Video message by Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights at the High-Level Conference on Human Rights, Civil Society and Counter-Terrorism (Málaga, Spain, 10 May 2022).
This is a discussion about human rights as a building block for trust.
Acts of terrorism remain a real and ever-present threat to international peace and security. They tear down rule of law and democracy and decimate the rights to life, liberty and physical integrity.
Terrorism seeks to shatter trust, one of the most vital elements we have to maintain healthy, sustainable and peaceful societies.
Yet counter-terrorism responses which do not respect human rights destroy trust further, and are deeply damaging to entire societies.
Today, we witness a gamut of counter-terrorism measures which blatantly violate human rights.
Many measures undermine rights to fair trial and due process. They make use of wide executive powers with inadequate safeguards and limited oversight.
Additionally, flagrant discrimination and differential treatment lie all too often at the heart of current counter-terrorism responses. We see law enforcement and surveillance measures which profile individuals based on race, ethnicity, religion or political opinion. We see people and civil society actors with dissenting views targeted by counter-terrorism measures and subjected to criminal sanctions, or proscribed as terrorists or terrorist organizations.
Often, repercussions are felt far beyond one individual. In some contexts, discriminatory counter-terrorism measures contribute to stigmatization of civil society organizations and those expressing dissenting political views. They perpetuate discrimination, hostility and violence towards entire racial, ethnic and religious minority groups.
Measures that discriminate erode trust both between people and their governments, and amongst communities and societies.
And our world becomes even less secure than previously.
So, in my next report on this issue to be presented to the 50th session of the Human Rights Council, I will focus on the impact of counter-terrorism measures on the right to non-discrimination and the principle of equality.
I briefly want to draw your attention to the situation in northeast Syria, where, as you know thousands of third country nationals and Syrians –who may have alleged or actual links or family ties to designated terrorist groups- are held in overcrowded detention facilities and camps. Thousands of lives, including women and children, remain in limbo.
My Office is taking an active role in the implementation of the Global Framework for UN Support on Syria/Iraq Third Country National Returnees to ensure that human rights are central to the return process, as well as accountability processes for offences allegedly committed by returning adults. I welcome States who have proactively taken back their nationals and commend others who are reconsidering their position on repatriation. However, it is alarming that some States have resorted to depriving some individuals of their nationality, de facto eliminating the possibility for repatriation.
I emphasize that under international human rights law, arbitrary or discriminatory deprivation of nationality is illegal.
A durable, dignified, and safe solution to all individuals held in these camps and prisons is long overdue. I reiterate my call to countries of origin to take resolute and broader action to facilitate the safe repatriation of their nationals.
As the Secretary-General has said, counter-terrorism responses require human rights reset.
The question is: how can we achieve this?
I will raise one aspect of this 'reset' – participation. I urge States to encourage and respect vibrant debate. Participation – when it involves real listening, honest dialogue and helps identify common ground – is the most effective way to build bridges. We need to bring different voices to the decision-making table - individuals, civil society and National Human Rights Institutions – and particularly communities that are negatively impacted by counter-terrorism measures.
These efforts should not be tokenistic. Participation that is effective means that individuals and civil society have power to influence outcomes. Combatting terrorism sustainably requires inclusive and meaningful participation of the people who are brave enough to speak up.
It also means concerted efforts to ensure the safety and protection of those who take the courageous step to speak up about human rights or criticize counter-terrorism measures.
We thus have to redouble our efforts to protect these all-important voices. For this, States should guarantee that their national constitutional, legal and strategic frameworks are anchored in international human rights law and ensure space for civil society participation. States also need to assess and address any negative impacts of counter-terrorism measures that might stifle participation.
Ultimately, the best recipe we have for preserving and rebuilding trust is the full respect for human rights.
The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy underscores this, outlining the core role that human rights play in both preventing and responding to terrorism.
Let us work together to guarantee that human rights, equality and dignity remain central to this fight, and in doing so restore and preserve the trust so crucial to safe and democratic societies.