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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism at the Twentieth Session of the Human Rights Council

20 June 2012

Honourable President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since last Saturday morning 125 people have been killed, and 334 people have been seriously wounded, in 14 separate terrorist attacks in different parts of the world. And we are only just half-way through the week.

Early on Saturday morning a vehicle bomb was detonated at a busy bus terminal in Landi Kotal in north west Pakistan, about 50 km west of Peshawar, killing two people and leaving at least 80 people with serious injuries.

Shortly afterwards in nearby Kohat a bomb planted in a handcart killed seven civilians.

During the early part of the same afternoon, in the Kadhimiya area of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded close to a holy shrine, at the end of a Shia religious festival commemorating the life and death of the Imam Musa Kadhim. 18 pilgrims were killed, and another 35 were seriously injured. According to government sources, many of the victims were women and children.

At about the same time, on a busy highway leading northwest from the city, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb killing 14 people, and wounding another 32.

Also on Saturday a suicide bomber attacked a civic facility in Afgoye near Mogadishu in Somalia. The number of casualties is currently unknown.
The following morning, in the city of Zaria in Northern Nigeria suicide bombers attacked two Christian churches during crowded Sunday services, killing at least one person and injuring 51.

Half an hour later a third suicide bomber detonated a bomb during a church service in nearby Kaduna killing ten people and causing serious injuries to another 29.

On Monday 22 people were killed and another 50 seriously injured at a Shiite funeral in Iraq; 17 civilians were killed and another 17 seriously injured in two separate bomb attacks in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan; and a 40 kg bomb exploded underneath a bus carrying technology students to college in Quetta, in south west Pakistan killing 5 of the students and injuring another 40.

Monday also witnessed the murder of Sayed Fashafsheh, an Arab construction worker from Haifa and a father of four children, who was killed when an unidentified armed group fired a rocket launcher and detonated explosives aimed at two vehicles carrying civilians employed in building a security fence along a section of the border between Israel and Egypt near the Sinai peninsula.

Later on Monday afternoon a senior member of Yemeni military and two other men, were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of their car in the Mansoura district of Aden.

And just yesterday, 25 people were killed in the city of Damaturu in the north east of Nigeria in a series of attacks in which two schools were burned down.
That is the toll so far this week. Rather than asking for a minute's silence to remember the victims, I am here before the Council, on their behalf and on behalf of countless others to ask for action.

The international community knows of these deaths as statistics. But the world knows very little, or nothing at all, about the human tragedies that lie behind each and every one of them. The pain and horror of the blasts themselves, the carnage visible among the rubble, the smell of death, dust and blood, the dreadful life-blighting injuries, the endless psychological damage for those present and nearby, as well as those left behind, the families that lie shattered, the permanent loss of livelihoods.


Ironically, it is precisely because of the sheer scale of these dreadful tragedies that we have almost lost sight of the humanity and individuality of the victims. In most cases, we don't even know their names.

But the human cost of terrorism has been felt in virtually every corner of the globe. The United Nations family has itself suffered tragic human loss as a result of violent terrorist acts. The attack on its offices in Baghdad on 19 August 2003 claimed the lives of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 other men and women, and injured over 150 others, some very seriously.

In the room with us today is a brave and principled woman whose husband was among those killed in the Baghdad bombing. She speaks with calm eloquence about the effects that this dreadful event has had upon her and her young son who was three weeks old at the time. There were 11 different nationalities among the victims of that particular bombing, and 5 nationalities among those accused of having perpetrated it. Because the attack happened during the period of occupation, she received a death certificate issued by the US military which was not recognised by the civilian authorities in her country of origin. It took her six months to have the death registered, during which time her bank accounts were frozen. These are the indignities the world knows nothing about.

She learned from the media that one of the men accused of her husband's murder had been arrested and handed over to the Iraqi authorities and sentenced to death. She wrote immediately to the Secretary-General asking him to intervene to prevent the death penalty from being carried out only to discover that he had already been executed. She and the other victims were entirely excluded from the process of seeking accountability. To this day she has been unable to find out the basis for the case against her husband's killers, or to obtain any meaningful information about the way in which he met his death.

As she told the first UN Symposium on Victims of Terrorism in September 2008, the failure to deliver open and fair justice violated not only the rights of the suspects, but also the rights of the victims. Locking up suspects in secret detention centres deprives the victims of the right to effective redress.

For a number of years, she has received her husband's personal possessions through the post without warning, reviving the trauma of the moment she heard the news and feared the worst. She permanently strives to control her ever-lasting fear. Every time she is in an airport, every time she sees workers unloading a truck, she finds herself having to hold back a stab of panic. Like many other victims of terrorism she is calling today for the adoption of a single normative framework setting out the rights of victims of terrorism, and the corresponding obligations on States.

Honourable President,

Terrorism has a very real and direct impact on human rights, with devastating consequences for the right to life, liberty and physical integrity of victims and their families. States therefore have an obligation to ensure the human rights of their nationals and others by taking positive measures to protect them against the threat of terrorist acts and by bringing the perpetrators to justice in fair and public trials before independent and impartial civilian courts.

Over the last decade, however, some States, including States with a proud record of respect for human rights and the rule of law, have been willing to abandon those core values on the pretext of defending them. In the end the politicians and officials responsible for human rights abuse in counter-terrorism strategies will always seek to justify what they do on the ground that they are protecting the next generation of victims.

The report that I am presenting today aims to shine the light of truth on this murky lie. In identifying the core human rights obligations of States towards the victims of terrorism, I have consulted widely with victims representatives, and with the victims themselves. I have tried to do justice to their experience. And I can tell you that their call is not for more torture, or for more human rights abuse, in countering terrorism. Their call is for the recognition of their human rights through adoption of a single normative framework which acknowledges their suffering, protects them from further abuse, and provides adequate support and reparation.

It is a striking fact that despite the proliferation of international instruments dealing with counter-terrorism co-operation, there is none that directly addresses the rights of the victims. The victims want that put right. They want to know that the international community stands shoulder to shoulder with them, that it is prepared to demonstrate that commitment, and they want to hear that message from States loud and clear during the interactive dialogue this afternoon.
Allow me to make 5 short points about the Framework Principles set out in the Report.

The first is that the Framework Principles are not just about compensation. They set out a series of rights that are already recognised by regional human rights treaty bodies concerning State's obligations to take reasonable care to prevent acts of terrorism from occurring; to conduct prompt, independent and impartial investigations, with a view to securing accountability and learning lessons for the future; to ensure that victims of terrorism have an adequate opportunity to participate in the fair and public administration of criminal justice; to ensure that the privacy and physical integrity of the survivors and families are protected; and to guarantee their rights to form representative organisations. Whilst these rights have been recognised at regional level, they have not so far been fully protected on the international plane. That is why I am recommending the adoption of a specific international instrument, negotiated under the auspices of the UN.

Secondly, I am today calling on all States voluntarily to accept a new binding international obligation to provide compensation and other forms of reparation and support to all victims of terrorism. There is an important protection gap here. At present States are only obliged under international law to pay compensation for an act of terrorism where public officials are found to have been at fault in some way. But to require the victims to bear the burden of proving fault on the part of a public authority, when all of the evidence is in the hands of the State, and much of it will be classified, is unfair, unjustified and inhuman.
The terrorists themselves cannot of course pay adequate compensation for the massive damage they set out to inflict. And in the end, the victims have been targeted because of some perceived grievance that the terrorists have against the State or against international organisations like the UN. They are unwilling martyrs in a battle that is not their own. Modern terrorism knows no international boundaries. And it is therefore a collective responsibility of the international community to demonstrate solidarity with the victims and to provide them with the necessary support.

I recognise of course that the proposal for the payment of compensation irrespective of fault on the part of the State has significant budgetary implications for some States. But there are a number of modern financing solutions available, including through sovereign wealth fund management options. As Special Rapporteur I am on hand and available to provide technical advice to States on the various mechanisms that are available for financing a compensation scheme, without imposing a disproportionate burden on central funds. Money need not be, and should not be, an obstacle to doing justice in this sphere.
Thirdly, as I have emphasised, the report calls on States to take steps towards the adoption of a specific international instrument. But the report should not be read only as a call for an international instrument. It also urges States, immediately to review their national laws and practices for compliance with the Framework Principles, and to make any necessary amendments to bring domestic law and practice into line.

To that end I will be sending follow-up letters to States immediately after this session of the Council, asking them to provide, by the end of September, detailed information on their current national law and procedure, and its compatibility with the framework principles, with a view to the compilation and publication of a global review so that the most pressing protection gaps can be identified, and so that States and civil society can enter into an informed dialogue with one another, and perhaps also learn from one another's experiences.

The fourth point I want to make relates to the principled stance I have taken concerning the human rights responsibilities of non-state actors. The report invites States to recognise that all acts of terrorism in which civilians are killed or seriously injured amount to gross human rights violations when viewed from the perspective of the victim. I want to make it absolutely clear that this does not imply any respite at all in the human rights obligations that rest exclusively on States. Indeed quite the reverse. This report is all about ensuring that States discharge their obligations towards the victims. It is, nonetheless, my belief that human rights law needs broadly to conform with the views of the men and women around the world whose rights and interests it exists to protect. And if one were to ask any man or woman, in any capital city, in any country in the world, whether the mass killing of innocent civilians in a terrorist attack of the kind I have described earlier is a human rights violation they would tell you that the answer is obvious.

But I recognise that many States, and many international NGOs, take the principled view that international law only imposes human rights obligations on States and comparable entities, and that otherwise acts of terrorism are to be categorised as grave crimes and not as grave human rights violations. This is an entirely legitimate debate which will no doubt continue over the coming decade.

But for today the important point is that acceptance of the recommendations in this report, including the recommendation that States voluntarily accept a new international obligation to compensate all victims of terrorism, is in no way dependent upon acceptance of this aspect of the legal analysis set out in the report. The two are not inextricably bound up, and States with different legal stances on this issue may nonetheless agree on the action that now needs to be taken.

The fifth point I want to make is this. You will see from the final recommendation in the Report that I am calling on States to ensure that the Framework Principles are properly factored into the review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy which is due to take place at the General Assembly in New York on 28 and 29 June. I would urge all States to ensure that this happens, and to take the opportunity to raise the Framework Principles during the interactive dialogue at the General Assembly. I am particularly grateful to those that already indicated that they will do so, and wish to point out that I will be on hand in New York during the review process for consultation.

Finally, may I commend the Human Rights Council for adopting resolution 17/8 and recommending that 19 August be designated as the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism. I would like to take this opportunity to urge States to ensure that this recommendation is given due priority by the General Assembly.

Honourable President,

The Global Counter- Terrorism Strategy places the promotion of human rights at the centre of the fight against terrorism. Raising awareness of the human tragedies caused by terrorism should be at the very core of our counter-terrorism strategy. The proposals in this report must go hand in hand with renewed commitment to respecting human rights across the board in States' counter-terrorism policies. Over the past decade, international human rights law has undergone a crisis of public and political confidence. By making it clear that the law is there to protect the victims and not just those who are suspected of terrorism, the international community can start to restore those basic principles of human rights law that have taken such a sustained battering.

Honourable President, distinguished delegates, thank you for your kind attention.