Fighting Terrorism Without Violating Human Rights

This is the speech I delivered at the 31st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on March 18, 2016 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland:

Unlike some cultural aspects that are relative, violations of innocent people's physical integrity - such as dropping bombs on them - is universally deviant. It is also universally criminal. When the nations of the world begin to focus their power and resources on protecting and preserving human life rather than taking it, we will see the first true efforts being made to counter terrorism. When governments in the Middle East begin helping their people and their neighbors rather than crushing them, we will enjoy the first fruits of true counter-terrorism; when the governments of the West begin aiding the people of the Middle East and supporting non-terrorist states rather than raining bombs upon the innocents, we will finally partake in the peace that is true counter-terrorism; human life is never collateral damage.

It has been the strategy and convoluted tactics of governments to create a problem, then offer the solution. As we are witnessing all over the world, especially in the Middle East, the disparity and gap between government and its people has become so colossal to the degree of incurable unless drastic measures are taken now. Poverty, lack of education, religious persecution, radicalism, economic turmoil, social suppression, and oppression of refined liberties and freedoms - especially of minorities - sows the seeds of terrorism, and thus counter-terrorism. There is a disturbing trend of more and more restrictions of citizen's freedoms. People are being stripped of their rights, and all in the name of security. But what greater right is there than to life? And so-called counter-terrorism takes more life annually than terrorism itself.

A 2009 study conducted by the University of North Carolina concluded that the most commonly utilized counter-terrorism tactics, such as extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearances, and political imprisonment are, in fact, themselves acts of terror. To terrorize in the name of combating terrorism is ironically hypocritical. When counter-terrorists use the tactics of terrorists in order to counter terror, they descend to their moral level and just add more terror to the world. And if that were not enough, when counter-terrorists terrorize people, they generate more terrorists. In addition to civilian casualties, governments insidiously conspire to abuse other basic rights in the name of fighting terrorism; they tighten security to an unreasonable degree, impose petty rules and regulations, and censor the masses, hence, creating police states devoid of freedom and instilled with fear - the perfect breeding grounds for terrorism. Thus, we are faced with a vicious cycle: counter-terrorism breeds more terrorism, and then more terrorism breeds more counter-terrorism, and so on, ad infinitum.

Political activist Noam Chomsky stated that "counter-terrorism is terrorism by another name." We must counter counter-terrorism - in order to uphold human rights and give weight, resources, and priority to it. Military and clandestine agencies unilaterally function from a consequentialist point of view, with a modus operandi that denotes that their goals - professedly productive - be accomplished by any means necessary, even if those means are themselves directly counterproductive. The ends do not justify the means. We cannot justify criminal means to fight crime; we cannot terrorize to fight terrorism. We cannot devalue human life in the name of preserving it.

Rather than fighting and "countering" terrorism, governments the world over should work collectively and implement new domestic and foreign policies that adhere to the dignity and integrity of their citizens, campaigns that require a truly comprehensive strategy that surpasses military action and intelligence. There should be serious consideration given to the legal and ethical ramifications of international counter-terrorism efforts - not to mention accountability - and policies should be redefined in accordance with the protection and preservation of human rights. Many governments both in the West and the Middle East have failed drastically to respect the basic standard rights articulated in the United Nations Human Rights Declaration of 1948 and subsequent international and regional covenants. Records of most Arab states towards their own citizens are as bad or worse as the West, thus deepening and widening the gap between them and their peoples.

The obvious truth, the big elephant in the middle of the room, is that militaries under the command of governments who do not value or respect human life are terrorist groups, and that counter-terrorist operations are terrorist attacks - the only difference is that of resources. The only way to fight terrorism without violating human rights is through non-violent means. How dare these counter-terrorists shed our blood in the name of protecting us! Would they consider the deaths of their own children to be justifiable collateral damage? We the people should demand an end to all forms of terrorism!

Copyright © Lydia Canaan 2016