Terrorism and Human Rights



For the last two decades, the world has been witnessing widespread violence and terrorism at both national and international levels. Many times, the efforts taken up by the Governments and international organisations such as the United Nations and other apex bodies and humanitarian organisations have not brought sufficient and needed results.

In Third World countries, violence has become the order of the day. Terrorism and especially terrorism by indiscipline army has become a menace for civil society. Millions of people have lost their lives, homes, and properties due to cross border terrorism. In parts of Asia, terrorism has spoilt the very nature of human beings and society.

Terrorism came in the international scene after the 11 September bombings of the World Trade Centre twin towers and the Pentagon. Since it was the first time such an attack was experienced in the United States, the entire country shook up to the core including the then President George W. Bush. The entire nation felt humiliated by the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, claimed to be the best in the business, to prevent such a tragedy.

A similar incident took place back home in India when terrorists targeted the Parliament on 13th December 2001. It was for the first time that such a serious attack was mounted on the very symbol of the Republic of India. However, this provided the government a more powerful argument to come up with more stringent and streamlined anti-terror laws in the country.

Terrorism and Human Rights

The brunt on Human Rights

Today, both the world at large and India in particular, face daunting challenges in the task of protecting human rights of common people regardless of the country they belong to. No country in world can be said to be free from the deadly scourge of terrorism. With the grim spectre of terrorism continuing to target innocent and defenceless people, the task has been ever challenging for the institutions around the world. These are turbulent times in many parts of world. It has become apparent that in many ways, the world has become complicated, to say the least. The destinies and the interests of the nations and their citizens have become interlinked to such an extent that, invariably, the action of one has adversely affected the other, leading to strife and suffering. In all such tragic situations, it has been mostly the common people, men, women and children whose rights have been violated. In fact people from all walks of life, irrespective of their caste, creed, colour or religion have been equally affected by violation of their Human Rights.

While in the USA the brunt of anti-terrorism steps was borne by the foreigners, mainly the foreigners from Asian countries, in India it fell on the common citizen. It had happened in the past also when the TADA was in operation. It was widely applied on trade union workers, political activists, and defenders of Human Rights. The fallout of the United States campaign against terrorism was the destruction of Afghanistan and the conversion of Pakistan into one of the bases for mounting attacks on Afghanistan, compelling the country to completely reverse its policy vis-à-vis Taliban Afghanistan. On the other hand in India, the government received widespread support in favour of the then existing laws as ‘anti-terror laws’ and curtail to the efforts to browbeat and suppress the media, both national as well as international.

National and International Safeguards against Terrorism

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemns terrorism unequivocally and recognizes the duty of States to protect those living within their jurisdictions from terrorism. The OHCHR has placed a priority on the protection of human rights, notably the right to life, and the question of protecting human rights in the context of counter-terrorism measures. It has been emphasized that human rights norms must be rigorously respected by all, including in states of emergency. In one of the international conferences to discuss countering terrorism, the then Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan said:

“Our responses to terrorism, as well as our efforts to thwart it and prevent it, should uphold the human rights that terrorists aim to destroy. Respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism – not privileges to be sacrificed at a time of tension.”

On 28 September 2001, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, obligating States to implement more effective counter-terrorism measures at the national level and to increase international cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. The resolution created the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) to monitor activity on this issue and to receive reports from States on measures taken.

India- A soft target for Terrorism?

Coming back to the national level, India has had its fair share of terror attacks and it seems we, as a nation, have learnt to live with it. Serial blasts in local trains in Mumbai and crowded market places in Delhi shook the nation. But, the emergence of terror in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, known as the IT and high tech hubs, has come as an eye-opener. The newer generation of terrorists is homegrown, intelligent, well educated and sophisticated. Knowing that India is an emerging global economy, it has been intelligent of them to target the financial centres and centres of economic significance and it is not an act of amateurs. For instance, bombing the local trains in Mumbai which are called as the lifeline of the city and crowded commercial market places in Delhi have shown that the terrorists do their homework well and know where the maximum damage could be uncured.

It has been unfortunate for a country like India, where the principle of ‘Non-violence’ emerged, to witness emergence of five kinds of terrorism or terrorism on five fronts in the last two decades. The most important and strategically significant terrorism is of course the cross border infiltration in the Jammu and Kashmir state from Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir or directly from Pakistan. Another front where fortunately we have been able to be successful was in Punjab in the 1980’s. But, still, India is being tried to be crippled on the remaining three fronts which include the problems in the North-East involving insurgency primarily in Assam and Manipur states and the threat to the territorial integrity in Arunachal Pradesh from China. The latest to join these terrorism activities is the rise of Naxalites and Maoists in the very heart of the country having their influence in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. However, we can say that the LTTE conflict in Sri Lanka may have to a larger extend been resolved.

The Government of India has spent around Rs. 45,000 crores on relief and rehabilitation and para-military forces, which do not include the military and the army, since independence. Still, the no. of civilians killed in the terror attacks has been far more than the total number of deaths of the security personnel in the four conventional wars we have fought, including the Kargil War. It is not the cost that hurts, but the lack of funds to be spent on rural development and problems involving electricity, education, sanity and infrastructure.

Our political thinkers, academics, and the media have to girdle them to examine rationally all the steps being taken to see how far they impinge on the Human Rights of the people. How far in the name of challenging terrorism from across the borders we are fanning communalism at home. How far are we creating an environment of intolerance by exhorting the people against one religion or the other and calling upon the people to be vigilant against one minority or the other is a question that merits serious consideration.

The socio-economic and cultural emancipation of the people at the grass-root level achieved through a well-planned developmental planning process through democratic norms and principles would remove the local support base of the terrorists and it is a proven fact that terrorists cannot function without a local base and also without misguided support from the locals.

Terrorism and Weakening Economies

On a larger scene, while all anti-terrorism fortifications, technological and armament based, in countries in the Asian sub-continent and the limited wars as anti-terrorism steps, prove a tremendous strain on the economy of such countries, they result in a huge surplus creation for the American armament industry. Yes, American because it is the United States that is an undeclared rival of the United Nations which becomes an impotent body when it comes to opposing the US policies which are most often supported by the European Union and Great Britain.

The above may appear a disjointed narration but there is a binding string running right through. In today’s so-called unipolar world scene anti-terrorism campaigns, especially those emanating from the U.S.A cannot be separated from globalisation and the end aim turns out to be the service of the American economy.

How to curb terrorism and safeguard Human Rights?

There is a need to establish mechanisms for strengthening collaborations among governments and competent national authorities and to promote the exchange of information, particularly on the possible exploitation of modern technology for terrorist purposes. Attention also needs to be paid to concluding bilateral and multilateral agreements in combating and preventing terrorist acts with particular emphasis on the issue of extradition.

New dimensions of Terrorism

One could now see and perceive that terrorism extends over a wide canvas encompassing religion, socio-economic power politics and many such other subject areas. The internal dynamics and external linkages of terrorism have made it a formidable challenge not only to national security but also to world peace. It has, over the years, acquired several dimensions and has become a highly complex phenomenon.

There could be fundamental terrorism—an explosive combination of fundamentalism creed and terrorist violence—that is sweeping across several countries.

Narco-terrorism represents yet another sinister dimension of terrorism. There are documented instances of terrorists and insurgent groups taking into trafficking into outlawed drugs to finance their operations.

Cyberspace is another area where the terrorists have stamped their presence. Several groups have their own websites through which they launch their propaganda. They also try to cripple the economies of the countries by hacking the accounts and security systems of central banks and illegally transferring money outwards.

Then there could be two more types of terrorism: eco-terrorism and developmental terrorism and one should not forget the silent terrorism of illiteracy, poverty and hunger. It is worth mentioning the latter forms of terrorism as at the micro-level, it is these forms of silent terrorism that have a direct effect on the population and a direct link with infringement of human rights of millions of people not only in India but worldwide the worst hit being the continent of Africa which once used to be famously called the ‘Dark Continent. This epithet seems to still exist for there are territorial conflicts accompanied by the frequent local level famines hitting the Sub-Saharan region of the continent. Then we have the lack of literacy and basic civil amnesties of living.

What we Understood?

We have to understand that every act of terrorism infringes on the human rights of the people. We also have to accept that laws restrict the rights of the people, necessarily or unnecessarily. But we have to be clear that we have to define terrorism in the context of our country and have to devise temporary limitations on the rights of the people. International pressures may land us in situations that may push us into the lap of self-appointed Inspectors of the world who need our markets and resources and are therefore keen to point out ‘identity of interests’ in fighting ‘international terrorism’.

Picture Credit: Indiacurrentaffairs.org