Counter-Terrorism Measures and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

By Krista Briffett
Counter-terrorism measures have, in recent years, gained exponential attention among Westernised societies. Global data collection has revealed that although the number of attacks and fatalities in 2018 have greatly decreased in comparison to the year prior, terrorism is still a very real and pressing issue. By comparison, an estimated 2,173 global attacks resulting in approximately 9,752 deaths occurred in 2018[1] and approximately 10,900 global attacks resulting in 26, 400 deaths occurred in 2017.[2]

So, what has contributed to this immense decrease of more than half the attacks and fatalities within only one year? Two plausible answers may be considered. The first being that governments are increasingly spending more time on the research of effective counter-terrorism measures and introducing new measures to counter terrorism as a result of such research findings. The second is that governments have also been enforcing already existing counter-terrorism strategies much more strictly. Together, these approaches have evidently resulted in some progress. That being said, such progress has also borne negative aspects. These negative aspects include the fact that some counter-terrorism measures have the ability to violate the economic, social and cultural rights for otherwise non-violent and law-abiding citizens. The occurrence of such violations directly contradicts the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR) and the inherent obligations of Member States (MS) to respect, fulfil and protect the rights of their inhabitants.

“This has created a stark emphasis on the monitoring of all Muslim pupils.”

In considering the United Kingdom’s national strategy for counter-terrorism, referred to as CONTEST, there has been widespread criticism with respect to the first of its four pillars: Prevent. This pillar serves to “safeguard and support those vulnerable to radicalisation, to stop them from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.”[3] The criticism surrounding this pillar stems from the expectation that all teachers, social workers and community collaterals must report anyone they suspect of having been radicalised or exhibiting radicalised behaviour to the authorities. This has, in turn, created a stark emphasis on the monitoring of all Muslim pupils – a paranoia which has been voiced by many Muslim pupils who attend school in the United Kingdom.[4]  One senior high school student of Challney High School for Boys in Bedfordshire, Rahmaan Mohammadi, was reported to the authorities on the basis of having worn a “free Palestine” badge to school and handing out Pro-Palestinian leaflets. As voiced by the Vice President of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, Yusuf Hassan, “Instead of allowing our young people to critique and explore their opinions on such issues, the government are policing thoughts with initiatives like that of Prevent”.[5]

Furthermore, school staff are also at risk of being investigated for anti-counter-terrorism measures in the case that they fail to report a pupil’s “suspicious” behaviours or lecture on content which may be regarded as contentious. This, in and of itself, creates another layer of paranoia – in this instance among school staff. Additionally, the staff’s inability to teach contentious topics arguably restricts the pupils’ full educational potential by way of not being able to discuss, debate and counter-argue important issues impacting the global community. It is, to put simply, a deprivation of pupils’ exploration and analysis of fragile but nonetheless important subjects. Children are our future and, as such, deserve to be fully immersed and educated in all political aspects of the world, should they choose to do so.

In addition to the aforementioned issues, there also exists much clearer, visible forms of the violation of individuals’ economic, social and cultural rights in the name of counter-terrorism. An example of such is the Israeli’s construction of a physical barrier which began in 2003, better known as the West Bank Barrier, in Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Israelis make claim that the construction of the barrier was solely indicative as a counter-terrorism measure against the Palestinian people.[6] What has resulted due to the presence of this barrier, however, are the grave violations of basic human rights which many of the Palestinian people have been facing since the beginning of its construction. These rights include the right to education, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to work and the right to health care.

“The UN has also ordered that Israel remove the barrier so that the Palestinian people may return to being able to exercise their rights.”

The reason why these rights are being violated is primarily due to the fact that the barrier has been constructed in a way which separates some of the villages in the Occupied Palestinian Territory from the rest of the Territory. As such, the resources that were once available to those villages are no longer accessible due to the barrier. This is a major problem that was given more attention to by the United Nation’s (UN) Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism in July 2007 after completing a field mission trip in Israel.[7]Also condemning the construction of the barrier in 2003, the UN responded by stating that the implementation of such a barrier was “in contradiction to relevant provisions of international law”.[8] The UN has also ordered that Israel remove the barrier as soon as possible so that the Palestinian people may return to being able to exercise their rights. Sixteen years after the UN made such an order, however, Israel still has not taken any action on the removing the barrier – a problem that is causing continuously growing tensions.

In summary, it is evident that some of the existing counter-terrorism measures have had a considerably positive impact which is reflected in the immense decrease in the number of global terrorist attacks and fatalities occurring in the last two years. Despite this, however, governments must also be cognizant of the impact that counter-terrorism measures may have on pupils, school staff and otherwise non-violent, innocent bystanders. There also exists a further, more implicit need amongst the global community to hold governments who are inherently violating their members’ ability to exercise their human rights accountable. In times when reasoning with such governments may be difficult, the global community must consider the implementation and adoption of perhaps newer, more effectively practiced and enforced mechanisms for mediation. For, as a global community, we must always “exercise compassion and diminish fear based on recognition of each other’s humanity”.[9]

Krista graduated from the University of Windsor with a Bachelors degree in Social work. Following graduation, Krista worked as a child protection worker for two years, working primarily with families who identified as being Indigenous. Her interests focus on the protection of children and women’s rights.

[1] ESRI, Terror Attacks,, accessed on 07 May 2019

[2] ‘Quest Contributor, University of Birmingham’ (2019) accessed on 07 May 2019

[3] ‘HM Government, CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism’ (2018) accessed on 07 May 2019

[4] Lucy Sherriff (ed)., Anti-Terror Prevent Police Questioned Schoolboy Rahmaan Mohammadi For Wearing a Palestinian Badge, (The Huffington Post, 2016) accessed on 07 May 2019

[5] Ibid

[6] Martin Scheinin (ed). PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF ALL HUMAN RIGHTS, CIVIL, POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT (United Nations General Assembly, 2007) file:///C:/Users/admin/Downloads/G0714948.pdf accessed 08 May 2019

[7] Ibid

[8] Kirk Semple (ed)., UN Resolution Condemns Israeli Barrier, (The New York Times, 2003) accessed on 08 May 2019

[9] ‘Good Reads: Global Community Quotes’ (2019) accessed on 08 May 2019