The Vicious Cycle | Belfast and Beyond | 27 Nov 2009 | Amnesty International UK

The Vicious Cycle

My essay topic for my Human Rights 1 class in my master's course is how the law on derogations balances human rights and security when it comes to terrorism in international human rights law. Working on it, I find myself increasingly feeling increasingly frustrated and thinking maybe the hippies were right all along – peace and love is the answer.

Perhaps that is slightly too idealistic. What I mean is that terrorism itself is often a product of systematic human rights abuses by states. While I by no means condone acts of violence against anyone, there are reasons why international terrorism has reached the level it has, and it is often an outgrowth of assaults against human dignity, not a random manifestation of extremist ideology. That extremist ideology seizes on something concrete, it doesn't just fall out of the air.

During the Troubles, counter-terrorism measures taken by the British, such as internment, actually worked to the advantage of the IRA – it increased enrollment in the rank and file. Today, one could quite easily argue (and I do) that draconian measures taken, for example, by the Israelis against Palestinian 'militants' or the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the numerous and horrifying human rights abuses they have brought, are actually what is fueling international terrorism, driving people in the arms of organizations that claim to fight for the people.

Honestly, is this surprising to anyone?  Plenty of people argue that terrorist don't deserve rights like fair trial, right not to be lawfully detained, the right to due process, or even the right to be free from torture. Really? By doing that, we are claiming that they are sub-human in some way – are human rights not mean to be universal, mean to apply to everyone simply by virtue of their being human?

The European Court held in McCann v United Kingdom that the right to life applies to everyone by virtue of their humanity – even, in this case, to terrorists.

If we take away those rights, we take away the human. We are giving people a reason to question the value of human rights, giving them a reason to hate the United States, the United Kingdom, whomever is involved in these abuses under the mantle of a 'war on terror.' We are giving them a reason to turn to terrorism, and then fighting them for it.

"Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt." -Thomas Moore

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