Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Ben Saul
Chapter 20: International human rights law and terrorism: An overview
The tension between counter-terrorism and human rights is, like terrorism itself, nothing new. The experience gained over decades and across continents – of terrorism, counter-terrorism, and the application of human rights law in situations from Chechnya to Colombia, Ireland to Egypt, or Turkey to Sri Lanka and beyond – contributed to a fairly developed body of international human rights law (IHRL) in relation to terrorism long before it shot to the top of the international agenda after 11 September 2001. Since then, international practice in counter-terrorism has proliferated, with a plethora of normative and political developments at the national, regional and international levels. The effects of this practice for human rights and the rule of law have been wide-ranging, an analysis of which goes beyond scope of this short chapter. It is clear, however, that on one level this experience has demonstrated the fragility of respect for IHRL in the face of the threat of international terrorism. While terrorism itself has dire consequences for human rights, counter-terrorism practices have in turn jeopardized, strained and violated most if not all aspects of the human rights framework. Systematic resort to torture, supported by a complex network of international partners, or attempts to ‘justify’ transfer to torture as a suitable ‘balance’ against national security, has represented the potential unravelling of the very minimum core of IHRL.
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