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What is permissible and what is not when countering terrorism? UN experts welcome new African guidelines

GENEVA (7 April 2016) – A group of eighteen United Nations independent experts* has welcomed the new Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa launched this year by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

Speaking ahead of an upcoming ACHPR’s panel discussion in Banjul, The Gambia (11 April), in which Member States will be briefed on the new Principles and Guidelines, the UN experts called on all African governments to fully implement the Commission’s recommendations in order to respect human rights in the context of fighting terrorism.

“We commend the ACHPR’s effort to draw a clear line of demarcation between what is permissible and what is not, when countering terrorism.

Against a growing trend of countries moving away from international legal norms and standards on a global scale and at a time when terrorist groups, such as ISIS, Boko Haram or less known ones, are bringing harm and suffering to countless people in Africa, this document represents a principled stand on human rights and the rule of law in the Continent.

The essence of lawful State action, when countering terrorism, requires States to protect national security and public safety in full respect of individuals’ human rights and fundamental freedoms, while recognizing that many rights are absolute and that human rights abuses often lead to or exacerbate pre-existing tension and instability.

All strategies and policies adopted by States to counter terrorism must be firmly grounded in and comply with international law, in particular human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law. It also remains a priority that the death penalty is not used for terrorism-related cases.

In the exceptional circumstances when rights-limiting measures are considered, their potential impact on women, children, migrants, ethnic and religious communities or any other specific group must also be considered. All measures must be subject to effective parliamentary and judicial scrutiny.

Particular attention should be paid to any impact on freedom of expression, privacy, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as on the legitimate work of human rights defenders. Measures that specifically target individuals or groups, whether in law or practice, must be necessary, proportionally applied and not discriminatory on any basis, including religion, ethnicity, nationality or migratory status. When individuals are subjected to human rights abuses, they must have access to an effective remedy.

We hope that the ACHPR Principles and Guidelines will help to bring additional coherence among national endeavors in Africa to promote and protect human rights while adding value to international efforts relating to the prevention and combating of terrorism.

The effective implementation of these Principles and Guidelines in accordance with United Nations counter-terrorism norms and standards can give Africa a welcome opportunity to further enhance its role as a key partner in the international community towards upholding international law and safeguarding human rights and global security.

Initiatives such as the Principles and Guidelines are undoubtedly steps in the right direction. However, while acknowledging the efforts made in the regional context in attempting to define terrorism, achieving an international consensus on what constitutes terrorism remains equally important.”

NOTE TO EDITORS: The ACHPR Principles and Guidelines outline the fundamental human rights principles, norms and standards applicable in the African region that are most commonly engaged when countering terrorism.

These include the right to life; the absolute prohibition of torture, refoulement, enforced disappearances and discrimination; the independence of justice; the prohibition on arbitrary arrest and detention; the right to due process and fair trial; the protection of civil society actors, including human rights defenders and journalists, as well as the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and the right to participate in public life; the need to ensure accountability of private security contractors; and people’s right to truth and privacy. The Principles and Guidelines also specifically address the human rights of the victims of terrorism and the corresponding obligations of States.

Within the framework of the Principles and Guidelines, States must also cooperate on strengthening and implementing counter-terrorism strategies and measures while always respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Check the new Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa:

Arabic: http://www.achpr.org/ar/mechanisms/human-rights-defenders/Principles-Gudelines/
English: http://www.achpr.org/mechanisms/human-rights-defenders/Principles-Gudelines/
French: http://www.achpr.org/fr/mechanisms/human-rights-defenders/Principles-Gudelines/
Portuguese: http://www.achpr.org/pt/mechanisms/human-rights-defenders/Principles-Gudelines/

(*) The experts: Mr. Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism; Mr. Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Mónica Pinto, UN Special Rapporteur on independence of the judiciary; the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Joseph Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy; Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Mr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Mr. François Crepeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Mr. Mutuma Ruteere, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Ms. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. Elzbieta Karska, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination; and Mr. Alfred De Zayas, UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups 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 

For more information and media requests please contact Alessandro Marra (+41 22 917 9870 / amarra@ohchr.org) or write to srct@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN mandates:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)