Securing fair trials for terrorist suspects

“Ensuring both the promotion and protection of human rights and effective counter‐terrorism measures can raise serious practical challenges for States,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, at the opening a United Nations regional meeting in Bangkok on fair trial for suspects of terrorism. However, he added, “increased reliance on intelligence information, without sufficient consideration for safeguards against abuses, represents a serious challenge to the right to a fair trial.”

Airline passenger checked by a body scanner at Schiphol airport, Netherlands © KeystoneŠimonović said “Acts of terrorism are criminal offences and should be investigated, prosecuted and judged with the same degree of rigour as any other criminal offence”

The two-day meeting, organized by the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), is the first of a series of regional experts symposiums on issues related to the protection of human rights in the context of countering terrorism.

CTITF is a body established by the United Nations in 2005 to strengthen coordination and coherence of the organisation’s counter-terrorism efforts.

Šimonović recalled – as the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has stated previously – that “upholding human rights creates a climate of trust between States and those under their jurisdiction, which is the very foundation of effective responses to global challenges such as terrorism.” 

Safeguarding human rights, he said, increases both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of counter-terrorism measures, while upholding human dignity. 

“Ultimately, this was the core commitment that States signalled when they adopted the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and the fundamental objective of all States, striving to provide security to all those in their territory,” he said.

The meeting discussed the main features of judicial proceedings in the context of fighting terrorism. It highlighted the importance of the framework set by the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted in 2006, which places human rights at the centre of the fight against terrorism.

Participants noted that counter-terrorism strategies must include respect for all human rights, as this is the only way to ensure that they are effective. They focused on the importance of applying “normal” criminal justice to cases of terrorism, away from regimes of exception.

They assessed the challenges to implementing the requirements for fair trial as set out in international human rights law, identified other rights key to securing a fair trial in the context of counter-terrorism and exchanged good practices with respect to the protection of human rights in this regard.

The meeting, which took place on 17 and 18 February 2011 in Bangkok, Thailand, was attended by 60 participants from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. They included judges and other officials of the ministries of justice, prosecutors, international law experts, civil society representatives, and CTITF members. It was sponsored by the Netherlands and Sweden.

An initial set of guidelines will be produced by the CTITF’s Human Rights Working Group, led by OHCHR, to offer guidance to UN Member States on how human rights can best be protected in the context of fair trial.

11 March 2011