Counter terrorism and human rights protection

Terrorism constitutes a serious threat to human rights and democracy. While action by states is necessary to prevent and effectively sanction terrorist acts, not all means are justifiable. There is a compelling duty for states to protect the general interest of public security and the rule of law without jeopardizing the core of human rights, which are enshrined notably in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The operations conducted by a number of states in the context of the so-called “war on terrorism” in recent years, including the “rendition programmes”, the establishment of “black sites” and mass surveillance, have shown that a wide range of human rights are affected by counter terrorism measures, notably the right to life, the prohibition on torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, and respect for private and family life. Forfeiting human rights in the fight against terrorism is a grave mistake and an ineffective measure that may help the cause of the terrorists. Policies which are human rights compliant preserve the values the terrorists are trying to destroy, weaken support for radicalism among potential adherents, and strengthen public confidence in the rule of law.

The Commissioner is particularly vigilant with regard to the adoption of new anti-terrorist legislation, which should be subjected to human rights proofing, and provide for democratic oversight of security services. She regularly raises these topics with authorities in member states and provides her assistance to them through analyses and recommendations in various thematic and country-specific documents.