UNGA: Protect human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

In a joint letter, ARTICLE 19 and 19 other civil society organisations have called on all UN Member States to reject an Egypt-led campaign to undermine international human rights law relating to counter-terrorism and to the rights of victims of terrorism, and to safeguard the integrity of the UN system and of the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy (GCTS).

Pointing to Egypt’s track record of abusing counter-terrorism measures to commit egregious human rights violations, including of the right to freedom of expression, 20 civil society organisations have warned that it would be a grave mistake to allow the country to continue in a leadership role on such an important UN General Assembly resolution to be considered for adoption at Third Committee in the coming weeks.

Since 2016, Egypt has driven a concerted effort in Geneva and New York to distract, dilute, and distort an already a systemically weak focus on human rights within the UN counter-terrorism system. While initially instrumentalising the victims of terrorism in order to bolster the need for greater counter-terrorism measures from States, their agenda has since shifted to address the “negative effects of terrorism” towards the same goal, focusing not on victims but on the macro-economic impacts of terrorism.

Seeking in part to contain that threat and preserve consensus between States, Mexico, which formerly led its own resolution on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism (most recently December 2017), combined its initiative with Egypt’s in merged resolutions at the Human Rights Council and General Assembly in 2018.

In the letter, ARTICLE 19 and other civil society organisations highlight the significant cost of the 2018 mergers, arguing that strong human rights language that was dropped through that compromise was too high a price to pay to contain Egypt’s agenda. One year on, we believe that Egypt’s behaviour at the UN, combined with the intensification of its repression at home, shows the merger has only served to empower Egypt in its repression of human rights in the name of counter-terrorism.

In particular, we detail how throughout 2019 at the HRC, Egypt sought to undermine the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, including by attempting to take joint control over the mandate in March, and then leading a resolution with Mexico in September which sought to direct the substance of the Special Rapporteur’s work. Throughout, Egypt has used the threat of creating a competing Special Rapporteur mandate on “the effects of terrorism” to seek further weakening of the international human rights framework.

The letter identifies that the resolution expected to be introduced this autumn comes at a particularly crucial time. The Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, will be reviewed in July 2020. It is therefore essential that the most recent resolution from the UN General Assembly dealing with this topic is the strongest yet, both for the rights of victims of terrorism, and for those whose rights are violated by counter-terrorism measures. This requires States to restore the approach in Mexico’s 2017 resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and through this show their full support to the existing Special Rapporteur mandate, and make clear their intent to put human rights at the centre of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy review.

Read the letter