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Terrorism: “It’s not just about compensation” – UN expert calls for international action for victims’ rights

GENEVA (22 June 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, urged world governments who “collectively face the threat of terrorism to collectively protect victims’ rights,” and called for the adoption of a single international legal framework setting out the rights of victims of terrorism, and the corresponding obligations on States.

“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,” Mr. Emmerson said during the presentation of his annual report* to the UN Human Rights Council. “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.”

However, the independent expert stressed that the victims’ call is “not for more torture, nor for more human rights abuse in countering terrorism,” and warned that some States have been willing to abandon core human rights 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 grounds that they are protecting the next generation of victims,” he said.

“The victims’ call is not for more torture, nor for more human rights abuse, in countering terrorism,” Mr. Emmerson noted. “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.”

The ‘Framework Principles’ proposed by the Special Rapporteur “are not just about compensation.” They set out a series of rights that are already recognised by regional human rights bodies concerning States’ 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.

The Principles also call on States 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 the regional level, they have not so far been fully protected on the international plane,” he said. “That is why I am recommending the adoption of a specific international instrument, negotiated under the auspices of the UN.”

“Over the past decade, international human rights law has undergone a crisis of public and political confidence,” Mr. Emmerson recalled. “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.”

In his message to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights encouraged States to consider his proposals in the upcoming review at the UN General Assembly of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

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. Leran more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Terrorism/Pages/SRTerrorismIndex.aspx

(*) Check the full report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A-HRC-20-14_en.pdf

Watch the Special Rapporteur on OHCHR YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDkPfjQ_woE

The Special Rapporteur also presented a Follow-up report to country missions to Egypt, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Spain, Turkey and the United States of America: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A-HRC-20-14-Add2_E_S.pdf

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

For more information and media requests please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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