Obama Should Call for Global Response to Extremism Founded in Human Rights at U.N.

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged President Obama to use his appearances at the United Nations to call for a global response to extremism and terrorism that recognizes human rights as an essential component. The organization also urges the president to explain how the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is in accordance with international law.

“President Obama is right to rally international support for the struggle against terrorism and violent extremism,” said Human Rights First’s Heather Hurlburt. “At the same time, the president should emphasize that governments that violate human rights in the name of combatting terrorism or upholding security are actually part of the problem, not the solution.   Counterterrorism measures that violate human rights are counterproductive.  Far from making the world more secure, they contribute to greater insecurity.”

In a letter sent to President Obama, Human Rights First urged the president to clarify the scope and objectives of America’s military actions against ISIS. Specifically, President Obama should assure the international community that American military action against ISIS conforms to international law and does not represent an unbounded broadening of the use of military force as part of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.

Commitment to the rule of law is a core source of U.S. prestige and a central goal of U.S. action against extremism around the world. Consequently, Human Rights First calls on the Administration to explain how its actions, and the measures proposed to deal with concerns about foreign fighters, fit within the  framework of international law. Under international law, uses of force are only lawful if there is consent from the state where force is being used, a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force, or if force is being used in self-defense.  Further, all uses of force must comply with other applicable international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Putting human rights at the core of counter-terrorism means preventing terrorist groups like ISIS from emerging in ill-governed or ungoverned spaces. Human Rights First urges the United States – and all U.N. member states—to focus greater attention on prevention, including addressing the lawlessness conducive to the spread of terrorism. President Obama can lead in ensuring that efforts to combat terrorism are carried out in accordance with international law and never become a pretext for violations of human rights.  The group urges the president to pledge publicly that United States actions will accord with international law and outline a plan for greater transparency around the rationales and outcomes of targeting operations, so that U.S. allies and their publics may see clearly that this is so.

While the United States counters the threat of extremism in the Middle East, there are also rising threats to democracy from within the European Union. President Obama should speak out publicly against violent, extremist political parties in Europe, specifically in Hungary and Greece, which threaten to destabilize democracies and weaken the transatlantic alliance.

“By allowing extremist groups to flourish in Europe, the United States and its European counterparts risk increased conflict and hostility, restrictions on civil and political rights, political instability, and violence,” said Hurlburt.  “We cannot afford to ignore them.”


Published on September 23, 2014


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