DEVIL DOES NOT LOVE HOLY WATER: Balancing Terrorism And Human Rights

By Zile Singh


Since 1963, the United Nations has enacted 19 international legal instruments to prevent terrorist acts.  On December 6, 2018, speaking at the UN Global Counter-Terrorism  Coordination Meeting the UN Secretary-General said, “Policies that limit human rights only end up alienating the very communities they aim to protect and which normally have every interest in fighting extremism.  Such policies can effectively drive people into the hands of terrorists and undermine our efforts on prevention.”  He also  urged greater vigilance against the misuse of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Drones and 3D Printing, as well as against the use of hate-speech and distortion of religious beliefs by extremist and terrorist groups.


As per a Resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 after the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, terrorism creates an environment that destroys the freedom from fear of the people.  The Resolution condemned all acts, methods and practices of terrorism.  The main aim of terrorism is not only to kill or harm a particular person or a group of persons but to create a sense of terror and fear among the people in general.  The United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 1377 adopted in November 2001 declared that acts of terrorism constitute one of the most serious threats to international peace and security in the twenty-first century and “a challenge to all States and to all humanity.”


In view of the escalation in terrorist activities in the world, is it fair and necessary to provide the same  human rights to terrorists as are being provided to other law -abiding  and peace- loving  citizens of a State?  It becomes even more serious matter when it has been confirmed that the terrorist activities are not just within their own State borders but these activities are trans-borders.  A question also arises when an Asylee  or a Refugee   turns  a terrorist against his own Sate from where he fled.   In that case should it be understood that the State which granted him the asylum/ refugee status has become a safe heaven and breeding ground for his  terrorist activities.


On the above questions, there are two views.  According to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  Article 2 states, “ Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  The expression “everyone is entitled..” may mean that there cannot be any exception.  However, an exception can be made in  case of an Emergency only.  Some States have stipulated some reasonable restrictions on absolute freedoms.  Unfortunately, Some have not.


The another view is that ‘ terrorism is terrorism’.  Those who pursue terrorist activities must be punished regardless of  political sympathy or nationality on the ground that the terrorists  violate the human rights of others.  Thus, they render themselves susceptible to losing their own human rights.


The above two views are opposite to each other.  The first view favours the terrorists and is against the State and  the public at large.  The second view favours the government and is against the terrorists.   Thus while considering the question of providing human rights to the terrorists, it has to be taken into account the impact of terrorist activities on the security of the  society as a whole and the sovereignty  and integrity of the State. In countering terrorism, no doubt, there will be the repression and violation of the human rights of the terrorists but such acts on behalf of the government shall be justifiable as they are being taken in the larger interest of the society and the State.  Terrorism is an assault against the society and the institutions which protect the liberty and security of the citizens.  It has to be curbed in order to maintain peaceful international relations and cooperation. Human rights cannot justify undermining national security in every case and in all circumstances.  States are required to maintain a balance between counter-terrorism measures and human rights.


Punishment to the terrorists has been stipulated under a number of UN Conventions with specific cases of terrorism such as aircraft hijacking, taking of hostages, prevention and punishment of crimes against internationally protected persons.  It is the duty of the State to examine the relations of the  terrorists with other internationally  recognized terrorist  organizations in other countries.  Their activities are to be examined in all  forms and manifestations and whether the so-called terrorists are drug runners and money launderers.  Mutual cooperation among States in exchange of relevant information and apprehension of terrorist acts is of paramount importance.  Though in 2005,  a Strategy to Fight Terrorism has been endorsed by 192 UN Member States, a lack of political will of some  States and their determination to suppress it are largely responsible in the increase of terrorist activities.  A Declaration of 1994 on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism states that, “ terrorist acts are in any circumstances unjustifiable whatever the consideration of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”


Finally, the freedom to “ Praise the Lord and pass the Ammunition”  needs to be  nipped in the bud because, “ the devil loves no holy water.”


Mr. Zile Singh is much respected Link Columnist, writer, a Vipassana Meditator and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Rights.  He can be reached at zsnirwal@yahoo.ca






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