New UN Human Rights Expert Outlines Priorities

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October 31, 2011

Countering violent extremism must never be used as a pretext for abusing basic human rights, a United Nations expert said before the UN General Assembly on Oct. 20, 2011. Ben Emmerson, the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human, rights outlined the top priorities for his tenure including working with governments to prevent violent extremism by addressing its root causes and respecting the rule of law, and continuing to improve the delisting process of sanctioned entities started by Security Council Resolution 1904.

“It is only by strict adherence to international human rights standards that counter-terrorism strategies can ultimately succeed,” Emerson said. Nonetheless, some governments do not always practice what they preach. “What makes this area so complex, and so difficult, is the ever-present danger that some [countries] with a proud record of respect for the rule of law, have been willing, at times, to abandon those core values on the pretext of defending them,” he added.
Stressing that this is only a question of respecting human rights, but also one of effective prevention, Emmerson said violent extremism would not be defeated by law enforcement and intelligence operations alone. “Human rights abusive counter-terrorism policies, far from solving the objective of preventing terrorism, have over the past 10 years all too often contributed to the grievances and perceived grievances which cause people to take the wrong choices and to engage in crimes of terrorism around the world,” he said. Emmerson called on governments around the world to respect human rights in their anti-terror measures and said that by doing so, they are contributing to preventing violent extremism by addressing the conditions conducive to its development. “Human rights compliant counter-terrorism measures are not solely a question of legitimacy. They are also a question of effective prevention,” he said.  This was reiterated by 2010’s Security Council Resolution 1963 which states “that effective counter-terrorism measures and respect for human rights were complementary and mutually reinforcing, and noting the importance of respect for the rule of law in combating terrorism.”
On improving the delisting process of individuals and groups on the UN terror sanctions list, Emmerson said he expects the efforts started by Resolution 1904 will continue. Among other things, 1904 established an Ombudsperson position which reviews delisting requests and makes recommendations to the UN Security Council.  He said he would continue examining the Ombudsperson position and the nearly 20 cases she was investigating, identifying possible best practices and areas for further improvement. 
Emmerson was named Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism on Aug. 1, 2011. He has had extensive experience of international legal hotspots, having appeared before the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the international criminal court and the European court of human rights.