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UK’s Prevent Extremism programme violates human rights rules UN expert

24th Mar 2020
UK’s Prevent Extremism programme violates human rights rules UN expert

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism (Credit: Jean-Marc Ferré/ United Nations)

Nadine Osman

The UK’s Prevent Extremism programme and others like it around the world are contributing to human rights violations, that’s according to a UN expert.

A report submitted to the Human Rights Council on March 4 said countering “extremism” has been misused to target and victimise religious minorities and civil society actors.

Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Counter-Terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin said any programme that relies on teachers, social workers and health-care staff to report signs of radicalisation should be scrapped.

‘The negative impact cannot be overstated,’ her report read. Such measures break the ‘fragile trust’ between communities and public services. The report also found that many counter-extremism practices result in ‘over the selection and overreporting’ on discriminatory grounds. Muslim communities in the UK and US have repeatedly claimed they have been disproportionately targeted by Prevent and Countering Violent Extremism Task Force.

‘Violations of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are being enabled by “deradicalisation” policies and practice,’ the report said. The report added that many countries engaged in counter-extremism efforts have policies that are not based on scientific research and could instead be “counter-productive.”

States engaged in counter-terrorism efforts should ensure “that policies and programmes aimed at preventing violent extremism are evidence-based and scientifically sound” and do not stifle peaceful political dissidence, criticism, non-violent protest or freedom of religion, it said.

Many post-9/11 programmes have resulted in polarizing rhetoric that leads to a “with us or with the terrorists” mentality that has “led to the targeting of civil society members who question the legitimacy of the counter-terrorism measures,” the report said.

Prevent has sparked widespread criticism among civil rights groups and Muslim advocacy organisations.

Last month, the British government said it would appoint an independent reviewer of its Prevent strategy through an open and transparent process after human rights campaigners threatened it with further legal action. The UK made similar promises last year, committing to commissioning an independent review of Prevent in parliamentary legislation.

In December the Home Office was forced to drop its appointed reviewer, Lord Carlile, following a legal challenge by Rights Watch (UK) over his past advocacy for Prevent. This time, the Government Legal Department said that the reviewer for the forthcoming review would be appointed “through full and open competition.”

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