. At least 140 governments had adopted counter-terrorism legislation. The clear link between the impact on civil society space and the enlargement of the security framework could be seen. Since its inception, 66 per cent of all relevant communications sent by the mandate of the Special Rapporteur related to the use of counter-terrorism, preventing and countering violent extremism or broadly defined security-related measures on civil society. For the last two years, the number was slightly higher, at 68 per cent. This was an extraordinarily high figure, which underscored the abuse and misuse of counter-terrorism measures against civil society and human rights defenders over a decade and a half.

Targeting of civil society was wholly inconsistent with meaningfully attending to genuine terrorist threats. Restrictions on civil society did not make a country safe from terrorism. The explanation of how the international community had arrived at this point was set in motion through global matrixes developed post 9/11. Given the scale of the abuse, the Special Rapporteur asked where could they go from here. Three sets of recommendations were shared and the first set was directed at the international counter-terrorism framework. The Counter-Terrorism Committee was encouraged to hear regular briefings by civil society on counter-terrorism. States had to assess the overly-broad definition of terrorism and had to establish independent mechanisms to review and oversee the exercise of emergency powers.

Turning to country reports on Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka, the Special Rapporteur acknowledged the transitory context of Tunisia and said that positive steps had been made. There was an undeniably broad definition of terrorism there. Prison conditions were concerning as well as lengthy pre-trial detention, prolonged investigations, and unrelenting use of emergency powers.

Concerning Sri Lanka, engagement had been opened up after the visit of her predecessor, Mr. Emmerson. Sri Lanka was encouraged to ensure that the definition of terrorism remained tight and that access to legal counsel was full and unrestricted.

In Saudi Arabia, Mr. Emmerson had noted comprehensive efforts in relation to radicalisation and rehabilitation. However, there was a wide definition of terrorism and extensive fair trial concerns.

Finally turning to her visits to France and Belgium, the Special Rapporteur concluded that France was committed to a rule of law-based response to terrorism and rights protection. France was commended for its legal response to the victims of terrorism. France was a model of best practice in the rights-based approach to the victims of terrorism, however, there was an ongoing state of qualified de-facto emergency which had resulted from the use of multiple legislative powers. As for Belgium, there were ongoing challenges in regulating security and Belgium was commended for its distinct approach in responding to terrorism within the confines of the ordinary law and offering the full protection of human rights. There was a lack of de-radicalisation programmes in prison settings.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Sri Lanka, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Government had completed a majority of the recommendations contained in the report. The law on the prevention of terrorism was the subject of a consultation process, aimed at amending it. A new bill, which had taken into account the views of civil society, academics and other partners such as the European Union, would soon be presented to parliament. This bill contained safeguards and aimed to bring the legislation into line with international law. The Government had passed a law granting the right to access to places of detention to enable authorities to speak to detainees privately and freely and to ensure the further safeguarding of the human rights of people in confinement. Procedures have been put in place, notably to open investigations into the behaviour of the security forces. The Government had also taken steps to address prison overcrowding. Finally, the process of reconciliation continued and thousands of hectares of arable land had been returned.

National Human Rights Commission of Sir Lanka noted that it had already made public its concerns about the existing public security rights framework in Sri Lanka. As the Government had presented new counterterrorism legislation, any limitations on rights should be subject to judicial review. The Commission was heartened by new provisions in the counterterrorism bill, including those which sought to prevent torture and forced disappearances of detainees. However, some provisions were of deep concern, particularly the definition of terrorism, which was viewed as overly broad. Moreover, it was emphasized that all counterterrorism provisions should be human rights compliant and should not cause aggravation or grievances. Consultation with the Commission would have gone a long way to meet human rights standards. The most critically important task of the State was to ensure justice for all, which was noted as key to prevent radicalization and the emergence of terrorism.

Belgium, speaking as a concerned country, noted that the scourge of terrorism had claimed innocent victims all over the world, including in Belgium. Like many countries targeted by terrorism, Belgium was an open and democratic society, based on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Determined to protect its citizens and all those who had chosen Belgium as their country, Belgium remained firmly committed to protecting those values in its response to terrorism. The report of the Special Rapporteur acknowledged Belgium’s measures, including its intention and deliberate response to the terrorist threat, and described the commitment of the Government and Belgian society to human rights as an essential dimension of the Belgian approach to combatting terrorism while promoting and protecting the rule of law. Getting access to the country and the freedom to choose interlocutors was most important for an effective execution of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, and it was very useful for the country. How many States at present had left the Special Rapporteur’s requests for visits unanswered?

Saudi Arabia, speaking as a concerned country, said that Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism measures took into account legal and other frameworks when dealing with terror suspects so that they could combat terrorism while protecting human rights. Accepting the Rapporteur’s visit to the Kingdom underpinned its cooperation with human rights frameworks. The basic laws of the Government were not based in religion but on justice, consultation and equality, in line with Sharia law. Sharia was not at odds with other human rights mechanisms and guaranteed freedom of expression and the exercise of civil rights. The definition of terrorism, which the Rapporteur characterized as too broad, had been revised in order to ensure that its application had no negative effects on civil and political rights. All stakeholders had met with the Special Rapporteur in a transparent manner. There was no methodical discrimination against Shia Muslims in the country. Saudi Arabia decried the Special Rapporteur’s negative characterization regarding allegations of torture by law enforcement officials on people suspected of committing terrorist acts. The death penalty was employed only against those who committed the worst terrorist crimes and only after due process, and was not used on minors. Saudi Arabia had logged a full detailed document in response to the report on the portal.

Tunisia, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur for her visit and said that Tunisia was open to cooperate with all mandate holders. The remarks of the Tunisian Government could be found in an annex to the report. The report raised concern about the broad definition of terrorism in Tunisia. However, that remark was part of the international debate of finding a definition for terrorism. Tunisian legislators had made sure that the definition was aligned with international definitions. As for the guaranties for detainees, the Government had issued circular number 15 that provided access to detention facilities. Another measure was the punishment of all those who practiced torture, and internal oversight was established within security forces. Another measure undertaken was that the national independent commission could visit detention facilities at any time, without any prior notification. As for detention periods, those accused of terrorism had lawyers and free legal access. Preventive measures for emergencies had been taken in conformity to the Security Council resolution. Concerning foreign fighters, Tunisia acted in line with the Security Council resolution to foster cooperation with international organizations relevant in this field.

France, speaking as a concerned country, said it fully supported the Special Procedures, and had carefully prepared for the Special Rapporteur’s visit. France had long shown its determination to combat terrorism in all its forms. The terrorist threat that had affected the country had led the French Government to set up legislative mechanisms and promote international cooperation in this area. France’s fight against terrorism was based firmly in the respect of human rights and public freedoms, and France constantly reaffirmed the universal nature of human rights. France expressed surprise that the report contained misconceptions, legal errors and erroneous statements. It was important to pay great attention to the accuracy of information contained in the report so that it reflected reality.

National Consultative Commission of Human Rights of France expressed concern about the turn that the fight against terrorism had taken in France, especially since the official end of the state of emergency in October 2017. More than 20 counter-terrorism laws had been adopted since 1986, continuously cutting back on the guarantees for the right to public freedoms. With the law reinforcing internal security and the fight against terrorism of 30 October 2017, the French Government had added another layer to the already coercive measures inspired by the state of emergency. The situation currently amounted to a permanent state of emergency. The Commission was worried about police violence, discriminatory controls, and stigmatization of a certain religious minority. The Commission also regretted the conflation of religion and terrorists in the public discourse, as well as the excessive use of the notion of secularism (laA�cite) to that purpose.

Interactive Dialogue

Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that terrorism spared no continent and some African countries were facing a multidimensional threat of terrorism, undermining peace and stability as well as democratic norms. Keeping in mind the social and economic context of African States, what were the most appropriate recommendations that they could implement to protect human rights? Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, stressed that terrorism was the main threat to life, human dignity and human rights. Such criminal practices had a negative impact on children, the cultural heritage of humanity, and on social structures, so States were called on to work objectively to eliminate all negative aspects. European Union said that it was no coincidence that the proliferation of security measures related to terrorism and violent extremism on one hand and the adoption of measures that restricted civic space on the other were happening simultaneously. How could the international community best counter false allegations that human rights defenders were terrorists, as often pretended by those supressing civil society activities?

Pakistan said it had been able to defeat the scourge of State-sponsored terrorism emanating from across the border through robust law enforcement action under a comprehensive National Plan of Action. The Rapporteur was asked to share her views regarding persecution in United Nations designated occupied territories due to the use of counter-terrorism laws. Estonia fully agreed that restrictions on civil society did not make a country safe from terrorist attacks, on the contrary they could be a contributing factor to unrest and violence. How could countries better safeguard the civic space in their common fight against terrorism? Sudan said it had adopted an anti-terrorism law and set up an anti-terrorist body in keeping with Security Council resolution 1373. Sanctions and punishments were not enough to combat terrorism and extremism.

United Kingdom said it was fully committed to the fight against terrorism, which continued to be a significant and complex global threat. The United Kingdom asked the Special Rapporteur what form did she see national and international counterterrorism oversight mechanisms taking? Israel said that tackling the issue of terrorism should be one of the main priorities of the Council because of the myriad negative effects of this phenomenon on human rights. Israel noted that it paid special attention to balance its obligation to safeguard the right to life of its citizens with its steadfast commitment to all other human rights. State of Palestine noted that in occupied Palestine, civil society organizations faced mounting hurdles, legal restrictions, stigmatization and danger in their ongoing work. Palestine asked what steps could be taken so that Israel as an occupying power could be held accountable for the deliberate measures aimed at targeting civil society organizations.

Jordan reaffirmed its condemnation of terrorism by extremist groups. Jordan noted that it had undertaken an integrated approach, which countered the root causes behind terrorism, and had conducted awareness efforts to combat terrorism. Iraq said it welcomed General Assembly resolution 16572, proclaiming an international day to commemorate the victims of terrorism. However, Iraq called on the Council, its mechanisms and Member States to step up their responsibilities in addressing the destructive effects of terrorism. Libya noted that several villages and cities in Libya had been wracked by terrorist attacks, which had resulted in the killing of numerous people, but stressed that these kinds of terrorist attacks were doomed to fail. Eliminating terrorism required international cooperation, while also promoting awareness among youths in order to prevent their recruitment by terrorist groups.

Australia said that its National Counter-Terrorism Strategy emphasized the importance of effective partnership with independent civil society actors on counter-terrorism and preventing violent extremism. Its counter-terrorism laws appropriately balanced the need for community safety whilst safeguarding individual rights and freedoms, and were subject to ongoing review by independent third parties. Uruguay rejected all acts of terrorism, especially against civil society and medical facilities. It had introduced a new law (19570) on money laundering to combat the financing of terrorism. Uruguay was concerned about the reduction of civic space and the abusive application of legislative measures in the name of combatting terrorism, especially in humanitarian situations. Cuba said the rights of the child should be at the forefront of efforts to combat terrorism and support victims of these crimes as they were the most vulnerable group in times of conflict. Cuba rejected all terrorist acts and had never allowed its territory to be used to fuel terrorist acts, having been the victim of foreign terrorism for years.

Syria said foreign supported terrorism had been the main scourge of the war, including ISIS and the Al Nusra Front, and emphasized the importance of the rights of the victims of terrorism, including women and children who underwent abduction, compulsory recruitment, organ trafficking, displacement and even killing. It asked how the international community could further focus on the rights of the victims of terrorism. Nigeria said that the scourge of terrorism remained a major security challenge. Nigeria remained resolute in defeating Boko Haram and the menace of terrorism in its north-eastern region, while abiding by human rights standards, using its thus far successful counter-terrorism strategies. Russia regretted that the Special Rapporteur’s report had not been issued on time and hoped she would display more professionalism in the future. It was unacceptable to use human rights rhetoric to provide impunity for terrorism, using it as an instrument of political pressure and applying double standards rather than joining forces in a broad anti-terrorist coalition in order to act rapidly against terrorist acts.

United Arab Emirates agreed that terrorism represented a threat to the rule of law and human rights, so it required efforts on national and international levels and through fostering cooperation. The United Arab Emirates had set up Hedayah Centre to combat violent extremism. Philippines regretted that the thematic report was not shared earlier to allow for discourse that was more constructive. The focus of the report on the impact of terrorism on children’s rights was welcomed as children across the world were recruited and used as combatants by non-state actors and terrorist groups. Mexico agreed that States had to guarantee that measures adopted should not have a negative impact on civil society and human rights. The Special Rapporteur was asked how she could help in the design of policies that protected human rights defenders who were accused of being terrorists.

Maldives had a zero-tolerance policy on terrorism and violent extremism, and the recent amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Act criminalised joining or attempting to join or fighting in any overseas conflict as a crime. This also included financing of terrorism. Egypt would have liked to have received the report a bit ahead of time. Civil society was an important partner for the Egyptian Government in designing national policies, raising awareness on terrorism, and assisting victims. Morocco attached great priority to human rights. The fight against terrorism must be carried out in a way that fully took into account human rights. Morocco’s National Strategy on the Fight against Terrorism also included measures to eradicate causes of terrorism and fight extremism.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

FIONNUALA NA� AOLA�IN, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, said that out of 26 countries in which requests had been made for visits, only eight had offered responses, so an undue burden was placed on those that accepted. States were reminded, particularly Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia, about the narrow definition of terrorism. True, there was no internationally agreed definition on terrorism, but there were guidelines, so for example resolution 1566 offered a guide to States in a precise way. France was thanked for its contribution. Ms. Ni Aolain reiterated the independence of her mandate. She expressed thanks, particularly for positive engagement in the aftermath of visits, in the context of the review of national legislation, as was particularly true in the case of Belgium and Saudi Arabia. Many States had good policies on including civil society organizations in areas of health, so it should be the same in the case of counter-terrorism. A healthy and vibrant society was the best antidote against terrorism. The report of the Counter Terrorism Committee up until 2006 had been transparent, but that was no longer the case. The Counter Terrorism Committee did not regularly invite civil society to their meetings, so increased transparency would be welcomed. The Committee had to engage with non-governmental organizations.

Ms. Ni Aolain said her mandate was devoted to victims, both through country visits and within thematic reports. Victims of terrorism should not be treated with less rights than any other victims. As for the national oversight mechanisms, the United Kingdom had an independent and robust mechanism that often criticized the Government, so that was commended. The Australian model was also commended. Many children were orphans in Syria and Iraq, and States were obliged under the Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide help. Russia and Kazakhstan showed best practice in repatriating their children. It was important that humanitarian actors were not criminalized. Mexico was thanked for its overall support to the mandate.

Interactive Dialogue

Myanmar noted that it was confronting the challenges of terrorism, including attacks launched by the Arakan Rohingya Army. Myanmar was making its utmost efforts to combat terrorism both nationally and internationally, in line with national priorities and the situation on the ground. Switzerland said it supported the creation of a new entity within the United Nation Office for Counterterrorism. Switzerland expressed its hope that this unit would contribute to correcting the violations of the human rights of civil society organizations which were noted in the report. Iceland said it remained deeply concerned about the widespread misuse of counter-terrorism legislation worldwide. Iceland asked the Special Rapporteur how she viewed the role of her mandate in the broader United Nations counter-terrorism architecture.

Chad emphasized that it was primordial that the problem of a definition for terrorism become a central issue for the international community. Chad underlined that nothing justified terrorism, and that States had the obligation to combat terrorism, but with respect to international law. Algeria reiterated its appeal to increase international cooperation and collective action in the long term, which dealt with the socio-economic factors that led to acts of violence. Algeria placed special emphasis on the fight against the underlying causes of terrorism, notably by putting in place policies which focused on de-radicalization. Ireland said it believed that there was no conflict between effective counter-terrorism measures and the promotion and protection of human rights. Ireland asked the Special Rapporteur what practical steps could States take to support the meaningful participation of civil society organizations in the fight against global terrorism and extremism.

Iran stated that as a longstanding victim of terrorism, it was part of the fight against terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Iran called attention to the negative effects of foreign occupation on human rights, and the systematic suppression of minorities in parts of Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. Bahrain was convinced that the promotion of human rights was an ongoing process that had to surmount the activities of terrorist groups. Bahrain was making every effort regionally and internationally to promote human rights despite interference into its internal affairs. Bangladesh endorsed the United Nations Secretary-General’s plan of action on preventing violent extremism. Bangladesh’s experience had testified to the importance of involving civil society actors in counter-terrorism measures.

Senegal underlined that despite the complex regional security situation, it continued to scrupulously respect its citizens, even when they were accused of terrorism. The international community needed an energetic and coordinated effort to eradicate terrorism. China opposed any harm or exploitation of children by terrorists; children needed to be protected from being influenced by extremist ideologies. The international community needed to pursue a coordinated strategy to tackle terrorism, including through tackling its root causes. Burkina Faso agreed that States must ensure that measures taken to counter terrorism did not have an adverse effect on civil society. To that end, in December 2018, Burkina Faso had organized the third session of the dialogue between the State and civil society in the anti-terrorism fight.

Albania had adopted a national strategy on counter-terrorism which created a Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures Centre focused on the prevention of extremism and the influences of extremist ideologies through education and the identification of best practice. Lebanon said terrorism was an existential threat to the world, the Middle-East and to Lebanon, and it threatened civil society. The ubiquitous nature of terrorism, and the fact that it had changed through different institutions, groups and countries, meant that the international community had to have a multipronged approach, and had to avoid being lenient on terrorism and its actors. Trinidad and Tobago said its national counter terrorism strategy guided the national response to terrorism in alignment with international best practice. Key amendments to this legislation included the institution of new offences related to the collection of funds for terrorist activities and harsher punishments for the recruitment of children.

India shared the concern of the Special Rapporteur regarding the lack of a comprehensive definition of terrorism and of violent extremism and thus of a comprehensive assessment of its impact on human rights. The draft Comprehensive Convention against International Terrorism would provide a strong legal basis for the fight against terrorism. Cameroon said that it had faced terrorist attacks from Boko Haram since 2013 and had taken counter-terrorism measures to preserve peace and the integrity of its territory, emphasizing that those caught were treated with dignity and in full respect of their human rights. It asked the Special Rapporteur how they could reach a full comprehensive definition of terrorism. Ecuador supported the global strategy of the United Nations in addressing terrorism while respecting human rights and the rule of law in its application. Counter-terrorism measures should be based on international law. To ensure the protection of the status and rights of refugees, international cooperation was needed and the United Nations played a crucial role in this.

Afghanistan said it was fighting over 20 international terrorist groups that were classified as terrorists by the United Nations. Afghanistan was a frontline State and its fighting was not just done for its own liberty but it was engaged in a fight for the security of the world. States were urged to have a firm stand against terrorism as a key imperative for human rights. Qatar confirmed that extremism and terrorism had a detrimental impact on human rights and democracy. The role of civil society was important in assisting governments to combat this phenomenon.

Iraqi Development Organization raised concerns regarding Bahrain’s abuse of broad anti-terror legislation to restrict civil and political space by targeting human rights defenders and activities. The assault on the political opposition had begun in 2016, when a court dissolved Bahrain’s largest opposition group Al Wefaq, accusing it of supporting violence. China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS) said that multiple criminal acts of terrorism and extremism had affected social stability in Xinjiang, even in school campuses. Thanks to the anti-terrorist measures taken in the province, students could now return safely to their classes. Right Livelihood Award Foundation said that the Special Rapporteur’s report accurately depicted an alarming trend in Turkey where since 2016 independent news outlets had been rapidly disappearing as the Government started stifling dissenting voices in the name of national security. The Turkish Government must halt the persecution of independent media and the arbitrary detention of journalists. Franciscans International, in a joint statement with Amnesty International, endorsed the recommendation on the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act as the current draft had several flows which were in contradiction with international human rights laws and standards.

Human Rights Advocates Inc drew attention to remotely piloted aircrafts that had been used to target and kill terrorists outside the scope of a traditional armed conflict. In several States they had violated the right to life and other human rights arbitrarily, due to ambiguous legal principles. Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries warned that countries and companies had used ambiguous laws to accuse human rights defenders and environmental defenders of terrorism in Latin American countries. What mechanisms could be used to counter that trend? International Commission of Jurists, in a joint statement with Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship, Amnesty International and International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, stated that Egypt was using counter-terrorism measures to crush all forms of dissent. Other examples included Turkey and China. The organization strongly opposed any attempt to dilute the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Open Society Institute noted that France’s anti-terrorism legislation was harsh and without any independent review, leading to the normalization of the state of emergency. People continued to be subjected to accusations based on suspicions alone, and the measures targeted mainly Muslims.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

FIONNUALA NA� AOLA�IN, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, emphasized that a clear articulation of safeguards was necessary to prevent abuses of counter-terrorism measures against civil society actors. The Special Rapporteur also encouraged States to develop an independent mechanism for oversight at the national level and to utilize a specific definition of terrorism. Ms. Ni Aolain underlined that non-violent forms of dissent were core elements of freedom of expression, and that any measures that aimed to limit funding for civil society organizations had to comply with international law. It was noted that the mandate had meticulously documented all communication over 18 years, which was carefully noted in the report. The Special Rapporteur thanked the European Union for its question regarding violent extremism. While there were ongoing problems of definition, she said that at least in the terrorism context, there were numerous definitions available, including the Special Rapporteur’s own definition. However, there was a less concrete definition of violent extremism and as such, States were doing what they pleased at the national level: the result was bad counter-terrorism policies and unacceptable civil society crackdown. The Special Rapporteur noted the renewed emphasis on international cooperation, but underlined that cooperation was not a rights free zone. It required the same level of cooperation with human rights law, as States were bound to in a national context.

Ms. Ni Aolain fully endorsed the establishment of a civil society unit within the United Nations counter-terrorism structure. In response to questions from Palestine and Pakistan, the Special Rapporteur emphasized that civil society space must be encouraged and supported in conflict situations. She noted that civil society was predominantly female gendered, and as a result, when there was a crackdown on civil society, it disproportionately affected women. In response to China, she said that Internet regulation was not a rights free zone; it must be legally based, proportionate and non-discriminatory.

The Special Rapporteur emphasized that the mandate viewed victims as an essential part of the work done, but was wary of attempts to move outside the human rights framework and engage in politics of condemnation. The importance of ensuring the independence of the mandate was also emphasized. The Special Rapporteur stressed that the mandate was unique, and was created in the aftermath of 9/11 when the fingerprint of the human rights framework on counterterrorism efforts was extremely fragile. However, she emphasized that an independent framework was no substitute for a sustained national commitment to human rights. Effective counter-terrorism was not about cracking down on civil society. If they did not accept terrorism measures, they could not accept counter-terrorism measures that sought to undermine terrorism by choking the capacity of civil society to operate. The Special Rapporteur concluded by calling on States to maintain a focus on human rights.

Right of Reply

Armenia, speaking in a right of reply, stated that all architectural monuments in Armenia and in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic were included in a State list of protected monuments regardless of their origin, and the authorities ensured that they were preserved and restored. Azerbaijan continued its deliberate policy to destroy Armenian monuments in the territories under its control. From 1998 to 2005, the Azerbaijani authorities had completely destroyed a cemetery with over 3,000 medieval cross stones, turning it into a military shooting range. Despite photographic evidence of this, Azerbaijan continued to deny entry to a fact-finding mission.

Palestine, speaking in a right of reply, said it was ironic to see an official of Israel welcome the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, when Israel itself had downgraded the status of the Arabic language after the State Law was approved, as it emphasized the right to self-determination only for Jews. Israel’s criticism of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization served to put pressure and to legalize its illegal occupation and annexation of Palestine. What Israel was doing was a policy of annexation of East Jerusalem, including building of illegal settlements. Israel’s actions were threatening world heritage sites in Hebron, particularly the idea to build a bypass road. Israel was trying to turn a solvable political conflict into a religious war.

Saudi Arabia, speaking in a right of reply, said that following the visit by the Special Rapporteur, it had passed a law in 2017 containing an accurate definition of terrorism. It was Qatar that was ambiguous in its approach to terrorism.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a right of reply, said Armenia’s statement was ironic. It was Armenia that had turned into a mono-ethnic country, having wiped out the centuries-long cultural heritage of ethnic Azeris. Following its visit to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan in 2005 and 2010, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had urged the Armenian side to refrain from changing the ethnic composition of the region. Azerbaijan urged Armenia to refer to Nagorno-Karabakh in line with the terminology in United Nations resolutions.

Qatar, speaking in a right of reply, said that the behaviour of Saudi Arabia was not in line with international standards. Its policies were misused against human rights defenders and repressed political and civil space. Saudi Arabia’s delegation should be more accurate and should speak about the whole array of violations of human rights in its country instead of attacking others.

Armenia, speaking in a second right of reply, refuted the accusations of Azerbaijan that it was a mono-culture State. Azerbaijan was stifling multiculturalism within its borders and in the territory it occupied. Armenia would cooperate with a fact-finding mission if Azerbaijan would also allow one in the occupied territory.

Saudi Arabia, speaking in a second right of reply, said that those who supported, financed, aided and abetted terrorism on their territory were exploiting this international forum to brighten their own image, and were accusing others of the same crime.

Qatar, speaking in a second right of reply, said it was not surprised that Saudi Arabia was trying to distract the Council and attribute blame for terrorism elsewhere. Qatar highlighted that everybody knew who supported and aided terrorism.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a second right of reply, said it was compelled to speak to answer baseless accusations and reiterated that Armenia had no moral basis to speak about human rights as it was a country that had carried out ethnic cleansing and continued to promote aggression. Armenia was a mono-ethnic society and aggressor country. Armenian troops were the main destabilizing factor and the only way towards a sustainable peace would be their removal.

Source: UN Human Rights Council