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Counter-Terrorism Laws Compromise and Weaken Family Life, Warns Special Rapporteur on Protecting Human Rights while Countering Terrorism

4 March 2021

Council Concludes Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

The Human Rights Council this afternoon started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, who presented her report on the human rights impact of counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism policies and practices on the rights of women, girls and the family.  The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on countering terrorism, said her report had a focus on women, girls and the family.  Despite two decades of the women, peace and security agenda, security spaces remained overwhelmingly male and masculine in culture.  Gender in counter terrorism was no more than rhetoric, a catchy phrase used by many States.  Family life was compromised and weakened by counter-terrorism laws, with citizenship stripping having devastating effects.  The Special Rapporteur expressed concern over the fact that entire families were suspected and singled out for surveillance - in particular Muslim minority families.  Regarding the arbitrary detention of women and girls in northeast Syria, repatriation, however unpopular, remained the only way to solve this crisis. 

In the discussion, speakers said that the report’s finding that expansive counter-terrorism regulation disrupted domestic and private lives was eye-opening, in particular with regard to the impact of mass surveillance, the arrest and detention of family members, counter-terrorism financing laws and sanction regimes.  The specific needs of women and girls who were victims and survivors of acts of terrorism were not being met and the international community had to ensure that counter-terrorism measures were not used to stifle the work of women human rights defenders.  The identification of gender mainstreaming and gendered effects of counter terrorism, violent extremism and security laws were welcomed. 

Speaking were Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Mexico on behalf of a group of Latin American countries, Denmark on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, Qatar, United Nations Children's Fund, France, Philippines, Libya, Russian Federation, Mauritania, Iraq, Senegal, Greece, Maldives, Switzerland, Indonesia, Armenia, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Iran, India, Burkina Faso, Malta, Pakistan, United States, Egypt, Cameroon, Malaysia, China, Syria, Fiji, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Ireland, Panama, Georgia, UN Women, Tunisia and Sudan.
The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship, Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort, European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, Society for Threatened Peoples, and Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with
David R.  Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.  A summary of the start of that interactive dialogue can be found here.

Speakers emphasised that the report showed clearly that the lack of access to water in many countries was not a matter of its physical availability but of power, poverty and inequality.  Speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur that safe and sufficient water was essential for survival, and was one of the key components of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  The changing climate was identified as one of the major factors affecting the availability of and access to water throughout the world, as was pollution and over-exploitation.  International cooperation between States was important to ensure that water was accessible, with new and innovative partnerships needed. 

Speaking were Switzerland, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Pakistan, United States, Egypt, Peru, Cameroon, Spain, Nepal, Algeria, Uruguay, Austria, China, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Fiji, Botswana, Ethiopia, United Kingdom, Sudan, Cuba, Cyprus, Bangladesh, Côte d'Ivoire, Panama, Djibouti, Georgia, Kenya, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Ukraine, Chile, Mauritius, El Salvador and Sierra Leone.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Franciscans International, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Universal Rights Group, Make Mothers Matter, Earthjustice, VIVAT International, Lutheran World Federation, Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, and Conselho Indigenista Missionário.

Mr. Boyd, in his concluding remarks, said that a rights-based approach was needed in climate change policies to address the climate change emergency.  Restoring wetlands and reforestation, nature-based climate solutions and prohibiting activities that caused water pollution were all needed activities.  Four global trends were alarming - climate change emergency, loss of biodiversity, pervasive rise of pollution of water and air, and emerging infectious diseases of zoonotic origin such as COVID-19.

At the end of the meeting, Armenia, China, Brazil and Azerbaijan, spoke in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session can be found here

The Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 March, to conclude the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations Relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment

The interactive dialogue with David R.  Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, started in a previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Interactive Dialogue

In the discussion, speakers emphasised that the report showed clearly that the lack of access to water in many countries was not a matter of its physical availability but of power, poverty and inequality.  Speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur that safe and sufficient water was essential for survival, and that it was one of the key components of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  The changing climate was identified as one of the major factors affecting the availability of, and access to water throughout the world: water-related disasters were more frequent, while pollution and over-exploitation had intensified.  Climate change also often acted as a risk multiplier in areas that were already affected by poverty and conflict.  Small island developing states, least developed countries and landlocked nations, many of whom spoke during the discussion, struggled to get by and were particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change on water availability and access, while the per capita water footprint in wealthy nations was thousands of litres.  Addressing root causes of climate change was paramount. 

Speakers supported water conservation, reuse and recycling, and sought advice from the Special Rapporteur on these activities.  How could the gender perspective be included into the seven steps that States could take to fulfil their obligations, as outlined in the report?  Some speakers noted with concern that the report cited the unilateral use of transboundary water resources as a best practice.  The lack of legislation that protected and recognized the human right to water with international standards had resulted in poor regulation, privatization, dispossession and hoarding of water resources.  It was important to include indigenous communities in water management policies and decision-making processes.  Water must not be financialised and exposed to speculation and market fluctuations, as speakers expressed their alarm over the recent announcement of the creation of the world’s first futures market in water.  The COVID-19 crisis had jeopardized the little progress made prior, reflecting “business as usual under steroids” as environmental procedures were reduced under the pretext of rapid recovery. 

Concluding Remarks

DAVID R.  BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed deep inequalities.  The international community could not expect the poorest countries to tackle all of their services without assistance.  He pointed out that global development assistance to water management was less than $ 10 billion.  If the 2030 Agenda was to be fulfilled this had to be scaled up.  A rights-based approach was needed in climate change policies to address the climate change emergency.  Restoring wetlands and reforestation, nature-based climate solutions, and prohibiting activities that caused water pollution were all needed activities.  Four global trends were alarming - climate change emergency, loss of biodiversity, pervasive rise of pollution of water and air, and emerging infectious diseases of zoonotic origin such as COVID-19.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism A/HRC/46/36 on the human rights impact of counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism policies and practices on the rights of women, girls and the family

Presentation of the Report

FIONNUALA NÍ AOLÁIN, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, noted that 2021 was a critical and reflective year as the world marked the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, negotiated a renewed global counter-terrorism strategy and its budget, and addressed multiple anniversaries of sanctions, listing, and pivotal United Nations Security Council resolutions.  Regarding the mandate’s work during the past year, the Special Rapporteur said she had submitted a report to the General Assembly, cooperated with Switzerland and Canada on individual communications, and experienced positive cooperation with the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan on the return and repatriation of women and children.  The report had a focus on women, girls and the family.  Despite two decades of the women, peace and security agenda at the Security Council and beyond, security spaces remained overwhelmingly male and masculine in culture.  Gendering countering terrorism was no more than mere rhetoric, a catch phrase used by many States.  She was particularly troubled by the systematic misuse of anti-terrorism regulations targeting women human rights defenders.  Broad, imprecise, legally unsound definitions of terrorism facilitated this, and Ms. Aoláin was clear - defending women’s rights was not terrorism.

Family life was compromised and weakened by counter-terrorism laws, with citizenship stripping having devastating effects.  The Special Rapporteur expressed concern over the fact that some families were suspected and singled out for surveillance - in particular Muslim minority families - while others enjoyed the privilege of privacy.  Family courts became sites of national security practices in certain countries in an example of the unaccountable creep of security practices.  The report paid close attention to women as victims of terrorism - States needed to adopt a human rights-based approach to victims.  Regarding the arbitrary detention of women and girls in northeast Syria, repatriation, however unpopular, remained the only way to solve this crisis.  Ms. Aoláin was unrelentingly appalled by the treatment of children in camps such as Al Hawl and Roj, applauding some States for making consistent efforts to repatriate their nationals.  She was pleased that States sought specific advice on the legal concept and human rights meaning of ‘effects of terrorism’, and to provide that she maintained an expert dialogue with the Advisory Committee, with a report pending. 

Interactive Dialogue

In the discussion, speakers said that the report’s finding that expansive counter-terrorism regulation disrupted domestic and private lives was eye-opening, in particular with regard to the impact of mass surveillance, the arrest and detention of family members, counter-terrorism financing laws and sanction regimes.  The specific needs of women and girls who were victims and survivors of acts of terrorism were not being met and the international community had to ensure that counter-terrorism measures were not used to stifle the work of women human rights defenders.  The identification of gender mainstreaming and gendered effects of counter terrorism, violent extremism and security laws were welcomed.  The fight against terrorism had to include women as well.  Due to the current health crisis, the activities of online violent extremists were becoming more prominent.  Some States noted that family law and the role of women were subject to local contexts and moral norms and should not be part of the mandate of the Rapporteur.  Some speakers noted that some States did not allow for the repatriation of foreign fighters who were their nationals.  How could the Council advance some concrete actions when it came to victims of terrorism?

Interim Remarks

FIONNUALA NÍ AOLÁIN, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, underscored the importance of a rights-based approach when it came to protecting the victims of terrorism.  As for repatriation, specifically of children, the situation in camps was horrific, there were more than 60,000 persons, mostly children under the age of 10.  It was becoming more difficult to manage the situation, so countries were urged to initiate return and repatriation.  The role of Belgium in the protection of children in situations of armed conflicts was appreciated.  Ensuring gender equality had both short-term and long-term benefits for policies countering terrorism as well.  

Interactive Dialogue

Some speakers noted that preventative measures such as de-radicalisation programmes, as well as rehabilitating and reintegrating former radicals back into society, were the most effective ways of countering terrorism.  Speakers reminded States of their obligation to repatriate their citizens in accordance with international law and while respecting national sovereignty; Special Procedure mandate holders must disassociate themselves from activities that threatened the territorial integrity of States.  Gender stereotypes of women being presented as either victims or peacemakers simplified the diversity of roles that women played in countering or participating in violent movements.  Inequality and discrimination were rampant in security spaces as well, with both the portrayal of terrorism, as well as counter-terrorism activities themselves, rife with gender stereotyping, patriarchal and misogynistic ideas, which was why this report was so important and timely.  Speakers were worried about the increased cooperation of Governments with extremist anti-religious organizations under the guise of counter-terrorist rhetoric, intensifying an already hostile climate towards religions and beliefs.  Daily religious practices and expression should not be conflated with terrorism. 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/afternoon-counter-terrorism-laws-compromise-and-weaken-family