The ‘war on terrorism’, since the former American President, George W Bush uttered those words following the devastating September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, has occupied prime place on the priority list of many governments; the United Kingdom included. Security and the maintenance of peace and order in society is the primary goal of any government. The threat posed by terrorist attacks of such magnitude as was witnessed by the US in 2001 and the UK in 2005 respectively must therefore be decisively eliminated where possible. The methods and processes in the form of legislations through which such elimination is effected have however raised considerable concerns about potential derogation from fundamental human rights. 10 years on, there seems to be more questions than answers regarding the need for the Iraqi war and the whereabouts or indeed actual existence of the weapons of mass destruction. Guantanamo Bay, the allegedly inhumane treatment meted out to prisoners, some of who had merely been suspected of having any association with known or suspected terrorists brought the seriousness of the situation home.
Questions began to be asked with regards to just how far the United States and its closest ally, United Kingdom, were prepared to go in their war on terror. In the United Kingdom, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 and its predecessor, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 have received heavy criticisms for some of the powers they vest in law enforcement agencies. Under the 2005 Act, people deemed to be terrorist suspects can be placed under house arrest even when there is very little evidence to warrant a trial. It is also believed by some that anti terrorism legislations are inherently discriminatory in that members of the Islamic faith feel particularly targeted. In A and Others v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (2004), prior to the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, 9 foreigners suspected to be terrorists were arrested and detained at HM Prison Belmarsh. The arrest and detention were held by the Court to have been in violation of the foreigners’ human rights.
There are several other similar cases where the human rights of individuals and groups of individuals have been infringed upon in the name of ‘war against terrorism’. While there is a crucial need for States to combat terrorism, this should not and cannot be achieved by trampling all over people’s fundamental human rights. The right to life, right to respect for private and family life, non-discrimination and other human rights are naturally conferred on every man, woman and child by virtue of their existence. These rights cannot be eroded by counterterrorism legislations. If you or anyone you know has cause to believe that your human rights have been tampered, contact us immediately!