Terrorism, Human Security, Human Rights, and Responsibility
Introduction to IJWP, March 2019
“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is a saying that reveals the ambiguity of an emotionally charged word, “terrorism.” The word “terrorism” evokes fear in members of the group that might be attacked. A “terrorist” is a label used to classify a person as evil, dangerous, outside the law, and a target for removal from the streets. People often become so concerned for their security that they will cede more and more power to the government to remove the threat of terrorism, and to allow governments to suspend the human rights of a “terrorist.”
Many emotional labels or stereotypes are imposed on others to distinguish “good” and “bad.” Labeling a group a “terrorist group,” a “radical group,” a “racist group,” a “hate group,” a homophobic group,” an “extremist group,” or countless other terms, is a way of calling others the opposite of your group. Such labels cause social division and are used to justify tribalism, revolution, and government repression. They are a linguistic tactic used to deprive others of equal rights. The mass media often reports on these divisive and fearful labels because they sell “news.” People who normally consider themselves good, moral, and peaceful can be swept up into this group division and end up supporting acts of violence against members of enemy groups that they would never normally consider perpetrating on another individual in their own group. Reinhold Niebuhr poignantly initiated an academic discussion about this problem in his book Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932).
Traditionally U.S. foreign policy was designed for relations with other states. This changed when the transnational group, al-Qaeda, issued a 1998 fatwa signed by Osama bin Laden and other members calling for the killing of Americans for perpetrating evils against Muslims. The September 11, 2001 attacks on the US was the first time a non-state international actor had committed an act of war on the United States. The label of “terrorism” was officially used to describe the actions of this non-state actor, one that was neither governed by US laws nor international laws for states under the Geneva Convention. Extra-legal behavior generated an extra-legal response and the US government rounded up members of Al-Qaeda and held them in detention in Guantanamo Bay without clarity about what laws were applicable. Western civilization had entered the new territory prophesied by Samuel P. Huntington in Clash of Civilizations that argued future wars would not be fought by states but between cultural groups. The relationship between security and human rights in response to terrorism is still being developed and is not well codified.
Our first article, “Human Security, Terrorism, and Counterterrorism: Boko Haram and the Taliban,” looks at the issue of terrorism and the counterterrorist actions that governments have taken to thwart it. Even democratic governments have frequently abandoned their concept of human rights when it comes to responding to heinous terrorist attacks. While terrorists often show no remorse over
After studying the cases of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Nigeria, the authors, Israel Nyaburi Nyadera and Mohamed Omar Bincof, conclude that universally recognized standards of justice should be applied to terrorists: right to life, freedom from torture, due process and fair trials: universal definitions of terrorism that do not single out or favor some group identities, and civil rights. Such behavior will earn
Many governments are insufficiently capable of living up to these standards, either institutionally or financially. Afghanistan and Nigeria are countries where terrorist groups can survive because the governments are weak, lack skills and resources, and are unable to administer both strong and fair justice to terrorists. Since the basic mandate of any sovereign government is to protect its citizens, a government’s inability to successfully combat terrorism is a symptom that it may be a failed or failing state.
What happens when a state fails to adequately protect its citizens? The United Nations has recently developed policy about the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to help UN workers and other innocent civilians in terrorist-ridden or war-torn countries.
Our second article, “R2P and the UN Security Council: An ‘Unreliable Alliance’,” by Tor Dahl-Eriksen, notes the difficulty of implementing this policy and begins with the question: Why are R2P objectives difficult to realize through the UN Security Council, viewed from a policy implementation perspective? Institutional dynamics play a major role in the effectiveness of policy implementation and are not adequately understood by most policymakers. Merely creating an agency or social institution with a mandate to solve a social problem does not guarantee that the institution will actually carry out its mandate.
The UN Security Council has been asked to implement R2P, but it does not have the capability to effectively implement it. The UN Security Council is a heavily politicized body where one must expect decisions that reflect the interests of the permanent members and the constant changing of the non-permanent members. The result is
Dahl-Eriksen discusses the concept of “organized hypocrisy” in relation to social institutions whose structures do not match their mission. The UN adoption of R2P did not have any connection to the original tenet of the UN Charter to respect the sovereignty states. Sending troops into a state without being invited is a violation of its own charter. Recently, there has been an attempt to redefine “state sovereignty” as applying only to states that meet the fundamental requirement to responsibly protect their own citizens. This evolving concept of state sovereignty will have ripple effects through the entire UN organization.
Our third article, “Policing Aviation and Keeping Peace: Intelligence-Fed Security,” looks at the response to terrorism by corporations, primarily in the transportation industry. Airlines, railroads, ships, busses, and subways have all been terrorist targets. Here again, balancing human security and human rights is a major trade-off. The author, Sarah Jane Fox, is particularly focused on the nature of gathering intelligence on
Particularly, mandatory passenger name records (PNR) requests by governments since 9/11 place huge burdens on the transportation industry and violates privacy rights of passengers without having led to any serious reduction of terrorism. Government agencies are incapable of effectively handling the vast amounts of data collected and are burdened with
Much information about terrorists is contained in PNR records, Facebook and Google user information, and other data. But when does the need for security turn into a violation of privacy rights? Perhaps an infatuation with the capabilities of modern information processing and a desire to solve problems without traditionally dangerous fieldwork motivates PNR and other data requests on everyone. However, like the traditional requirement for a search warrant to enter a house, perhaps security agencies should be required to ask only for information related to
In the end, government and corporate responses to terrorism will reflect cultural attitudes towards violence as a legitimate method of responding to frustrating social problems. Violence is an instinctual fight or flight response to danger or deprivation programmed into human genes. But socialization and psychological development
Gordon L. Anderson
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