Controversial Ant-Terrorism Law on its final way

Habtamu Girma (Addis Ababa) Very recently, the Woyane government has put in place very controversial proclamations as laws in the country. Among these proclamations the charities and societies proclamation is the most notable one. The International community and a number of professional associations have heavily criticized the government over this proclamation. Now, the EPRDF government is on the final preparation for the enactment of a new Ant-Terrorism Proclamation. The draft proclamation has been highly opposed by members of the opposition party in the parliament. Off course, this is going to be very sensitive and again very contentious. This article is written to shed some light on issues of controversy regarding ant-terrorism proclamation and human rights and its implication in Ethiopia by taking in to account historical and political perspectives and provide some recommendations on the way forward.

The issue of human rights protection versus anti-terrorism laws is one of the most controversial issues in the contemporary international legal and political environment. Terrorism at the global level has been viewed as threat to democracy, the rule of law, human rights and stability. The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 in the U.S. made the issue of terrorism a top political priority for the international community. The need to ensure that the anti-terrorism efforts remains vigilant to the protection of human rights has been the subject of much academic, international and nongovernmental debate. Equally, the impact of terrorism and achievement of human rights has received increasing attention. Human rights law places the dignity of human person at the center of its concerns. Inflicting harm on civilians is clearly a breach of the core values that human rights are designed to uphold. Upholding human rights is not a matter of being soft on terrorism. Countering terrorism it self is a human rights objective. States have a positive obligation to protect people under their jurisdiction against terrorist acts. This requires states to prevent, punish, investigate and address the harm caused by such acts (Assessing Damage, Urging Action, ICJ Report, 2009). It is clear that there is a close link between terrorism and the enjoyment of human rights and freedoms. Terrorism has an impact on human rights because of its destructive violence, which causes fear and anxiety among the population and the difficulty of countering it. Terrorism incites governments to take measures that to often disregard to a greater degree human rights, there by undermining the very foundations of democratic societies. The most important effect of terrorism on human rights is reflected when governments use the need to combat terrorism as an excuse to incriminate political opponents and civilians.

Since the 1960s, terrorist activities have been at rise worldwide, with a tendency of international complications, which became a common threat to the international community as a whole. It gradually became the common resolution of the international community to suppress terrorism and protect human rights. As the result, 12 global-terrorism conventions that provide states parties with legal framework to cooperate in combating terrorism were adopted (The African Economist, 2005: 9). Namely, convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against internationally protected persons Including diplomatic agents, adopted by UN general assembly on December 14, 1973, international Convention against the taking of hostages, adopted by UN general assembly on December 17, 1997 convention on the physical protection of nuclear material, signed at Vienna on March 3, 1980, convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation, singed at Rome on March 10,1988, protocol for the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of fixed platforms on the continental shelf, signed at Rome on March 10, 1988, convention on the marking of plastic explosives for the purpose of detection, signed at Montreal on March 1, 1991, convention for the suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted by UN General Assembly on December 15,1997, and international Convention for the suppression of financing of terrorism, adopted by UN General Assembly on December 9, 1999 (Ibid:10).

At the regional level, there is the important OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism adopted in 1999. The Convention contains a comprehensive definition of what constitutes a terrorist act, but avoids political contentious issues by excluding from the definition struggles waged by peoples for their liberation or self-determination in accordance with international law (Lagwanth and Soltan, 2002).

On September 28, 2001, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1373 under chapter VII of the UN charter, calling upon states to implement more effective counter-terrorism measures at the national level and to increase international co-operation in the struggle against terrorism. The resolution created the counter-Terrorism committee (CTL) to monitor actions on this issue and to receive reports form states on measures taken (FIDH, 2005:12). The Security Council has held that under chapter VII of the UN charter, states have the duty to protect persons under their jurisdiction form terrorism and to employ to maximum their legal weapon to repress and prevent terrorist activities. Terrorism, however, must be fought with in the framework of the law and with respect for the principle of proportionality and non-discrimination. There should not be any trade-off between counter-terrorism and the protection of human rights. Counter-terrorism must be lawful with respect to human rights and must be subject to appropriate supervision (Magdalena, et al, 2004:433).

In a session at the level of foreign ministers on January 20, 2003, the UN Security Council agreed on resolution 1456 (2003), which says that terrorism can be only defeated when the principles of the UN charter and international standards of law are observed. More concretely, the resolution states that measures against terrorism must in particular be consistent with human rights under international law (UN documents S/RES/1456, 2003). Several UN bodies special reporters and working groups as well as reputable NGOs have been gathering extensive evidence of abuses of human rights in different parts of the world that have taken place under the pretext of combating terrorism. In 2003 the special reporters, experts and chair persons of working groups of the special procedures of the UN commission on Human Rights expressed the growing threat against human rights and showed their concern at the proliferation of policies, legislations and practices adopted by many countries which affect negatively the enjoyment of virtually all human rights. They affirm that any counter-terrorism measures must be in accordance with international human rights law.

Despite decades of effort, with even a greater focus after September 11, attempt to develop a generally accepted definition of terrorism have failed largely over political issues relating to the definition of terrorism. Part of the problem is that not only is the phenomenon itself difficult to explain, but there is a huge difference among observers who seek to define it. Basically the key element of contention regarding definition of terrorism revolves around two core issues. The first issue is the question of who is using terrorism, particularly referring to actors’ involved or who can be identified as engaging in the exercises of terrorism which can involve state or non state entities or groups and individuals. The second issue revolves around the nature of the acts or what instances of crime or pattern of acts can be qualified as terrorism

Generally, there has been no progress so far on the question of a comprehensive U.N convention against international terrorism. Several attempts in various international forums to define terrorism legally and there by outlaw international terrorism have produced no result. All nations want to outlaw international terrorism, but each has a different idea as to what terrorism is. Those who are said to be terrorists to one nation may be “freedom fighters” to another. Each nation wants to define terrorism in a way that will include those acts, which it considers terrorism. Some nations even want to include in the definition certain potential acts by foreign adversaries, domestic dissidents or dissidents in exile, which may not exactly be considered as terrorism in the strict sense, but that it would be advantageous for the national governments to have labeled them as terrorism and outlawed by international law.

According to the recent International Commission of Juries (ICJ-2009) report, one of the critical issues regarding Ant-Terrorism laws have been the fact that they have been abused for political reasons or have been extended to apply beyond the original stated purpose of combating terrorism. The Problematic element of such legislations according to the report is that vaguely defined offence, wide discretionary powers to law-enforcement agencies, and a reduction of safeguard.

Recent experiences in Ethiopia have clearly shown that the government has crackdown opposition activities in some areas of Oromiya and Ogaden regions in the name of fighting terrorism. In this regard, there is a great fear that the new proclamation might also be used as a cover to silence and crackdown the activities of a number of in country and outside opposition parties. Therefore, it is very important for the Ethiopian government which is currently in the process of drafting Ant- Terrorism proclamation to learn a great deal from countries that already have put in place such kind of laws and also to consider the following recent recommendation of the International Commission of Juries published in 2009 with regard to such kind of laws. The introduction of Ant-terrorism laws should be considered very carefully. Care should be exercised in deciding to introduce any new laws at all. Often changes are needed in the policy arena rather than new legislation, and some times the existing legislation is quite adequate. If new laws are thought necessary, the legislation should be given its proper role in scrutinizing proposals and have in-depth public opinions , rather than being required to rush through a range of discretionary powers in an ill considered manner. The legislation should also avoid vaguely defined offences and should meet international standards. Most importantly, it should have an appropriate safeguarding and oversight mechanism. There should also be a mechanism to review the legislation to ensure that no unintended consequences have arisen.

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Posted by on June 12, 2009. Filed under NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.