In this essay I will try to prove that the war on terror has contributed to the increased human rights abuse in the U.S. and across the world. I will mainly focus on the U.K. and the U.S. and refer to 9/11 attacks on the U.S. since this event changed how the two nations dealt with terror groups and terror activities. I will also scrutinize the meaning of human rights and terrorism and how this has changed after 9/11.
According to the United Nations (UN):
Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. (University of Akureyri Faculty of Law and Social Sciences 10)
The University of Akureyr says the UN acknowledges that the main function of the international human rights is to obligate member states to act accordingly with an aim of promoting and protecting human rights (10). Terrorism can be defined as an act of killing, injuring or taking civilians as hostages with an aim of instilling public fear or force an authority to do or not to do something.
For the purpose of this paper I will focus on two researches; the research by the International Council on Human Rights Policy in 2002 seeking to find the long-term implications, for human rights activists, of the 9/11 and the aftermath reactions. And I will also focus on the research by University of Akureyri which seeks to establish whether human rights in the UK are in jeopardy following the increased international anti-terrorist laws.
Before 9/11 the UK government had a lot of cases filed against it for various violations of human rights by its officials. After the new laws were passed following 9/11 the number of cases filed against the UK has ironically reduced despite the increase in terror threats and active wars (not putting into consideration the war against colonies). According to University of Akureyri, the European Court of Human Rights had, in 130 cases, found the UK guilty of violation of human rights against terror suspects, families and a few logistics companies (University of Akureyri Faculty of Law and Social Sciences 23). 130 is a significant decrease after the government made it legal for security personnel to bypass human rights laws.
Immediately after the attack, the United States government announced that it will take an international approach in pursuing the 9/11 perpetrators. Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as “axes of evil” (Sammakia, 7). The United States with the aid of the United Kingdom entered Afghanistan in pursuit of Taliban forces leaving a trail of destruction, unstable government, and a dreadful humanitarian crisis. Lots of civilians were either killed, injured or displaced in the Afghanistan war raising concerns of the efficiency of international human rights law against terror laws.
In 2001 the UK wrote the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act that gave authorities the power to raid and inspect suspected premises and deny specific persons access to premises. The Act also gave power to anti-terror personnel to bypass aviation laws giving them the freedom to detain aircrafts, confiscate communication equipments and flight manifests. Such actions are violations of human rights.
Some people may argue that it is necessary to bend some laws, in this case, human rights law, in order to safeguard others from terror. Such people reason that terrorism is a human rights violation too. This reasoning is misinformed and invalid since “On the basis of this, human rights groups (and governments themselves) don’t treat all abuses in the same manner” (Sammakia, 10). In fact they distinguish between crimes committed by discipline forces under instructions from the government from those committed by armed militia belonging to terror groups. Armed militia doesn’t have the goodwill of the people at heart. They fight against authority for personal gain whereas government forces fight to safeguard citizens and the nation in general. This however doesn’t exempt them from facing the law for their crimes.
The International Council on Human Rights Policy and the University of Akureyri Faculty of Law and Social Sciences accused the two governments of using anti-terror laws inappropriately and in some cases, using it to violate international human rights. The University of Akureyri also found the UK guilty of using anti-terror laws on “a potential public order offense at worst” (Breau, Livingstone and O’Connell, 31).
For a healthy coexistence of anti-terror and human rights laws, I recommend that governments should use the military or paramilitary forces as a last resort i.e. after all channels of diplomacy have been exhausted and enough evidence and intelligence information gathered. The UN should uphold the rule of law and treat all parties as equal. The security council should be more supreme than single governments. It is also essential that governments take responsibilities for their actions against innocent civilians in times of war or during terror investigations.