There is a compelling argument to revise the prevailing Counter Terrorism (CT) strategies in order to move away from ones that undermine Human Rights (HR). The Institute for Economics and Peace Global Terrorism Index (GTI) (2016) reports fatalities from terrorist attacks have increased nine fold since 2000, arguably impacting on the pre text of counter terrorism (CT) strategies of many countries. The GTI also highlights 78% of all terrorist attack fatalities occur in five countries namely Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria with only 2.6% occurring in the West. Despite the realities of the terrorist threat in the West we have witnessed increases in CT budget’s and strategies that undermine HR. This has lead to criticisms of both military action in Afghanistan and other locations and domestic legislation in many Western countries. An example of controversial legislation would be the control order provisions of the UK Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), which was later repealed. Walker (2007) suggesting whilst such UK legislation was an attempt to fulfil a duty to protect, significant elements of the UK CT legislative framework was constitutionally deficient, lacking accountability and breaching HR.
President Obama’s Executive Order 13491 (2009) banning the U.S. government’s use of torture was also a rebuke to the Bush administration policies following the 9/11 attacks which authorised the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SCCI) (2014) reporting the CIA’s interrogation program had not produced unique or valuable intelligence, this was immediately countered by ex CIA officials by means of the CIA Saved Lives (2014) web site on which it was stated the interrogation program had disrupted terrorist plots. However, both parties’ arguments focus on the validity of the tactic being dependant on the veracity of the information obtained, completely ignoring the human, legal and social consequences of torture. The reality is increases in budgets, militarised activity, legislative enactments allowing breaches of HR, and other gross breaches of HR in the name of CT has not reduced the threat level. Schulz (2001) suggests any CT policy that does not respect HR is counter productive, advocating not only is a HR orientated CT strategy morally correct but would be more affective than the prevailing approach.
It would be argued Western CT strategies have focused on quick fix operational aims rather than strategic impact. As a result the impact on; the trajectory of the ‘war on terror’, inciting further extremism, the relationship between the US its allies and the wider Islamic global population, the West’s ability to legitimately promote democracy, human rights globally and security in post conflict or fragile states have not been considered. Western governments have failed to understand ideologies that manifest, as terrorism created as a consequence of real or perceived injustices cannot be resolved using traditional military interventions. A HR centred CT approach would be better equipped to challenge the ideologies that fuel terrorism across the globe. It is an understanding of political, social and economic grievances and an acknowledgement that not all terrorists or terrorist motivations are the same that is the key to undermining terrorism.
A starting point when considering a HR approach to CT would be HR are not a luxury we can enjoy during times of peace. Paust (2006) argues CT strategies that impact on civil liberties and limit democracy do more damage to HR than the acts of terrorism they seek to prevent. He cites the use of collective punishment tactics by Israeli authorities against families when one family member is allegedly involved in terrorist acts. He argues not only has this done nothing to reduce Palestinian terrorist attacks but has provided opportunity for those supporting violence to promote and reinforce their ideologies. It would be suggested CT strategies that have a human security focus based on HR principles rather than that of national security, would be better equipped to tackle the causes of terrorism. Whilst it is not being suggested attack planning plots should be ignored CT strategies that focuses exclusively on the violent outcomes of terrorist acts will have little success in reducing the threat as the grievances that drive the ideologies remain. This is a view held by the former head of the British Security Service, Baroness Manningham-Buller, (2011) who suggests states should seek political solutions and reconciliation in the context of terrorism as foreign policy directly affects conciliation efforts. She adds it is her belief that the UK involvement in the invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to the radicalisation of some UK citizens and did little to assist the security of the UK.
HR based CT strategies need to be coordinated transnationally and delivered with international consensus. They need to mobilise and engender national and international support, with particular emphasis in those areas of the globe that are disproportionately affected by terrorism. They should also support the advancement of international law and HR thus in turn promoting peace, security, and the rule of law globally particular within post conflict environments and locations experiencing fragile governance. This would encourage and enhance democracy and provide the supporting conditions needed for a reduction in the grievances that manifest as terrorism and promote effective conflict transformation and state building.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the Bush administration quickly framed the issues within the context of a ‘war on terror’ inferring some form of end game with winners and losers. This view failed to acknowledge terrorism itself is a tactic that can be potentially undermined or reduced but not eradicated. The response from the West was to adopt tactics suited to conventional military activity, leaving little space for any assessment of the grievances or motivations that was being represented through violent terrorist acts. The absence of any meaningful assessment exploring the broader implications of CT strategies that undermine HR resulting in a continuation of the prevailing attitudes.
Those who advocated human rights should not take precedents over the need to prevent terrorist attacks have opposed any debate suggesting the strategy adopted was an overreaction that could create social and political tensions and increase opportunities for radicalisation. This resulted in the absence of any meaningful dialogue and assessment of how a HR based approach to CT would be complementary to the ultimate aim of making people safe.
In the post 9/11 era immediate media reporting and globalisation has fuelled the popular misconception that international terrorism is one of the major threats to the West. However according to the World Economic Forum (2016) terrorism has not featured as a top ten global threat during the last ten years of reporting. Yet governments have chosen the option of immediate action focusing on operational aims rather than strategic outcomes. As a consequence we have seen a lack of international consensus and coordination in joint CT strategies that address the drivers of terrorism with emphasis rather on joint enforcement/military operations. Partnership working at an international level has been further complicated when considering that sovereign states have primary responsibility to protect their own citizens and combat terrorism in their county. However, when countries appear unwilling or unable to deliver against this and the threat posed is transnational in nature, challenges exist to both the international community and individual states in considering thresholds for intervention. The favoured option in these circumstances being military interventions for the purposes of expediency and short term gains.
Manningham-Buller, E. (2011) BCC Freedom, Securing Freedom: 2011 (episode 5), The Reith Lectures, London: BBC (44 mins) [online] available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b014pxnq (accessed on 19/07/2016).
CIA Saved Lives (2014) [online] available at https://ciasavedlives.com (accessed on 08/09/2016).
Institute for Economics and Peace (2016) Global Terrorism Index 2015 [online] available at http://economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Global-Terrorism-Index-2015.pdf (accessed on 14/08/2016).
Paust J, J. (2006) ‘Human Rights, Terrorism and Efforts to Combat Terrorism’ in: J. Mertus and J. Helsing (eds.). Human Rights and Conflict. Exploring the Links between Rights, Law and Peacebuilding. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SCCI) (2014) Study on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program [online] available at http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/senate-intelligence-committee-study-on-cia-detention-and-interrogation-program (accessed on 08/09/2016).
Schulz, W, F. (2001) In Our Own Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All, Boston: Beacon Press.
The National Archives UK Legislation (2005) Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005) [online] available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/2/contents (accessed on 14/08/2016).
The White House President Barack Obama (2009) [online] available at Executive Order 13491 — Ensuring Lawful Interrogations https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/ensuring-lawful-interrogations (accessed on 09/09/2016).
Walker, C. (2007) ‘Keeping control of terrorists without losing control of constitutionalism’, Stanford Law Review, 59(5): 1395.
World Economic Forum (2016) Insight Report Global Risks 2016, 11th Edition, Geneva: World Economic Forum, [online] available at http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GRR/WEF_GRR16.pdf (accessed on 30/06/2016).