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New UN expert on counter-terrorism and human rights to focus on rights of victims and prevention of terrorism

NEW YORK (21 October 2011) – Newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, has told the General Assembly that he will pay particular attention to the rights of victims of terrorism and prevention of terrorism during his tenure.

Presenting his first report to the General Assembly yesterday, the Special Rapporteur said he was committed to ensuring that proportionate attention is paid to the rights of direct and indirect victims of acts of terrorism.

“I believe the international community has come to recognise that any sound, sustainable, and comprehensive strategy for combating terrorism requires the recognition of the suffering of victims of terrorist acts,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur observed that the UN’s 2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy recognises the dehumanisation of victims of terrorism as one of the factors for the spread of terrorism. Such dehumanisation can take various forms.

“It is not confined to the indiscriminate crimes committed by terrorist groups. States too can dehumanise victims by reducing their plight to mere justification for tougher counter-terrorism measures that violate human rights without actually addressing the suffering of the victims of terrorist acts and living up to their human rights obligations towards the victims,” said Emmerson.

The Special Rapporteur considers it “essential that the protection of the rights of the victims of terrorism is seen as a genuine legal duty resting primarily on States, and that it is not misused as a pretext for violating the human rights of those suspected of terrorism, for taking emergency measures which provide for excessive and disproportionate executive powers, or for other essentially political gain.”

Turning to prevention of terrorism, the Special Rapporteur noted that it is now widely accepted within the international community that by promoting and protecting human rights, States contribute to preventing terrorism by addressing the conditions conducive to its development.

“Human rights compliant counter-terrorism measures are not solely a question of legitimacy. They are also a question of effective prevention,” he said.

Welcoming the international community’s acceptance, at least formally, that it is only by strict adherence to international human rights standards that counter-terrorism strategies can ultimately succeed, the Special Rapporteur regretted that the practice of States has not always followed their commitments.

“What makes this area so complex, and so difficult, is the ever-present danger that some States, including States with a proud record of respect for the rule of law, have been willing at times to abandon those core values on the pretext of defending them,” he said.

He concluded that victims’ rights and prevention of terrorism are but two issues he would like to focus on and this will not in any sense detract from his responsibility to investigate and report on issues of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations in the investigation, prosecution and punishment of those alleged to have engaged in the preparation, instigation or commission of acts of terrorism.

Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) is the new Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On 1 August 2011, he took up his functions on the mandate that was created in 2005 by the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights and renewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council for a three year period in September 2010. As Special Rapporteur he is independent from any Government and serves in his individual capacity.

(*) Check the full report: http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/66/documentslist.shtml

For more information and media requests please contact:
Mr. Nikolaus Schultz (+41 79 4444 078 / nschultz@ohchr.org
Mr. Fred Kirungi: +1 917 367 34 31, e-mail: kirungi@un.org

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Terrorism/Pages/SRTerrorismIndex.aspx

The UN 2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy: http://www.un.org/terrorism/strategy-counter-terrorism.shtml

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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