Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights Less Liberty for Greater Security?

By Mller, Kerstin | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, October 15, 2004 | Go to article overview

Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights Less Liberty for Greater Security?


Mller, Kerstin, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Speech by Minister of State Kerstin Mller at the opening of the International Commission of Jurists Biennial Conference on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, Berlin, 27 August 2004

It is my pleasure to welcome you here on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office. I am particularly delighted that in choosing the venue for this Conference, the International Commission of Jurists has decided to return to the city of its origin after just over 50 years. Berlin has profoundly changed in the last years, like Europe as a whole it is no longer the destroyed ex-capital of a tyrannical dictatorship, nor the divided city that represented the Western democracies' dedication to liberty, but now the reunified capital of a democratic Germany in a reunified Europe.

Shortly after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the vision of a more peaceable world with fewer conflicts and dangers seemed very near until 11 September 2001 made it frightfully clear that new threats had replaced the old. In Europe, threats no longer come from states, but from non-state actors, above all terrorists who aim to kill civilians, induce mass terror and shake our liberal societies to their core.

Traditional security structures such as the armed forces and police are insufficiently equipped to deal with this new asymmetrical threat, as posed by small independent groups of terrorists. Closely linked to this threat are the dangers coming from failing states and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Many states have tightened their security laws in response to these dangers. At international level, too, efforts have been made to protect us from these new global threats. A huge range of preventive and defensive measures have been taken. Here are just a few examples:

After 11 September 2001, a worldwide coalition of states was formed against international terrorism.

The United Nations Security Council adopted a comprehensive regime of sanctions that for the first time in international law was not directed against states, but against individuals and organizations.

The European Union, the G8, the Council of Europe and other international organizations have adopted action plans and decisions, and individual states have taken a wide spectrum of measures.

In almost all states around the world, counter-terrorism measures are today a key political issue and a matter of public debate, not least because the amendments made to security legislation to counter terrorism often involve restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of opinion, freedom of religion, the right to due process and a fair trial, freedom of movement and protection of the private sphere.

Many of these rights and freedoms have been severely curtailed in some countries. States often find it hard to reconcile their desire for greater security with the people's exercise of basic rights and freedoms. Finding the right balance between the need for security on one hand, and the protection of civil liberties on the other, is an act that you, as members of the ICJ, and we, the German Government, are repeatedly called upon to perform.

We would all be wise to take seriously the many warnings that human rights principles and fundamental freedoms are potential casualties in the fight against terrorism. On the other hand, there is no question that terrorists threaten the freedom and security of us all. The state, in our case the Federal Government, has a duty to protect the life of its citizens. But the state also has a duty to maintain international standards with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in times of emergency. Democracies must live up to their own standards even when fighting against terrorism.

The broad consensus is that the fight against terrorism requires appropriate and at times even far-reaching measures by the police and law enforcement agencies. …

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