Item 4: Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights. Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


My report to the Commission on Human Rights under agenda item 4 is devoted to the questions of human rights, human security and terrorism. I know that these issues are central to your concerns in this Commission, and I welcome the opportunity to share some further thoughts with you. In the report I argue that human rights should act as a unifying framework within which we can address the human insecurity that results from terrorism and from other causes. The report has two addenda; on the human rights of persons with disabilities and on tolerance and pluralism as indivisible elements in the promotion and protection of human rights.

The issue of terrorism is not new on the human rights agenda. Terrorism is a threat to the most fundamental human rights. Finding common approaches to countering terrorism serves the cause of human rights. Some have suggested that it is not possible to effectively eliminate terrorism while respecting human rights. This suggestion is fundamentally flawed. The only long-term guarantor of security is through ensuring respect for human rights and humanitarian law. The essence of human rights is that human life and dignity must not be compromised and that certain acts, whether carried out by State or non-State actors, are never justified no matter what the ends. At the same time human rights and humanitarian law are tailored to address situations faced by States, such as a public emergency, challenges to national security, and periods of violent conflict. This body of law defines the boundaries of permissible measures, even military conduct. It strikes a fair balance between legitimate national security concerns and fundamental freedoms.

These balances are most notably reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As you know the ICCPR recognizes that States could take measures to derogate from certain rights at a time when the life of the nation is threatened, or to restrict rights in other defined exceptional circumstances. There are conditions however to ensure the transparency, proportionality and necessity of the measures taken. Some rights such as the right to life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the principles of precision and non-retroactivity of criminal law, must be safe guarded at all times. The right to fair trial is also explicitly guaranteed under international humanitarian law. The principles of legality and rule of law require that the fundamental requirements of fair trial must be respected even under an emergency. In particular, any trial leading to the imposition of the death penalty during a state of emergency must conform to the provisions of the ICCPR.

These standards have survived the Cold War, times of armed conflict, and economic instability. The Commission has a responsibility to ensure that they are not disregarded today.

Before I go any further, let me stress that as High Commissioner for Human Rights, I share the legitimate concern of States that there should be no avenue for those who plan, support or commit terrorist acts to find safe haven, avoid prosecution, secure access to funds, or carry out further attacks. Security Council Resolution 1373 creates an important framework for action in this regard. This Resolution is binding on all member States and States must cooperate in its implementation. My Office has suggested to the Counter-Terrorism Committee established under this resolution that it issues guidance to States to assist them in complying with Resolution 1373 and their international human rights obligations.

It is important to recall that the issue of reconciling States' obligations under human rights law with measures taken to eliminate terrorism did not commence on 11 September. The human rights system has extensive experience in addressing the use and abuse of emergency and security laws. This is why the international community ha

 

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