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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism at the 66th session of the General Assembly

New York, 20 October 2011

Honourable Chair, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is my first appearance before the General Assembly as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. I want to begin by paying tribute to the work of my predecessor, Mr. Martin Scheinin and thank him for his invaluable contribution to the promotion of human rights standards in this field, culminating in his 2011 annual report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/16/51) in which he identified ten areas of best practice in countering terrorism whilst respecting human rights.

As a starting point for the discharge of my mandate I intend to adopt and build upon those areas of best practice identified by Mr. Scheinin. I want to begin by emphasising that I believe that the core priorities of the mandate remain unchanged. Its primary focus has been, and will continue to be, on the need ensure State accountability for fundamental human rights violations committed by States in the measures they take to counter terrorism. The protection of human rights is all too often seen as incompatible with effective counter-terrorism strategies.

Over the last decade the international community has come to accept, at least formally, that the reverse is true, and that it is only by strict adherence to international human rights standards that counter-terrorism strategies can ultimately succeed. 3 But the practices of States have 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. The central priority of the mandate is to maintain a close watch on practices that undermine international standards in the investigation, prosecution and punishment of those accused of acts of terrorism, as well the range of executive measures taken at a national and international level to suppress terrorism.

These issues will remain at the very heart of the mandate. That said, I am also committed to ensuring that during my period of tenure proportionate attention is also paid to the rights of direct and indirect victims of acts of terrorism. This issue was already identified by my predecessor as one of the core principles of best practice in countering terrorism whilst respecting human rights.

The incorporation of State obligations towards the victims of terrorism reflects the acceptance by the international community of the fact that any sound, sustainable, and comprehensive strategy for combating terrorism requires the recognition of the suffering of victims of terrorist acts.

The 2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of the General Assembly (A/RES/60/288) rightly recognizes the dehumanization of victims of terrorism as one of the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. But dehumanization can take various forms. It is not confined to the indiscriminate 4 crimes committed by terrorist groups.

States too can dehumanise victims by reducing their plight to little more than a justification for tougher counterterrorism measures that violate human rights without actually addressing the suffering of the victims, and without recognising and discharging State's human rights obligations towards the victims of terrorism. It is essential that the protection of the human 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 objectives.

In discharging my mandate I aim to support existing initiatives taken by States and international organizations to put the plight of victims of terrorism onto the human rights agenda, including the 2008 symposium hosted by the Secretary- General on supporting victims of terrorism; the 2010 Siracusa workshop on a study of best practices on supporting victims of terrorist crimes and related offences; and the panel discussion held by the Human Rights Council on 1 June of this year on the issue of the human rights of victims of terrorism in which my predecessor participated as a panellist.

I also commend the Human Rights Council for creating, at its most recent 18th session, a new mandate of Special Procedures on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence, which foresees a victim-centred approach. I look forward to working in close cooperation with the new Special Rapporteur as called for by the resolution. 5 The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, of which I am a member as Special Rapporteur, has formed a dedicated Working Group on Supporting and Highlighting Victims of Terrorism.

I commend the Human Rights Council for adopting resolution 17/8 and hope that the General Assembly will follow its recommendation to proclaim 19 August as the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism. Needless to say, I intend to meet with victims of terrorism and representatives of victims’ associations during the course of my future country visits in order to listen to their grievances and concerns. Closely related to the protection of victims is the issue of prevention of terrorism.

It is now widely accepted within the international community that by promoting and protecting human rights Member States at the same time contribute to preventing terrorism, by addressing the conditions conducive to its development. The Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy places the promotion of human rights at the centre of the fight against terrorism. Member States reaffirmed that they must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, and in particular human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law. This is not solely a question of legitimacy. It is also a question of effective prevention. Security Council resolution 1963 reiterates that violations of human rights are one of the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, and recognizes for the first time that terrorism will not be defeated by military force, 6 law enforcement measures and intelligence operations alone.

In the discharge of my mandate I intend to focus and build upon this important principle – now internationally recognised. Honourable Chair, I am indebted to the General Assembly for its repeated reminders to all Governments of the need to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur in the performance of the responsibilities of the mandate. In this context I would like to thank the Transitional Government of Tunisia for having hosted my predecessor for a follow-up mission in May of this year at this critical juncture for the Tunisian peoples.

I will report on this mission to the Human Rights Council in March of next year, but would already like to congratulate the Transitional Government for its transparency during the mission and for the reforms embarked upon in the counter-terrorism context with the aim of securing accountability for crimes and human rights violations committed in the name of counter-terrorism in the past. I would also like to thank the Government of Burkina Faso for having extended an invitation to me to visit its country upon which we are discussing dates. Burkina Faso is the first partnering country of the Integrated Assistance for Countering Terrorism (I-ACT) initiative of the Counter- Terrorism Implementation Task Force.

I commend the Government of Thailand for having recently extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedures mandates of 7 the Human Rights Council and thus hope to conduct a mission there early next year. I would also like to mention that Egypt, a country visited by my predecessor in 2009, gave its assurance during the interactive dialogue at the 16th session of the Human Rights Council that the request for a second visit would be seriously and positively examined as soon as the current transitional phase in the political and governmental organization of Egypt is completed. I intend to continue the country mission follow-up procedure initiated by my predecessor and thank the Government of Spain for having replied to the follow-up communications sent to it and the Government of Peru for having provided updated information in relation to the implementation of the recommendations contained in my predecessor’s report on his country visit in 2010.

I will report on the follow-up procedure to the Human Rights Council at its 19th session. On a related issue, a letter requesting an update from States on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the joint global study on the practice of secret detention in the context of countering terrorism (A/HRC/13/42), is being sent by the four mandates that were involved in the preparation of the study. An important element of my mandate is cooperation with relevant United Nations entities active in the field of countering terrorism.

I am particularly 8 grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in the Secretary-General’s high level Symposium on International Counter-Terrorism Cooperation on 19 September of this year. In addition, I have been able to meet with the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning the imposition of sanctions on Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities, its Chair, as well as with the Ombudsperson earlier this week.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express my thanks for the invitations I have received to meet with the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force.

Honourable Chair, distinguished delegates

By way of conclusion I would like to make it clear once again that while I intend to pay appropriate attention to the important issues of victims’ rights and prevention of terrorism in the discharge of my mandate, these will not in any sense detract from my core responsibilities 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.

Thank you for your kind attention.