UN Rights Experts Watch Pendulum Swing in ‘War on Terror’

Posted by Bulatlat

GENEVA — UN human rights experts saw torture, Military prisons and deprivation of civil liberties rear their ugly head in the post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism drive, including in the very countries where they least expected to see such steps.

“After Sept. 11, 2001 there was an alarming trend of the Western world closing its eyes when anything was done in the name of fighting terrorism,” explained Martin Scheinin, the UN special rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism.

“States are taking measures that bit-by-bit cut our established human rights. That affects everybody, all citizens in every country.”

Five years on, the US government is suddenly facing a string of negative Supreme Court verdicts at home, pressure from Congress and condemnation by key United Nations human rights watchdogs for some of the measures it took in its “war on terror.”

And the spotlight is also shining more intensely on other countries where efforts to tackle a terrorist threat are invoked as a justification to weaken human rights protection, Scheinin said.

“The story of human rights and counter-terrorism is not simply a nightmare that’s getting worse,” he told AFP.

“We are dealing with a pendulum,” Scheinin added, highlighting the “promising” swing produced by recent national judicial rulings and international human rights bodies.

In a report to the UN’s top human rights forum earlier this year, the Finnish law professor identified five worrying “trends” in counter-terrorism efforts.

They include the “compromising” of an international ban on torture and degrading or inhuman treatment, and a resurgence of states clamping down on political opponents, ethnic groups or “people they simply don’t like.”

Scheinin also highlighted tightened immigration controls that resort to racial, ethnic or religious profiling, the softening of legal safeguards for suspects in police investigations, and attempts to prosecute people for “apology” of terrorism.

But the torture issue stands out for the human rights community.

“Nine-eleven was a major change,” said Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture.

“For the first time in the history of human rights protection, the absolute prohibition of torture has been put in question not only by dictatorships but also by those democracies that are most directly targeted by the terrorist threat.”

In June, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour warned that secret detention centers for terror suspects alleged to have been set up by the United States abroad “have a corrosive effect on the rule of law.”

“There the danger is greater that people are subjected to torture than in a known place of detention such as Guantanamo Bay,” Nowak explained.

A month later the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees the world’s core treaty on civil and political rights, concluded after examining US arguments that Washington must abolish those centers.

In May, the UN Committee on Torture told the US to eradicate abuses by its personnel, shut the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and stop handing detainees over to countries where they could be at risk.

That legal scrutiny underlined clear limits to what can be done, according to the UN experts.

Yet, Western countries still seem ready to overstep the mark, according to Nowak.

He highlighted British moves to expel suspects to Algeria, or to Jordan, Libya and Lebanon based on a pledge that they would not be mistreated.

“In Jordan my fact-finding confirmed that it is not safe to send people back there, even on the basis of diplomatic assurances,” the Austrian expert said.

Many “less democratic states” hold up US measures as a justification for their approach to fighting terrorism, he added.

Scheinin has detected more repression in Central Asian republics.

Nowak expects Russian authorities to raise similar justification for their conduct of more than a decade of conflict with Chechen and Islamist rebels during his mission there in October. AFP / Posted by Bulatlat

Sept. 8, 2006

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