Possible shift of freedom, security balance grips UN human rights body
Emine Kart - GENEVA
AFP photoThe use of terrorism legislation by governments as a tool to suppress freedom of expression is not a discussion limited to Turkey or elsewhere, as the United Nations human rights body has become preoccupied with the same discussion with two separate draft resolutions favoring different stances on the issue.
The U.N. Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 31st regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva was opened on Feb. 29 and scheduled to end on March 24. In the wake of coordinated terrorist attacks on Brussels on March 22 and claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), civil society organizations have become more alarmed over the prospects of seeing the body’s members sacrifice civil liberties in a shift of the delicate balance between security and freedom.
A resolution led by Mexico and titled entitled “Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism: mandate of the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism” went to a vote on March 23 after the Hürriyet Daily News went to print.
Turkey, has been a co-sponsor of the bill but did not vote because it is not currently a member of the HRC.
“[Proponents] decide to extend the mandate of the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism for a period of three years in the same terms,” said the Mexican-sponsored draft.
“[The draft] requests that all governments cooperate fully with the special rapporteur in the performance of the tasks and duties mandated, including by responding promptly to the special rapporteur’s urgent appeals and providing the information requested and calls upon all governments to give serious consideration to responding favorably to the requests of the special rapporteur to visit their countries.”
Meanwhile, a resolution led by Egypt and presented jointly along with Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and entitled “Effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of all human rights” is scheduled to be voted on March 24. As of March 23, Turkey was not among the co-sponsors.
Civil society organizations lobbying at Palais des Nations were concerned that the resolution would undermine civil society and respect for human rights.
Instrumentalization of terror victims
London-based free speech and human rights organization ARTICLE 19, joined by leading civil society organizations, has written to states at the HRC to urge them to either defer or vote against the draft resolution proposed by Egypt.
The letter argued that the draft resolution does not conform to the HRC’s mandate, and if adopted, would undermine existing international human rights standards, including on freedom of expression. “This would potentially be used to justify over-broad counter-terrorism measures that are abused to target civil society, journalists and human rights defenders,” they said.
The letter called on all states to ensure that “resolutions of the HRC do not instrumentalize the victims of terrorism to undermine international human rights law.” Instead, the HRC must reaffirm that civil society space and freedom of expression are essential to secure societies, they said.
“Though the sponsors have presented this draft resolution and its predecessor as victim-centered, little in the resolution responds to the needs of victims, but instead uses this as a basis to justify measures that too often violate human rights,” said the letter.
In addition to concern over a potential shift in the balance of freedoms and security, many in the corridors of the Palais des Nations have questioned the message the U.N. body would give to the world with two separate resolutions on an issue like terrorism.