In the face of terrorism, ensuring security for all requires rigorous respect for freedoms and consistent policies

Press release
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(Paris) In recent days, appalling acts of terrorism have been carried out notably in Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and France, affecting civilian victims of many different nationalities.

FIDH and its member organisations have voiced their immense distress, condemned these barbaric and cowardly crimes and expressed their condolences to the victims’ families. At the same time, they have drawn on tragic and countless lessons learned from their lengthy experience to warn of the potentially dramatic consequences of ramping up security.

“Wherever securitarianism has replaced policy since 2001, arbitrary unlawfulness, extremists and even terrorist groups have developed. Terrorists feed on arbitrariness and no democratic leader can rightfully claim to be unaware of this."

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

As Daesh terrorist activity enters a new international phase, FIDH is launching a formal appeal to the States concerned to ensure that they guarantee the security of citizens while fully complying with human rights, and pursue consistent national and global policies to effectively counter this scourge.

Terrorism must be countered to guarantee the security of citizens, itself a fundamental right. The determination to achieve this can take different forms, such as increasing operational resources in support of police forces and information-gathering, consolidating mutual support between international criminal justice systems and combating funding for terrorism. Classifying terrorist acts also as international crimes, particularly as crimes against humanity if necessary, should make it possible for there to be a more global and consistent criminal justice response to planned and concerted attacks, the scale of which is being measured today, and to understand the motivating forces behind them.

Counter-productive and inefficient emergency legislation

Experience tragically demonstrates how this fight must not under any circumstances be disengaged from the rule of law and from guaranteeing respect for human rights in accordance with international norms. Extraordinary policies and legislation adopted in the past in response to acts of terrorism have proven ineffective. They have always led to the principles proudly vaunted by the regimes concerned being violated, sometimes in a systematic fashion and often involving total impunity: racism and discrimination based on ethnicity or nationality, acts of violence, undermining justice, violations of the right to a fair trial, gagging of the media and civil society, serious infringements of the right to privacy and freedom of expression, discrimination against women, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, displaced populations and refugees.

Such serious human rights violations now represent the everyday experience of many societies and citizens whose regimes have exploited legitimate fear for their political ends. Extreme security measures, motivated by an emergency situation and/or electoral or short-term considerations, often endure: the exception becomes the norm, the special dispensation becomes law and the temporary becomes definitive. In many countries, the serious violations resulting from such policies foster incomprehension, intolerance, identity ghettoisation, racism and even the sense of revenge which encourages terrorism. Such policies have ultimately been diverted from their original goal and used instead in many countries to stifle peaceful opposition. FIDH points to the potentially disastrous consequences of exclusively adopting a restricted security approach, which leads to a surrendering of collective intelligence. FIDH calls on leaders tempted by such measures to have the political courage to resist them.

The consequences of the Patriot Act adopted in the United States following 11 September 2001 or the tough security laws adopted in Russia, Egypt and numerous other countries are salutary. They have led to the criminalising of activities by civil society organisations and to serious violations of human rights, as illustrated by the arbitrary acts at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, violations which were finally condemned in 2015 by a US Senate report in which these practices were established as illegal and ineffective. Having failed to limit terrorism, they have, on the contrary, encouraged it.

In its 2003 resolution 1456 and in subsequent resolutions, the United Nations Security Council has emphasised that States must ensure that the measures they take to counter terrorism comply with all their international obligations and respect the norms of international law, particularly instruments relating to human rights, refugee law and humanitarian law. It is the responsibility of these States to guarantee to protect the freedoms that civil societies have the right to demand and to exercise.

Adopting consistent national and international policies

FIDH also underlines that the fight against terrorism cannot under any circumstances rely on regimes or groups which themselves seriously infringe human rights or indeed which support or defend Islamic fundamentalism. This option is wholly at odds with counter-terrorism objectives. It poses a serious threat to the security of many societies and civilian populations and exacerbates and even generates extremism.

In addition, FIDH warns the leaders concerned against any form of support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the name of combating terrorism. FIDH points out that the regime in Damascus is principally responsible for the Syrian conflict, including the rise of Daesh. FIDH also calls on States to distance themselves from the suspicion of direct or indirect support for regimes or groups that encourage terrorism. FIDH therefore calls on States to reconsider their diplomatic relations with Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar given the long-acknowledged support they afford Islamist or terrorist groups. This review must include arms sales to and support for such regimes which, moreover, commit serious acts of violence against their own citizens and civilian populations.

Furthermore, even internationally mandated military interventions to combat terrorism have never demonstrated that they are effective and have often made the human rights situation worse in the countries concerned. FIDH and its member organisations, particularly those in countries of North Africa and the Middle East confronting terrorist groups at home, emphasise that the effectiveness of counter-terrorism must be based significantly more on diplomatic and peaceful dialogue, on supporting the consolidation by States of human rights laws and on an ambitious programme of cooperation, including major support for independent civil society organisations and for all players in a pluralist and tolerant society.

Lastly, FIDH believes it crucial that national policies to combat discrimination, inequality and stigmatisation be implemented in accordance with international conventions safeguarding human rights. The absence of such measures can only foster the rejection of policies and the discrediting of democratic institutions and contribute to the rise of extremism.

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