European Terror Attacks Fuel Responses that Undermine National Security and Human Rights
New York City—Human Rights First today is saddened by the horrific terrorist attacks that took place in Belgium, and calls on European leaders to resist overly broad, discriminatory responses to terrorist attacks. Following November’s tragic attacks in Paris, the French Senate voted today 176 – 161 to pass a set of proposals that would amend the French constitution to permanently include terms for declaring a state of emergency and permit the government to strip certain persons convicted of terrorism-related offenses of their French nationality. The vote came just hours after the Brussels attack that has killed dozens of people and wounded more than 100 others.
“We send our deepest condolences to the government and people of Belgium. In the wake of these horrible attacks, we urge European officials to remember that France, Belgium, the United States, and other democratic nations are made stronger—not less safe—when we search for solutions that align with our core ideals of respect for human rights, rule of law, freedom, equality, and democracy,” said Human Rights First’s Susan Corke. “We must resist the temptation to give into our worst fears by enacting proposals that further divide our societies and ultimately foment tensions that make us less safe. Europe’s leaders need a level-headed and measured response.”
Human Rights First notes that under the French constitutional amendments narrowly approved by the Senate today, the government will have expanded authority to impose prolonged state-of-emergency restrictions on basic rights, with serious privacy and due process implications. This legislation will increase the potential for government overreach and discrimination in the use of surveillance, raids, detention, and prosecution of individuals during a state of emergency. It also raises the specter of a perpetual state of emergency, without a definite time limit, because it lacks vital safeguards against indefinite prolongation. The legislation will also stigmatize persons in France who hold dual nationality, by insinuating that such persons are more likely to be radicalized and to commit terrorist acts.
Ilan Scialom, vice president of the French interfaith assocation Coexister, said, “Under the state of emergency, which has been extended until May 26th, priority is given to security and intelligence rather than justice and extensive investigations. This is an abnormal situation that should not become normalized. It was certainly justified in the months after the attacks in order to diminish the immediate threat. But in a long term perspective, the state of emergency could create conditions of hostility against the state and society. One of the main challenges is to be sure that the state of emergency is not degrading what it is supposed to defend, meaning the rule of law.”
Experts have already raised concerns that current emergency measures are being applied in France in an overly-broad and in some cases discriminatory manner. Over the past decade and a half since the 9/11 attacks the United States has learned, sometimes painfully, that we are more successful, not less, in confronting violent extremism with strategies founded in respect for human rights. This learned experience has been highlighted in President Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative, and is at the core of the U.N. Secretary General’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism.
Human Rights First has previously called on the U.S. government to urge its French counterparts to reject any constitutional reforms that would compromise human rights, civil liberties, and equal treatment for all citizens. The French government, with support from the United States, should instead combat xenophobia, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim attitudes by sending messages of tolerance and strengthening civil society.