Human Rights Council Advisory Committee
18 February 2013
The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee this afternoon discussed a draft final report on human rights and issues relating to terrorist hostage-taking.
Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee and Rapporteur of the drafting group, introducing the draft final report (A/HRC/AC/10/2), said that the question of the definition of terrorism was a difficult one, but this was not a specialised legal paper. The important thing was to look at the human rights aspect and impact on local communities. A controversial issue had been raised, namely the impact of payment of ransom. A formal decision had been made by the African Union strongly condemning the payment of ransom. This was an important decision. The phenomenon of terrorist hostage-taking and ransoms had increased, with recent proliferation in north, west and east Africa in particular.
Mr. Heinz also referred to the dilemma of trying to cut financial resources of terrorist groups while on the other hand preventing any action that would result in the killing of hostages. What was needed now was a comprehensive strategy addressing causes, manifestations of consequences and those threats that posed a direct danger to hostages and local communities.
Committee Experts said that it was a fact that hostage-taking and kidnapping for ransom was one of the main sources of funding for terrorism, and that hostage-taking was also encouraged by its lucrativeness. Experts suggested that certain aspects should be looked into with more depth, such as addressing the difficulty of securing the release of hostages, and the human rights of hostage-takers once captured.
The following Committee members spoke on terrorist hostage-taking: Shigeki Sakamoto, Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, and Ahmer Bilal Soofi.
The following countries also took the floor: United States, Gabon on behalf of the African Group, and Algeria.
Mr. Heinz, in concluding remarks said that a number of interesting and important points had been made by members and by States that commented on the draft report. There would be some trouble in terms of the length of the document and deciding what and whether to cut, maintaining the flow of the document. The Rabat Memorandum on Good Practices for Effective Counterterrorism Practice in the Criminal Justice Sector could perhaps be added as an appendix for information.
The next public meeting of the Advisory Committee will be held on Tuesday, 19 February 2013, at 10 a.m., when it is scheduled to discuss standing items on gender perspective, democratic and equitable international order, and perspectives of persons with disabilities. It will also take up follow-up to reports submitted to the Human Rights Council on the promotion of the right of peoples to peace, and enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights.
Human Rights and Issues Related to Terrorist Hostage-Taking
LATIF HÜSEYNOV, Vice-President of the Advisory Committee, said that in resolution 18/10, the Human Rights Council had requested the Advisory Committee to prepare a study on issues related to terrorist hostage-taking and to promote awareness and understanding of this, with particular attention to human rights and the role of regional and international cooperation in this field. During its tenth session the Advisory Committee would consider the draft final report, prepared by Mr. Heinz on behalf of the drafting group.
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, Rapporteur of the Drafting Group, presenting the draft report said that since August 2012, many points of the draft report had been agreed upon and it had been updated. Memos had been sent to interested stakeholders to contribute to the study. A number of responses had been received from States, giving their view of the problem of terrorist hostage-taking. The idea was for the process to be as participatory as possible. The question of the definition of terrorism was a difficult one, but this was not a specialised legal paper. The important thing was to look at the human rights aspect and the impact on local communities. This was not a general study, it looked at specific aspects, and the role of regional and international organizations. A controversial issue had been noted, namely the impact of payment of ransom. There was an official policy by States stating that they would not facilitate ransom. According to existing literature, some things had happened informally and ransoms had been paid. A formal decision had been made by the African Union strongly condemning the payment of ransom. This was an important decision. There were different positions on legal instruments. Terrorist hostage-taking and payment of ransom had increased, with recent proliferation in north, west and east Africa in particular. A combined reading of existing instruments was necessary. Various instruments did not clearly address ransom or provide for the needs and rights of direct and indirect victims of terrorist hostage-taking. Others were underutilised, such as the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.
Mr. Heinz also referred to the dilemma of trying to cut the financial resources of terrorist groups while on the other hand preventing any action that would result in the killing of hostages. What was needed now was a comprehensive strategy addressing causes, manifestations of consequences and those threats that posed a direct danger to hostages and local communities. The Algiers Memorandum on Good Practices on Preventing and Denying the Benefits of Kidnapping for Ransom by Terrorists was one key paper.
SHIGEKI SAKAMOTO, Committee Expert, said that last month 10 innocent Japanese workers were killed during a hostage crisis in Algeria, despite exhausting efforts to secure their safe release and protection. According to an escapee, those persons were brutally killed by hostage takers demanding an end to French intervention in Mali. That crisis showed the importance and urgency of the topic and the discussion. The International Convention on the Taking of Hostages was the only binding treaty, treating it as a crime. The number of States parties to that Convention was 168. It was hoped that States not yet party would be recommended to ratify it in the Universal Periodic Review process; that would hopefully help and enhance the universality of that Convention. Also, criminalisation of the payment of ransom by Governmental and non-governmental actors remained controversial. It was a fact that hostage-taking and kidnapping for ransom were among the main sources of funding for terrorism. The African Union had already condemned the payment of ransom. Now was the time for countries of other regions to follow.
SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Committee Expert, said that the report was interesting and shed light on various issues. However, it was disappointing that while it was published in four languages, it was not published in Arabic and Mr. Al Faihani insisted on having it in Arabic. The report was rich in information on hostage taking but the causes were not addressed in full. For some it may be money but for others it was ideological. It was difficult to secure the release of hostages and this could result in bloodshed. This important issue should be concentrated on. Hostage-taking could be carried out by individuals, or groups, or individuals acting on behalf of entities. Such situations should be addressed properly. The human rights of victims were being concentrated on but those of hostage-takers once captured were not being dealt with.
LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, said that this was a very frank and direct report from a legal point of view. It showed the status of international law and uncertainties in the area. There was a link with the regime to combat terrorism. There was no universal definition of terrorism and this was an issue that required some thought. It was important for the report to clarify that there was a norm in international law prohibiting hostage-taking and that it also came under criminal law.
The payment of a ransom and the willingness to take hostages to make a profit fit in the context of the post-Cold War period and began in the 1990s. For all those who dealt with human rights and international law it showed how non-state actors of all types were growing. It was difficult to determine how to deal with this and what international law could do to put a stop to such criminal acts. The multi-actor view of the report was appreciated. It was a complex problem, and there was a whole group of individuals enmeshed in that machinery, including families of persons kidnapped. The report showed well that human rights had to take into account the interests of all those communities and groups.
United States said that the report was very thorough. Clearly there was a significant growth in kidnapping requiring systematic international engagement. Improved gathering of information as well as agreed mechanisms for hostage-taking management were necessary. The United States remained committed to raising awareness of the Algiers Memorandum and promoting the implementation of those best practices.
Gabon, on behalf of the African Group, said that ransom demands were a growing phenomenon and this was where the international community had to take urgent, concerted efforts in order to stop the negative effects. It would be good if the last procedural decisions taken could be conformed with and to have the title of the document revised to that of a provisional report. The Committee should concentrate its attention more on the various collateral effects of hostage-taking. The African Group was aware of the huge challenge of ensuring the human rights of victims, and it encouraged the Committee to go into more detail in order to respond to the terms mentioned in resolution 18/10.
Algeria said that there was no doubt that the financing of terrorism was one of the most powerful levers encouraging the phenomenon. The lucrative practices had a negative impact on the rights of hostages and the most vulnerable local elements. The international community had to persevere to arrive at criminalising the practice, a main source of financing of terrorism and organised crime. Algeria would also find it most desirable if the Advisory Committee could stick to the procedures established at the last session, and call the report a provisional report. There could be some more depth on the impact of paying ransoms and international cooperation to combat terrorism. Given the fact that one of the experts mentioned appropriately that there were grey areas surrounding the issue, the need to draft an international agreement prohibiting the payment of ransom could be looked into.
DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, said that the title of the document should indeed perhaps be changed. It seemed there was enough time to do some more work on that. It was a comprehensive document that had made a complete survey of the existing legal framework. There had also been useful work done by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The Advisory Committee had been asked by the Human Rights Council not to duplicate existing work, so a problem was created when other organizations or institutions had already done thorough work. Mr. Seetulsingh enquired as to what kind of value added the Committee could bring to this kind of work. While aware of fact that any report produced had to be confined to 20 pages there was a need to look at how to reduce the material in other parts of the report. On ransom it would be good to have an instrument to prevent ransom payment, but it was known that in many instances while countries or States said they would not, secret agreements were carried out where undercover payments were made, creating a serious problem.
AHMER BILAL SOOFI, Committee Expert, wondered whether or not the points included in the Rabat Memorandum on Good Practices for Effective Counterterrorism Practice in the Criminal Justice Sector should be included in the Committee’s report on human rights and issues related to terrorism.
WOFLGANG HEINZ, Chair of the Drafting Group, in concluding remarks said that a number of interesting and important points had been made by members and by States commenting on the draft report. There would be some trouble in terms of the length of the document and deciding what and whether to cut, maintaining the flow of the document. Mr. Heinz suggested that if there were any proposals, that they be put forward and it would be seen if any solution could be found if the length was found to be too long. Regarding the global anti-terrorism document, it had been circulated as a background document. It could perhaps be added as an appendix for information.
In the discussion on how forceful one should express the necessity to criminalise the payment of ransom, while there was a certain need and push for such a document, on the other hand there was a clear goal for some actors that hostages should be saved. It would be difficult to come down on one perspective or the other in terms of human rights. The leaning would be to keeping the balance for the time being. Mr. Heinz invited anyone with ideas or proposals on how to address this to communicate these, and work towards a revised document to be addressed in March 2014. In conclusion, Mr. Heinz thanked all those that helped to contribute to a high-quality document.
LATIF HÜSEYNOV, Vice President of the Advisory Committee, said that the deadline for submitting the report was 10 June 2013, so there was still time to submit observations and revise the text if necessary. There may be input during the session of the Human Rights Council.
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