Header image for news printout

Statement of the Coordination Committee at the 23rd Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Boko Haram

1 April 2015

Mr. President, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delivering this statement on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. In light of the subject of this Special Session, Ben Emmerson, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, associates himself with this statement.

We would like to express our deepest concern at the human rights and humanitarian crisis caused by the continuing violence and appalling atrocities of Boko Haram in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

We are extremely alarmed at the extent and nature of human rights abuses taking place in the countries where Boko Haram operates and the heavy price paid by civilians, including indiscriminate and violent mass attacks and killings. The fact that women and children are particularly targeted – with hundreds of women and girls abducted, raped and enslaved; with young men and boys being forcefully recruited and used to spread terror ; and with children being used by the group as human shields is particularly appalling. Over the years, the violence and cruelty shown by Boko Haram has forced more than one million to flee. This has a lasting impact of on all human rights, civil, cultural, economic, political and social and is threatening the stability of the region as a whole, as violence could also increase in neighbouring countries.

We express our unequivocal condemnation of terrorism, in all its forms, wherever it occurs and under all circumstances. Pretending to advance opinions with violence and destruction is unacceptable. We therefore support efforts made by States to prevent and combat these acts. It is indeed the responsibility of States to restore law and order, and ensure that all perpetrators are brought to justice. However, all measures taken, including security or counter-terror operations, should be conducted in full conformity with international law, in particular human rights, refugee and humanitarian law. These measures should uphold the rule of law and human rights, not undermine them. They should also respect the principles of legality, proportionality, non-discrimination and necessity. Should we forget that primary goal, we will only undermine further the values and principles we are expected to defend. This is also imperative for these measures to be truly effective.

We recall that, when countering terrorism, the first duty of any State is to protect the lives of its citizens, as well as of all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction. This includes the duty to take lawful and proportionate measures aimed at preventing a real and immediate threat to life from acts of terrorism; the duty to conduct thorough, independent and impartial investigations when it is plausibly alleged that this positive obligation has been violated; the duty to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of acts of terrorism in a manner consistent with international standards; and the duty to afford adequate reparation as well as medical and psycho-social support to victims of terrorism.

The rationale behind this is that the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is not incompatible with security. This has been the spirit of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted in 2006, which is intended to be the first comprehensive international statement of obligations resting on States to combat terrorism, and to promote international co-operation within a rule of law framework.

In the context of the Strategy, Member States agreed to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism through measures aiming, inter alia, at eradicating poverty, promoting economic growth, and reinforcing development and social inclusion agendas, recognizing that success in that area, could reduce marginalization and the subsequent sense of victimization that propels extremism and the recruitment of terrorists.

Security Council resolution 1963 (2010) reiterates that violations of human rights are one of the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. It also recognizes, for the first time in a UNSC resolution, that terrorism would not be defeated by military force, law enforcement measures, and intelligence operations alone, and underlines the need to strengthen the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and pursuant to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, certain rights are absolute and cannot be derogated, under any circumstance. These include the right to life (Article 6), freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7), as well as slavery or servitude (Article 8 paragraphs 1 and 2), the principle of legal certainty and non-retroactivity in the application of the criminal law (Article 15), freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 18), as well as freedom from return to a country where there’s a risk of torture (CAT article 3).

Any measure of derogation from the other rights guaranteed by the Covenant must be made, when possible, in strict conformity with the provisions of its Article 4.

Furthermore, under customary international law, the following rights are also considered to be non-derogable: the right of all persons deprived of liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect; the fair trial standards; the prohibitions against the taking of hostages, abductions or unacknowledged detention; the international protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities; the deportation or the forcible transfer of population; the prohibition against propaganda for war or in advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that would constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence; and the prohibition of “refoulement” towards torture.

Yet, counter-terrorism measures often pose serious challenges to economic, social and cultural rights. States therefore need to be mindful of their duty to ensure the conditions allowing all people living within their jurisdiction to enjoy all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. This is particularly important as the promotion of those rights should be seen as a means of addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and hence of preventing acts of terrorism.

Mr. President, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the counter-terrorism context, the essence of lawful State action remains the striking of a fair and proportionate balance between the requirements of national security and public safety, on the one hand, and all individuals’ enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, on the other, in such a manner that none of these rights and freedoms are curtailed in essence.

The experience of the last decade shows that to be effective counter-terrorism policies or measures should also address the root-causes and conditions that are conducive to the emergence and spread of terrorism.

This involves addressing those circumstances that may provide fertile soil for recruitment to movements that promise a prospect for change but resort to the unacceptable means of acts of terrorism. These include for instance poverty and unequitable economic development, marginalisation of minority groups, political oppression, deficits in good governance and polarizations of ethnic and religious characteristics.

Given the wide range and significance of these matters, there can’t be a single response to these questions. They show, however, how urgent is the need to engage in a comprehensive security and prevention strategy, combining both law enforcement with dialogue, inclusion and development, in an effort to tackle not only the manifestations of terrorism, but to address its root-causes in the region. There are several positive community-led initiatives that are providing effective non-security responses on local levels to the challenges of Boko Haram and these should be further strengthened.

Mr. President, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We conclude by highlighting what is becoming obvious to all: what better than the plague of terrorism to remind us all of the inter-relatedness of three pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, human development, and human rights. They go hand in hand, in a mutually reinforcing manner. More than ever, the Special Procedures human rights mandate holders stand ready to provide their independent assistance, expertise and advice to this Human Rights Council, its Member States and to the Governments and societies of the countries concerned.

In recent months, several special procedures have addressed the abuses committed by Boko Haram as well as the responses by States. Some mandate holders visited the countries concerned recently, sent communications or issued press releases. We are ready to continue assisting States in this regard and strongly encourage them to make use of our advice and expertise in designing the appropriate response to the challenges posed by Boko Haram. We welcome the fact that Cameroun, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have all extended a standing invitation to special procedures and call on them to cooperate fully with us. In this context, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, is in contact with Nigeria about a visit which he hopes will take place as soon as possible at a mutually agreed date. We also urge States to respond positively to outstanding requests for visit made by other mandate holders1.

Thank you.

1. In particular the request from the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit Cameroon, and the requests from the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, violence against women, hazardous substances and wastes, and water and sanitation to visit Nigeria.