Joint civil society statement on counter-terrorism and human rights

By EDRi · March 9, 2016

On 1 March 2016 13 civil society organisations, including EDRi, Amnesty International, Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO), European Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AEDH) and Fair Trials published a joint civil society statement called „Counter-terrorism: The EU and its Member States must respect and protect human rights and the rule of law“. This statement was written in response to a new set of counter-terrorism measures on EU and international level which themselves have been responses to the 2015 terrorist attacks.

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The statement condemns such attacks but urges the European Union to only react with measures which are in line with international human rights obligations.
„Effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are not in conflict but are aimed at overlapping, complementary and mutually reinforcing goals. In practice, widespread violations of human rights while countering terrorism have proven to be counterproductive.“ the statement says. Moreover, even in times of substantial threat, participation of civil society, information and transparency are key requirements to avoid human rights violations resulting counter-terrorism laws and policies.

The explained rules are not only in line with basic human rights demands, as can be seen in the paragraphs on “The right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, “The right to liberty and security of the person” and “The right to fair trial” but moreover also urge the EU and its Member States to create a clear and practical definition of terrorism as the current lack thereof can lead to violations of human rights and „criminalising conduct, which lacks a sufficient proximate casual link with the main criminal offence“.

One paragraph of the statement includes the right to privacy, which has been subject to debates after each terrorist attack in 2015 based on the notion that it is necessary to restrict every citizen’s privacy in order to prevent acts of terrorism.

As shown recently, the FBI has an interest in Apple introducing weaker encryption systems on their smartphones in response to the recent terrorist attacks. Despite the wishes of the French government, French parliamentary deputies voted in favor of such measurements in the beginning of march. Apple’s refusal to unblock the iPhone of a terrorist was followed by a debate about encryption and security on smartphones. The European Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip supports Apple’s decision, based on not being willed to make the creation of backdoors into citizens digital devices easier.

Another example for this is indiscriminate data storage and profiling through Passenger Name Records, which is the subject of bilateral agreements with the USA and Australia and a draft EU Directive. Such actions are contrary to principles established by the European Court of Justice and can lead to discrimination based on ethnic origin, citizenship or religion and also threaten freedom of movement.

Furthermore the statement explains how and why human rights education and social inclusion as well as the human rights of asylum seekers and migrants have to be respected by legislators when drafting counter-terrorist measures.

Complete statement: Counter-terrorism: The EU and its Member States must respect and protect human rights and the rule of law (01.03.2016)

Ansip: ‘I am strongly against any backdoor to encrypted systems’ (23.02.2016)

French parliament votes to penalise smartphone makers over encryption (03.03.2016)

(Contribution by Theresia Reinhold, EDRi)