‘Liberticidal anti-terror laws must go’

International rights advocacy group says laws used pretext of fighting “terror” to legalise discrimination and torture.

inside iraq''s torture dungeons
Baudouin, left, says his group is afraid it will be difficult to undo what has been done in the past decade [FIDH]

As the United States positioned itself to respond to the September 11, 2001, attacks against it, it began by rearranging more than just military assets, but legislative ones, too.

In addition to an Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which granted the US president far-reaching powers to “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organisations, or persons he determines planned, authorised, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks”, the United States went on to pass the infamous USA PATRIOT Act, which greatly reduced the restrictions on law enforcement and intelligence agencies when it came to carrying out surveillance, electronic and otherwise, on persons within and outside the country.

Other countries followed suit, and the last 10 years have seen a raft of new anti-terrorism legislation put in place, from Pakistan to Britain, from India to the Philippines.

The International Federation for Human Rights, an international rights advocacy group, however, in a recent report, argued that many of these laws use the “pretext” of fighting “terrorism” in order to legalise discrimination and the use of practices such as torture and extrajudicial assassinations.

As Patrick Baudouin, the honorary president of the FIDH has put it, there was a widespread use of “propaganda that legitimated violations of the right to freedom, on the pretext of fighting terrorism and conveyed through a reflex of well-stoked and manipulated fear, led to the gradual abandonment of the essential values of humanity”.

Al Jazeera spoke to Baudouin about his organisation’s report, and the group’s expectations for change in worldwide anti-terrorism laws, 10 years on from the 9/11 attacks.

Q. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, several countries adopted practices aimed at securing themselves against any further attacks – indeed many would argue that the measures have been largely successful, given the lack of a follow-up attack on the United States, for example. Can you identify, however, the ‘red lines’ across which a measure goes from being merely ‘harsh’ to ‘liberticidal’, a term that the FIDH has used?


The FIDH called the laws adopted in the aftermath of 11 September ‘liberticidal’ since they are exceptional laws intended to enhance security by impeding on individual freedoms. It is inadmissible, for instance, to have authorised an unlimited period of detention of a person merely suspected of terrorism without precise charges and without any control by a magistrate. And detention is often accompanied by ill treatment.
Not only are such processes completely illegal, but we are not convinced that they are really effective, because at the worldwide level, terrorism has not declined, in comparison with the beginning of the year 2000.

Q. The FIDH also says that several governments have used the increased acceptance of draconian anti-terrorism legislation as a pretext to follow policies that are antithetical to human rights and aimed at groups that are only tangentially related to global ‘terrorism’. Can you identify notable uses of this ‘pretext’, in terms of countries and who they have targeted/what they have done ‘with impunity’?

In Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Chile, and even Uganda, anti-terrorism laws adopted or reinforced after September 11 were used to curb all forms of protest, to prevent opponents and human rights defenders from speaking.

Authoritarian regimes that, before 11 September, had been criticised by democratic countries, were granted a sort of blank cheque and enjoyed complete impunity for their actions on the fallacious pretext of a joint fight against terrorism. 

Q. What do you think is the link between Western governments’ support for authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa and the ‘Arab Spring’ popular protest movements against rulers in that region? 

The unconditional support by Western governments for authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa, based on the erroneous idea that these regimes were a rampart against terrorism and Islamism helped these regimes strengthen their policies on suppressing individual freedom. The increased radicalism of the dictatorial regimes indeed was one of the causes of the ‘Arab Spring’ protest. 

Q. How would you say the United Nations has acted, in terms of defending human rights in the arena of international anti-terrorism legislation? Has it been an effective body?

The United Nations has consistently repeated that human rights must be fully respected while fighting against terrorism. In 2005, the Human Rights Commission appointed a Special Rapporteur for the protection and promotion of human rights in the fight against terrorism, an appointment that has contributed to taking into consideration this important dimension at the international level. 

Q. Realistically, do you expect these measures to be rolled back by governments in the coming years, or are these controls, legislative and otherwise, here to stay?

We are afraid that it will be difficult to undo what has been done during the last 10 years, because the measures that curb liberties, which originally only targeted the fight against terrorism, have gradually been extended to apply to other fields, such as organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering. 

The emotion triggered by terrorist activities, legitimate as it may be, has stoked an irrational reaction in public opinion, which has become generally favourable to more severe repression, and all too often, the governing authorities demagogically decide merely to adhere to these opinions.

Hence it will be very difficult to undo these measures. But FIDH will continue to call for the abrogation of the special laws now in force. 

Source: Al Jazeera


Al Jazeera meets Imam Muhammad Shamsi Ali, who has been leading interfaith initiatives at New York City’s largest mosque.

Published On 6 Sep 2011
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