British counter-terrorism laws spark concern from UN expert on religion

15 June 2007

Although the United Kingdom possesses deep knowledge and a “great wealth of experience” in handling religious tensions and terrorist acts carried out for religious purposes, a United Nations independent expert today voiced concern over laws which have been promulgated following recent terrorist attacks.

Such laws are widely believed to target the UK’s Muslim population and “undermine the human rights of all,” Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said in a statement issued in London after wrapping up an 11-day visit to the country.

“A discriminatory application of stop-and-search powers and religious profiling may ultimately prove to be counterproductive,” she added.

While she understood that States were obliged to adopt measures to thwart terrorism, Ms. Jahangir also noted that she has heard allegations of abuses of counter-terrorism laws, particularly of the provisions which criminalize the failure to disclose information about terrorist acts.

During her visit to the UK, Ms. Jahangir met with Prime Minister Tony Blair, senior Government officials, politicians, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academics, while she also toured a school, a prison and an immigration removal centre.

The Special Rapporteur said she was “particularly impressed” by her experience in Northern Ireland, which has witnessed over 3,500 deaths in the past four decades due to religious and political violence.

“There seems to be now hope for a shared future,” she said, referring to “promising initiatives” seeking to bridge the sectarian divide between Protestants and Catholics.

But Ms. Jahangir pointed out that several problems, including religious inequalities in employment, housing and policing, remain in Northern Ireland.

Ms. Jahangir will forward her report on the UK, including recommendations, to the UN Human Rights Council – set up last year to replace the much-criticized Commission on Human Rights.

In a related development, the 47-member Council continued its fifth session in Geneva today, where it held consultations to prepare for various proposals, including one relating to a “universal periodic review” mechanism to monitor the rights records of Member States, which must be decided by next Monday.

On Sunday, the body will hold informal consultations where the Council President plans to distribute a revised text on institution-building measures.

 

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