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International Standards on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism

Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights

The counter-terrorism legal regime comprises overlapping bodies of legal norms and systems, including international human rights, humanitarian, refugee, and international criminal law. When designing, implementing and assessing counter-terrorism measures, States must always fully comply with their customary and treaty obligations under these legal regimes.

Listed below are the treaties, conventions, resolutions, and other legal instruments that form the basis for these obligations, categorized by source and by thematic area.

Relevant Legal Instruments Categorized by Source

Sectoral Counter-Terrorism Conventions and Protocols
Under the auspices of the United Nations, the international community has adopted 19 conventions and protocols to prevent certain enumerated terrorist acts, categorized by sector below.

Human Rights Treaties
Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community has adopted more than seventy human rights treaties. The following core human rights treaties and protocols are of particular relevance in the counter-terrorism space.

  • International Human Rights Treaties and Protocols
    • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Optional Protocols (1966, 1966, 1986)
    • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Optional Protocol (1966, 2008)
    • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
    • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol (1979, 1999)
    • Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol (1984, 2002)
    • Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols (1989, 2000, 2011)
    • International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990)
    • International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (1992)
    • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (2006)
  • General Comments and Recommendations: Human rights treaty bodies publish interpretations of the provisions of its respective human rights treaty in the form of “general comments” or “general recommendations” (compiled here). The following general comments adopted by the Human Rights Committee frequently arise in the counter-terrorism context.
    • General Comment No. 8 (Right to liberty and security of persons)
    • General Comment No. 13 (Administration of justice)
    • General Comment No. 16 (Right to privacy)
    • General Comment No. 18 (Non-discrimination)
    • General Comment No. 20 (Prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment)
    • General Comment No. 21 (Human treatment of persons deprived of liberty)
    • General Comment No. 27 (Freedom of movement)
    • General Comment No. 29 (Derogation during state of emergency)
    • General Comment No. 34 (freedom of opinion and expression)
  • Regional Human Rights Treaties: States may also have treaty obligations stemming from regional human rights instruments, including the below.

Humanitarian Law Conventions and Protocols
International humanitarian law contains several provisions that expressly prohibit acts of terrorism or otherwise implicate counter-terrorism efforts, including the below. While international humanitarian law pertains to situations of armed conflict, international human rights law is applicable at all times and to all persons.

Refugee Law Convention and Protocol
States are obligated to enforce minimum protections provided under international refugee law, including the principle of non-refoulement, including pursuant to the below instruments.

United Nations Resolutions
The UN General Assembly adopted by consensus the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (General Assembly Resolution 60/288 ) on 8 September 2006. The General Assembly reviews the Strategy every two years, making it a living document attuned to Member States’ counter-terrorism priorities. The seventh review resolution was adopted on 30 June 2021.

In addition, State obligations stem from the following Security Council, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council resolutions.

Regional Counter-Terrorism Instruments

Relevant Legal Instruments Categorized by Thematic Area

Foreign (Terrorist) Fighters

Information and Communications Technologies

Financing of Terrorism

Victims of Terrorism

Gender Equality