Report: Focus on Human Security Best Way to Counter Terrorism

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November 29, 2012

Respect for human security and human rights are the hallmarks of an effective counterterrorism policy, an October 2012 report from the Civil Society Network for Human Security says.  Addressing Violent Extremism: Creating Spaces for Civil Society Engagement calls on governments and the United Nations to embrace civil society as a valuable partner in addressing security concerns and to protect the space necessary to conduct humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts from harmful and counterproductive anti-terrorism measures.  The report offers four regional perspectives on the challenges posed by violent extremism and international counterterrorism policies to address it.  Recommendations include the rejection of a one-size fits all approach to addressing security concerns and replacing it with a framework that “makes the first goal of counterterrorism policy the protection of communities, individual life and human rights.”

Global efforts to combat terrorism in the past decade sacrificed human rights, civil liberties and the needs of the vulnerable in pursuit of security and military objectives.   “Overly militarized counterterrorism policies based on isolating and destroying terrorist groups have harmed civilians and undermine the essential work of human rights defenders, conflict prevention practitioners, and humanitarian aid workers,” the report says. For example, indiscriminately labeling armed groups as terrorists “obscures important differences in grievances and objectives that must be understood to develop effective long term solutions.”

A better way, the authors argue, would be a framework that “evaluates security policy on the basis of protection of individuals rather than number of terrorists killed or apprehended.”  By re-focusing policymaking on individual and community well-being, the report says, “human security holds governments accountable to citizens, the international system, and human rights obligations” found in international law.   This can be achieved by enlisting the aid of civil society organizations, which are often positioned to bridge gaps between global policy and local realities. “Local civil society actors hold unique local knowledge, the trust of local actors, and an understanding of root causes of conflict that drive extremism,” the report says.

Recommendations to the UN and donor countries include:

  • Having countries meet their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect innocent civilians in armed conflict
  • Holding militarized counterterrorism measures to higher scrutiny
  • To uphold the rule of law, human rights, and protect human rights defenders in counterterrorism measures
  • Protecting space for Track II diplomacy and humanitarian aid by reforming listing practices to allow civil society engagement with armed actors
  • Establishing a regular mechanism for UN entities to engage with civil society actors, in order to create a better understanding of their perspectives and to develop a common language that is suitable to context-specific situations

The report was released at an Oct. 31 event sponsored by Cordaid and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict on the role of women and human security approaches to countering violent extremism.   CSN staff and several members groups were in attendance and participated in the discussion, which focused on the report's findings, including recommendations to the UN and "10 Human Security Practices for Countering Violent Extremism.” (page 14)