U.S. Government Should Promote Global Counterterrorism Strategy Rooted in Human Rights

New York CityToday, in response to terrorist attacks in Kuwait and Tunisia, Human Rights First urged the U.S. government to redouble its efforts to combat terrorism and counter violent extremism by tackling the underlying drivers of violent extremism.

“It is clear that there is a need for a concerted, sustained international effort to combat and prevent terrorist violence such as the horrific attacks in Sousse and Kuwait today,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks.  “Violent extremists and repressive authoritarian governments are mutually reinforcing. To break this destructive cycle, governments that wish to be effective partners in the struggle against violent extremism must extend human rights protections to all members of their communities, make independent civil society a partner, protect religious freedom and denounce sectarian incitement.”

In February, President Obama outlined a preventive strategy at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, and this week a regional conference in Kenya focuses on similar issues. As Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall reiterated in her opening remarks in Kenya yesterday, the international community  must commit itself to a renewed focus on protecting the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, an end to the incitement of sectarian violence, which leads to atrocities such as the suicide bombing of a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait today, and for empowering independent civil society organizations as core partners in the struggle against violent extremism.

“Tunisia represents a hopeful alternative to endless conflict between repressive authoritarianism and violent extremism.  The United States has a vital interest in ensuring the success of Tunisia’s fragile transition towards democracy,” noted Hicks. “Tunisia has become a target for terrorist violence in recent months because of the progress it has made in transitioning away from decades of authoritarian rule towards democratic government grounded in the rule of law.  With its international partners, the United States should make clear that it will not let terrorism win a victory in Tunisia, and that it will stand behind the Tunisian economy and help the Tunisian security forces to secure further progress towards a peaceful democratic future for Tunisia.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait, further spreading its sectarian violence in the Gulf region.  The global struggle against ISIL requires cooperation from key Arab partners, especially among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.  Since the Arab Spring protests of 2011 Saudi Arabia and the GCC states have been leading a region-wide pushback against popular demands for more representative, more responsive government. This has included a Saudi-led, GCC supported, military incursion into Bahrain to put down a peaceful protest movement and ample financial and political support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s authoritarian rule in Egypt. The repressive policies of such governments undermine global efforts to counter violent extremism and combat terrorism.

Several GCC states are using the need to combat terrorism as a pretext to silence peaceful dissent.  They have adopted broadly worded catch-all anti-terrorism laws that are being used to prosecute and jail non-violent government critics and to restrict the activities of independent civil society organizations.  Under Secretary Sewall reminded participants in the countering violent extremism conference yesterday of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s remarks: “governments should not use the fight against terrorism and extremism as a pretext to attack one’s critics.  Extremists deliberately seek to incite such overreaction, and we must not fall into those traps.”  Moreover, Saudi Arabia and other GCC states have cynically exploited anti-Shi’ite sectarianism to build their support bases, resulting in the alarming spread of sectarian violence such as today’s bombing in Kuwait.

For more information see Human Rights First’s blueprints, “How to Counter Terrorism by Supporting Civil Society in the United Arab Emirates,” “How to Build a More Sustainable and Mutually Beneficial Relationship with Saudi Arabia,” and “How to Bring Stability to Bahrain“.


Published on June 26, 2015


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