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Human rights must not be sacrificed in fight against terror, Annan tells UN’s rights body

Human rights must not be sacrificed in fight against terror, Annan tells UN’s rights body

Reaffirming the duty of countries to protect their citizens, especially in the aftermath of last year’s terror attacks against the United States, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today warned that such protection must not come at the expense of human rights.

Speaking before the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, the Secretary-General reiterated the notion that countries not only had the right, but also the duty, to shield their citizens from the threats posed by terrorism.

“But States must also take the greatest care to ensure that counter-terrorism does not, any more than sovereignty, become an all-embracing concept that is used to cloak, or justify, violations of human rights,” Mr. Annan stressed.

Justice must be both “the means and the end” in the struggle against terrorism, the Secretary-General told the Commission, which he said was meeting in one of the most important sessions it has ever held, given the events since the 11 September attacks and the current “desperate situation” in the Middle East.

“Mass murderers must no longer go unpunished, whether they are terrorists, warlords or dictators,” he said, welcoming yesterday’s historic milestone of the 60th ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). That event will enable the treaty to enter into force on 1 July and the Court to become operational by next year.

Rather than detract from or undermine the responsibility of States to prosecute and punish war crimes committed by their citizens or within their jurisdiction, the Court will give countries a strong incentive to improve their standards, the Secretary-General said, since it will only have jurisdiction where the State is either unable or unwilling to proceed.

“It is a well-known principle that justice must not only be done, but also be clearly seen to be done,” Mr. Annan said. “When criminals are punished, no fair-minded person should be in doubt of the justice of either conviction or sentence.”

The Secretary-General also paid tribute to Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who is leaving the post in September, saying that she brought to the office “an unflagging and fearless determination” to uphold the cause of human rights throughout the world.

“The poor, the oppressed and the victims of injustice in every country and everywhere in the world have reason to be grateful to her,” Mr. Annan said.