As a frequent reader of Foreign Policy online Journal, I was going through my weekend reading yesterday morning. The journal was entirely taken up by the recent attacks in Paris, France and among them my attention was immediately caught by an article named ‘Tearing up the Magna Carta” on how fear risks trumping civil liberties in a Europe rattled by so called ‘Islamist terrorism’. The first thought that came to my mind while reading this article was; as human beings we are always left with two choices: the easiest, tearing up the Magna Carta and the toughest, attempting to reconcile human rights and counter terrorism. Which path would we take?
Today, we all live fearing blowback from ‘home-grown jihadist radicalisation of foreign wars’. This has been the biggest security concerns of most of the states over the last few years. It is a concern today more than ever before. One can understand the gravity of the situation when France’s former Interior Minister in 2003 (summer) claimed that returning Jihadists were ‘a ticking time bomb’. How do our governments address these challenges?
We often see our governments introducing laws on counter-terrorism or bringing amendments to the existing ones as a means of preventing such attacks and ensuring the safety and the security of the citizens. The real challenge for our governments today is to decide; as democracies do we fall into the trap of the terrorists and compromise the basic principles of human rights, our openness, rule of law and freedom and continue to provide legitimacy to their existence ? or are we open to find the right balance between human rights, social cohesion, freedom and counter terrorism?
Former Secretary General of the United Nations has observed that:
…compromising human rights … facilitates achievement of the terrorist’s objective – by ceding to [them] the moral high ground, and provoking tension, hatred and mistrust of government among precisely those parts of the population where he is most likely to find recruits. Upholding human rights is not merely compatible with successful counter-terrorism strategy. It is an essential element.
As someone who have lived through a conflict during most of my life, the popular discourse on reconciling human rights and counter-terrorism has been that human rights laws are often inflexible and does not pave the way for government efforts to effectively respond to danger. However, it is also important to keep it in mind that the birth of human rights law also was in the midst of conflicts. Hence, it also leaves provisions to strike a balance between security interests and the rights.
For example, it recognises that sometimes individual rights need to be balanced against the need to protect collective security. ICCPR further envisages that human rights may be justifiably infringed by states in times of public emergency without suspending the basic human rights such as the right to life and the right not to be subject to torture.
While this is the case in technical terms, our real challenge lies in practical terrain. In this unique contemporary context, the governments should not build grand theories that punish an entire race for the detrimental terrorist acts of one or two individuals of that community. Let’s ensure our counter terrorism policies focus on one race or community! Governments with long democratic traditions cannot afford to fall into the trap of the terrorists by tearing up Magna Carta.
At the same time, in order to reconcile human rights with counter-terrorism strategies the society as a whole need to fulfil its duty too. Under neo-liberal economic framework, we have settled to be in our comfort zones more as individuals than a holistic society. This very nature of individualism has been used as a weapon by the terrorists to destabilize our societies. While we need to maintain the openness and freedom in our societies, we also maintain social relationships with our neighbours, our colleagues, our fellow citizens to ensure the feeling of belongingness and responsibility. This will preserve the cohesive nature of our societies and the rights of all. Together we are much stronger! Our diversity will stand as our strength!