Combating terror must not make victims of innocent people: Robinson

Combating terror must not make victims of innocent people: Robinson

Mary Robinson
The commitment by countries to fight terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks is a source of reassurance and comfort but governments must be careful to avoid making innocent people victims of counter-terrorism measures, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said today.

In presenting her annual report to the General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee, the High Commissioner stressed that government action must be guided by human rights principles, which strike a balance between the enjoyment of freedoms and the legitimate concerns for national security.

"The discretion granted to certain authorities to act must not be unfettered," she said as the panel opened its comprehensive debate on issues relating to human rights. "The principle of non-discrimination must always be respected and special effort made to safeguard the rights of vulnerable groups. I am concerned that some governments are now introducing measures that may erode core human rights safeguards."

As for the current situation in Afghanistan, the High Commissioner noted that in light of past experience, she was particularly concerned at the prospect of retaliatory killings and other abuses of civilians if territory changes hands, especially in view of the climate of impunity that had led to the current human rights situation there.

"It is essential that Afghanistan be assisted in ensuring accountability for the series of massacres and other human rights and humanitarian law abuses perpetrated in recent years," she said.

In her remarks, the High Commissioner also specifically addressed the situation of human rights in East Timor, the Middle East and Chechnya in the Russian Federation. Concerning the Middle East, Mrs. Robinson said the failure to resolve the fundamental problem of occupation, as well as human security for both parties, combined with the increased recourse to violence have exacerbated the frustrations of both communities and have further eroded the sense of security of Israelis and Palestinians.

"I urge both Israelis and Palestinians to work towards ending the cycle of violence and a return to negotiations, the aim of which should be achieving peace through a just and durable solution, in conformity with fundamental standards of international humanitarian and human rights law," she said.