July 13, 2016Report Prevent
On 13 July 2016, Rights and Security International (as Rights Watch UK) launched its landmark Report, Preventing Education: Human Rights and UK Counter-Terrorism Policy in Schools.
The report analyses the impact of the Prevent strategy on children, and the human rights compliance of the strategy as it relates to schools in the UK. Prevent forms part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and aims to prevent people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Since 1 July 2015 there has been a statutory duty on certain bodies, including schools, to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ in the exercise of their functions.
The report finds that the Prevent strategy - and in particular the introduction of the statutory duty – is stifling the fundamental rights and freedoms of children across the UK, including their rights to freedom of expression and belief, and their right to education. The Report demonstrates that Muslim children have been disproportionately impacted by the strategy and fear being reported for expressing their political and religious views, which is having a chilling effect on free speech among Muslim children and a detrimental impact on their right to education.
The Prevent strategy is proving to be counter-productive, since the clamp down on open expression and debate in classrooms is driving children to discuss issues related to terrorism, religion and identity outside the classroom and online, where simplistic narratives are promoted and go unchallenged. It is also stigmatising and alienating the very communities that the Government needs to work with in order to combat terrorism.
Furthermore, the Report notes that there is a lack of clear guidance and training as to how the Prevent strategy should be implemented, leading to arbitrary interventions in the lives of children. This is in part due to the overly broad definition of extremism and the vaguely formulated ‘indicators’ of vulnerability to extremism, which mean that there is little predictability or uniformity in the way that decisions under Prevent are taken.
Finally, the report also finds that the rationale underlying the Prevent strategy is highly questionable given that it rests on the assumption that holding non-violent extreme views is a pre-curser to committing acts of terrorist violence, a theory which has been widely discredited.
The Report makes a number of recommendations, including that the Prevent strategy insofar as it applies to schools must be repealed and abandoned; that a full and independent audit of the operation of the Prevent strategy must be undertaken by an independent reviewer; that an assessment of the current legislative and policy frameworks should be undertaken to determine whether there are in fact any legal or policy gaps that need to be addressed; and that there must be genuine and wide stakeholder consultation going forward, given the impact that Prevent has already had on the relationship between members of the Muslim community and the Government.
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