Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, May 18, 2007

CHRC briefing on American and European approaches to international law, human rights and the threat of international terrorism

A Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing on Tuesday focused on American and European approaches to international law, human Rights and the threat of international terrorism. The witnesses present tried to answer the following question: what is the appropriate framework to fight terrorism through a human rights lens?

After acknowledging that there is a legal black hole as far as fighting terrorism is concerned, Mark Agarst, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, stressed that the international legal framework should be focused on collective security. The Honorable Piet de Klerk, Human Rights Ambassador of the Netherlands, noted that fighting terrorism in relation to human rights is a delicate task. Even if governments need to find an answer when society is under attack, it is difficult to deal with terrorism as it does not obey any traditional warfare rules (no identified enemy or boundary), he added. Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First, said that as far as the United States is concerned, its position on international human rights is not clear. The U.S. was a leader in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but at the same time believes it has sufficient domestic legislation to protect human rights within its borders, she said. She compared the U.S. to a “hooligan” who stands outside the “Human Rights Cathedral” and provides support but never enters it.

After stressing that there are no comprehensive conventions on terrorism at a European level, de Klerk said he believed that whatever rules apply to terrorism, they should never “compromise our values.” He repeated several times that human rights should remain a moral authority, and an important element in fighting terrorism. Massimino and Agrast joined de Klerk in his statement. Agarst added that the most hopeful development for human rights is the emergence of sympathetic voices within the professional corps. De Klerk said Europeans and Americans should keep working on the definition of terrorism and acts of terrorism to determine what is punishable. Considering that criminal law is an effective law to combat terrorism, it should be used extensively and more fully, he concluded.

All three witnesses stressed the pressing need to have an appropriate legal framework to fight terrorism. Moreover, they all emphasized that the U.S. should be a strong leader in human rights promotion and that European governments should be pushing the U.S. on this point. Agarst concluded with the statement: "The struggle against terrorism cannot be won if we forfeit basic human rights."


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