Where Are We Going?: CT and Human Rights

On the 7th of December 2010, ICCT and the Centre for Terrorism and Counter-terrorism (CTC) of Leiden University – Campus The Hague hosted a seminar on the nexus of counter-terrorism measures and human rights entitled ‘Where Are We Going?: Is the double helix of human rights and counter-terrorism moving upwards or downwards?’. Keynote speaker Professor Amos Guiora (University of Utah) analysed the American experience and ICCT Research Fellow Dr. Quirine Eijkman looked at the current situation in Europe and the Netherlands in particular.

Keynote Lectures

Professor Guiora reflected on counter-terrorism legislation and policy in the US, arguing that US decision makers primarily react tactically to terrorism, lacking a long-term strategy. Consequently, the question to what extent human, social and economic costs are acceptable in countering terrorism, remains unanswered.

Effective policy should always include checks and balances relating to respect for human and civil rights vis-à-vis ensuring national security. Furthermore, Guiora stressed that some fundamental rights such as the right to the freedom of religion relate to the causes of terrorism and should therefore be viewed with caution. In response to the question whether the double helix of human rights and counter-terrorism is moving upwards or downwards, Guiora was pessimistic, noting that little has changed in the US and human rights are still severely under attack.

Dr. Eijkman analysed the effect of counterterrorism strategies on human rights compliance in Europe and the Netherlands. The so called ‘Dutch approach’ has focused largely on preventing terrorist attacks and countering radicalisation. Although this strategy has some advantages, it also has its setbacks in terms of limiting the right to fair trial and the right to privacy. The effect of Dutch counter-terrorism measures remains unclear and, therefore, the limitations to fundamental human rights – such as the right to a fair trial and respect of privacy – remain to be justified.

The European counter-terrorism approach differs from the US approach. Rather than introducing a completely new legal framework, the Dutch government chose to amend segments of the existing criminal and administrative legal rules and procedures. Dr. Eijkman argued that the limitations of human rights can be justified to some extent and under very particular conditions to protect for example national security interests. Nevertheless, adequate checks and balances in terms of accountability of the executive power are always required. She concluded that the double helix of human rights and counter-terrorism in the Netherlands is neither moving upwards nor downwards, because although counter-terrorism strategies have limited particular human rights too little integral scientific research has been conducted on the long-term effect.

After the presentations, a lively debate commenced with the audience on what judicial framework would serve best in relation to counter-terrorism and to what extent non-state actors could play a role in reviewing the execution of the measures.

Recommendations

1. The seminar stressed that the importance of definitions and labels should be considered by law- and policymakers. For example, what is terrorism and who should be considered a terrorist.

2. The seminar concluded that strategic considerations in counter-terrorism policy making are required and that these should have a long term perspective, taking into account the protection of basic human rights and freedoms.