28 March 2012
The EU's new counter-terrorism plans include drawing up a list of people and groups considered to be terrorist organisations or people supporting them. The list is to be drawn up by the group comprised of the Heads of Security and Intelligence in the EU. At present only the UK and Spain want the list to be turned into an EU list of proscribed organisations. This article looks at the process in the UK.
The Terrorism Act 2000 (see Statewatch report on UK Terrorism Act) came into force on 28 February 2001 and widens the definition of "terrorism". It also as makes antiterrorist legislation permanent and gives the Home Secretary powers to proscribe organisations "concerned with terrorism" in the UK or abroad. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, used the powers to prepare a list of 21 organisations for proscription, none of them British, to ensure that "the United Kingdom does not become a base for international terrorists and their supporters". Only republican and loyalist organisations involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland were previously proscribed. The Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2001 came into force on 29 March, after debate and approval in the parliament, where the order could only be approved or rejected wholesale. There was criticism over the inclusion of groups from countries where repressive regimes prevent the exercise of democratic rights and criminalise dissent. The order will effectively internationalise such measures, and is likely to result in the criminalisation of people granted political asylum in the UK because of the persecution which their membership of one of the newly-proscribed organisations entailed.
A terrorist organisation is defined as "any association or combination of persons" which "commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned in terrorism". Offences related to proscription include a) membership of a proscribed organisation, b) inviting support, including fund-raising, for a proscribed organisation, c) managing or assisting in the arranging of meetings to support or further the activities, or to be addressed by a member of a proscribed organisation and d) addressing a meeting where the address encourages support for a proscribed organisation. Those found guilty are liable, on conviction, "to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, to a fine or both" or "on summary conviction", to imprisonment for no more than six months, a fine, or both. Persons wearing an item of clothing or wearing, carrying or displaying "an article, in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation" in a public place, will be liable to imprisonment for no longer than six months, to a fine or both.
An open list
Twenty-one groups hand-picked by Jack Straw were proscribed based on information including classified material from UK and foreign intelligence services, along with police, security and legal advice. They are: Al-Qa'ida, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Al-Gama'at al-Islamiya, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), Babbar Khalsa, the International Sikh Youth Federation, Harakat Mujahideen, Jaish e Mohammed, Lashkar e Tayyaba, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Hitzballah External Security Organisation, Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad -Shaqaqi, the Abu Nidal Organisation, the Islamic Army of Aden, Mujaheddin e Khalq, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Revolutionary Peoples' Liberation Party (DHKC-P), ETA and the November 17 Revolutionary Organisation. This is an open list to which names may be added in the future or removed using a procedure which allows applicants to appeal against their inclusion, first to the Home Secretary, and if refused, to the newly-established Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (POAC), chaired by Sir Murray Stuart-Smith, appointed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irving. In the case of a refusal to un-proscribe by the POAC, the applicant(s) may lodge a further appeal with the Court of Appeal.
In cases where proscription was based on confidential information available to the Home Secretary, it will be difficult for organisations to mount effective appeals without access to such information. In the House of Lords debate on 27 March, Lord Archer of Sandwell was critical of the fact that Parliament's lack of information stifled debate, reducing its chance of exercising any "control over the executive". He added criticism of the Home Secretary's failure to consult human rights bodies in making his decision, and of the retrospective nature of the appeals procedure: "there is something distasteful about a process which begins by convicting someone and then proceeds to inquire whether there is a case against them".
The Home Secretary has to take into account factors including "a) the nature and scale of an organisation's activities; b) the specific threat that it poses to the UK; c)the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; d) the extent of the organisation's presence in the UK; and e) the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism" when making his decision.
Lord Avebury took exception to the fact that "any armed opposition group or anybody who supports an armed opposition group in whatever country", including repressive regimes, "in the world is ipso facto a terrorist". He reminded the House of US support for UNITA in Angola, the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and attempts to persuade the Shi'a in Iraq to rise against Saddam Hussein. On the other hand he claimed that under the Terrorism Act Nelson Mandela and the Zimbabwean (post-1980) and East Timorese (post-1975) resistance movements would have been considered terrorist.
Selection criteria inadequate?
Lord Avebury highlighted contradictions in the Home Secretary's selections, with reference to the selection criteria. "11 of the 21 organisations have no overt presence in the UK, or only one or two members who are already being held on extradition warrants", he said. In these cases proscription would therefore amount to no more than an official "badge of disapproval". Some of the newly-proscribed groups are from countries where repressive regimes prevent them from exercising democratic rights. Lord Rea claimed he was puzzled by the inclusion of the PKK when it has been keeping a cease-fire for two and a half years in spite of continued attacks from the Turkish army which "is illegally and relentlessly pursuing members or supporters of the PKK who are sheltering in Iraq". He spoke of the UK and US "connivance", in allowing "Turkey to send helicopter gunships and other aircraft across the no-fly zones". The PKK was not proscribed when it was engaged in terrorist activity, but it is when it has committed to pursuing "its aims by political means".
Lord Avebury added that the Home Secretary failed to consider whether "the [proscribed] organisation could have sought its objectives peacefully through the political system". He pointed to the Kurds, who are not recognised as a minority in Turkey, and the People's Mujaheddin of Iran (Mujaheddin e Khalq) to illustrate his point. In the first case, where Kurds are not recognised as a minority, "advocacy of internal self-government ... is prosecuted under ... terrorism law"; in the second, anyone questioning "the supremacy of the religious leader ... is a criminal", and widespread executions and murders by the Iranian authorities against its members have been documented.
Sources: Terrorism Act 2000, Home Office press statement 28.3.01, House of Lords debate 27.3.01.
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