Investigate impact of counter-terrorism strategy on minorities, UN inspector tells UK

24th Aug 2018

Harun Nasrullah

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, Professor Joseph Cannataci, has raised concerns over the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy (Prevent), recommending that the Government investigates its impact.

The recommendation comes as part of his end of mission statement which concluded his visit to the UK in June. The mission aimed to “assess the impact of surveillance legislation” and “…privacy issues among minorities and other groups which are often victims of profiling and discrimination”.

The visit included meetings with representatives of civil society organisations, academics and Government officials.

The statement outlines the Special Rapporteur’s preliminary observations with the final report intended to be presented to the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2019, and evidential submissions continuing to be considered until September 2018.

Cannataci reiterates the criticism levied against the Prevent strategy by previous UN representatives, including Professor Tendayi Achiume, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Achiume previously noted that Prevent was “inherently flawed”, “vague” and lacked any supportive evidence demonstrating its success.

Cannataci also highlighted that previous criticism were made against “ambiguous definitions of terms like ‘extremism’, and loose guidelines to the entities implementing the strategy” and this resulted in “crude racial, ideological, cultural and religious profiling”.

He also noted that previous concerns were raised about the UK Government encouraging the reporting of suspicious speech in even educational institutions which created “unease and uncertainty regarding what can legitimately be discussed in public”.

Cannataci said representatives of some Muslim communities told him the Prevent counter-extremism programme was “dividing, stigmatising and alienating communities”.

He concluded: “I was to date unable to gather sufficient evidence to substantiate such claims but hereby recommend that sufficient resources be allocated by the UK Government to reinforce the evidence base as to the precise impact of Prevent and similar measures on privacy and other fundamental rights.”

The Prevent duty, as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, requires public bodies to have “due regard to the need to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism”, enforcing students and staffs of schools, colleges and universities, as well as all other public bodies, to report anyone who they suspect may be vulnerable to becoming radicalised.

Other groups have noted a number of cases in which individuals have been flagged due to discrimination on racial, religious or ethnic grounds.

In one case, an Asian man was flagged because he was overheard planning a future trip to Saudi Arabia, which had been interpreted by a nurse as being a cause for concern. The man was planning a Hajj pilgrimage that is compulsory for all Muslims to conduct at least once in their lifetime and is one of the five pillars of Islam.

In another case, a student at the University of Staffordshire was flagged up by a University staff member for reading a course book on terrorism. Mohammed Umar Farooq was undertaking a Master’s degree in Terrorism and Security Studies at the time and had explained this to the staff member during a brief chat. However, subsequent to the chat the staff member complained to the University security that “there [was] a man, who is Asian, and with a beard, who is not a student and is reading a book on terrorism”.

The University eventually apologised noting that the incident was the result of Prevent training which was “devoid of detail” and was underpinned by guidance that contained “insufficient detail to provide clear practical direction”.

Despite significant and accumulating criticism against Prevent, the UK Government has failed to address any of the concerns raised and have instead sought to recently, on June 4, extend the remit of the strategy.

Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) has urged for the immediate need to conduct an independent review of Prevent and all counter-terrorism legislation enacted since 2000 with a particular attention afforded to the manifestations of Islamophobia within their development, scope, training procedures, and application.

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