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Do not criminalize extreme views – UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism

GENEVA (15 March 2016) – The peaceful expression of views that are considered ‘extreme’ should never be criminalised unless they are associated with violence, said the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of human rights while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, during the presentation of his report looking at the human rights impact of measures to counter violent extremism*.

“Governments must be careful in responding to the dangerous grey zone of expression where speech is not a direct call for action but prepares the ground for violent action. There is now a troubling trend of criminalising the ‘glorification’ of terrorism – we need to look not just at the words but at the speaker’s intention and the impact they have,” the UN expert said.

The Special Rapporteur’s report is in part a response to the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action of Preventing Violent Extremism, presented recently to the General Assembly. While the UN expert welcomes the Secretary General’s emphasis on addressing the underlying grievances that foster violent extremism and terrorism, he warns that, just as with terrorism, there is no generally accepted definition of “violent extremism”.

“Some States have misused these poorly defined concepts to suppress political opposition or ideological dissent from mainstream values”, Mr. Emmerson noted, “legislation against extremism has in some instances been used against journalists, religious groups or critics of state policy and this is not acceptable”.

The report says for the offence of incitement to terrorism to comply with international law it must, among other conditions, include an actual risk that the act incited will be committed and will be truly terrorist in nature.

Addressing the role of the Internet in the recruitment and radicalisation of individuals, the human rights expert reminds States that the ban on certain sites should not be generic but content-specific and independent judicial recourse must be available.

The Special Rapporteur also warns against requiring educators to act as watchdogs or intelligence officers or steps which could discourage them from discussing controversial topics.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report (A/HRC/31/65):   http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session31/Pages/ListReports.aspx

Mr. Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) is the 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, renewed by the UN Human Rights Council for a three year period in December 2007, in September 2010 and again in March 2013. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Terrorism/Pages/SRTerrorismIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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

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