Protect Civil Society from Counterterrorism

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November 6, 2015
Andrea Hall

This won’t be hard. I promise.

1.       Countries must take concrete steps to enable individuals to promote and protect human rights and freedoms.

2.       Most countries treat businesses and nonprofits differently, with nonprofits getting the short end of the stick.

3.       Civil society can play a crucial role in countering violent extremism. Counterterrorism measures that have a negative impact on the ability of nonprofits to operate effectively and independently are likely to be counterproductive in reducing the threat of terrorism.

Three reports from the United Nations General Assembly, all timed to coincide with its 70th Session in September, paint a dire picture of the rights of civil society around the globe, while emphasizing the importance of creating enabling environments for it.

The first report, focusing on the situation of human rights defenders, laments that in many countries, “defending and promoting human rights remain an extraordinarily dangerous activity.” The second, highlighting the different treatment of NPOs and businesses around the world, calls on states to ensure that the two sectors are treated equitably by laws and practices. The third report draws attention to the value of a thriving civil society in combatting violent extremism.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? As one of the reports states, “Sectoral equity is not a difficult concept to adopt. It is simply a matter of political will.” But this isn’t the first time the UN has addressed these issues, and all are based on previous UN resolutions.

As the international body continues to crank out reports explaining that things aren’t improving, countries around the world, including the United States, seem to turn a blind eye, to their own detriment. The post-9/11 mentality has not changed, despite advances in research—real data—showing the valuable role of civil society in all of this. We should be lifting up groups that defend the oppressed and meet the needs of vulnerable populations. THAT is how you counter terrorism.