November 08, 2019Counter-Terrorism Closing of civic space
In early October 2019, Rights Watch (UK) took part in a series of collective civil society events in New York City that addressed the endemic role of counter-terrorism (CT) measures in the closing of civil and democratic space, and the global and regional CT architecture (both formal and informal) that legitimates, promotes, and provides a framework for harmful CT practices at the domestic level.
This global and regional CT architecture—which is opaque and highly-guarded—has encouraged and mandated states to fight terrorism with no accompanying consideration of the human rights harms to which the measures give rise. The architecture also places inadequate consideration on the potential role human rights tools may have in addressing the underlying causes of terrorism. There is now a collective push among civil society, supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, to find ways to penetrate this international and regional architecture. This access aims to meaningfully inform the CT agenda set at the international and regional levels, so as to curb the suppression of civil society, among other human rights abuses, that are carried out under the veil of countering terrorism. Combatting the closing of civic space remains a central pillar of RWUK’s work and we remain committed to working with international CT stakeholders to push back against such abuses.
The key event, on Wednesday, 2nd October, addressed “Civil Society and NGO Engagement with the Global and Regional Counter Terrorism Architectures: Sharing Experiences and Setting Agendas.” Rights Watch (UK) was involved in organising and facilitating that event, which Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Center, and Amnesty International jointly hosted. Comprising a select group of international civil society organisations and UN representatives, participants discussed enhancing access and influence within the UN’s CT architecture—which includes the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, and the UN Counter-Terrorism Directorate—and considered how to work collectively and strategically to do so. Rights Watch (UK)’s Executive Director, Yasmine Ahmed, co-facilitated a session with Andrew Smith, Article 19’s head of UN Advocacy, on the use of CT measures globally to close civic space.
A further complementary event, which Article 19 and a collective of NGOs organised on Wednesday, 2nd October, was a roundtable discussion on CT measures and the closing of civil space. State representatives, INGOs, humanitarian organisations, and UN representatives met to discuss state use of CT measures to limit the legitimate work of civil society, and the resulting restrictions on the civic space in which human rights defenders operate. The challenges of implementing CT measures have actually given rise to misuse of such measures as a pretext for curtailing the exercise of certain human rights and freedoms. As UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin emphasised in her March 2019 report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/40/52), limitations on freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly have engendered the rapid shrinkage of global civic space. Restrictions on funding, proscriptions on registration, and the use of censorship and surveillance as commonplace responses to dissent have led to a series of rollbacks on longstanding human rights protections. As noted above, one method of strengthening these legal protections is through generating a deeper alliance between the UN CT architecture, states, and civil society. This roundtable discussion represented one of the first steps of such a process. Below is the roundtable’s concept note, Counter-Terrorism Measures and the Closing of Civic Space.
Finally, the Canadian Mission to the United Nations hosted an event on civil society as partners on counter-terrorism on Tuesday, 1st October 2019. As pictured above, Yasmine Ahmed presented alongside the Canadian Ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin. It was a welcomed opportunity for civil society to engage with relevant CT stakeholders.
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