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04/12/2016

Rights groups expose flaws in EU counterterrorism directive

Justice & Home Affairs

Rights groups expose flaws in EU counterterrorism directive

Rights groups warned that the proposed directive is too open to interpretation and liable to be exploited by governments.

[Joel Schalit/Flickr]

The European institutions reached an agreement yesterday (30 November) on a directive that is aimed at better equipping the EU with instruments to counter terrorism. But civil rights groups warned that it risks undermining fundamental freedoms.

A political agreement on the directive was reached by EU government representatives in the European Council (COREPER) yesterday, following negotiations with the European Parliament. Both the Council and Parliament are expected to sign off on the 37-page text without changes later this month.

One of the important elements of the directive is addressing the issue of “foreign fighters”. Thousands of EU citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State group, and countries are trying to beef up security measures to prevent attacks like the ones in Paris, in which 130 people were killed.

Consequently, the resolution criminalises “preparatory acts”, including travel, the funding, organisation and facilitation of that travel, training and providing funds to commit terrorist acts.

EU's new 'Directive on Terrorism' aims to criminalise preparatory acts

The European Commission adopted on Wednesday (2 December) a package of measures to combat terrorism and arms trafficking, including criminalising travel “for terrorist purposes”.

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Incitement to terrorism and soliciting of another person to contribute to preparation of terrorist acts, for example by supplying or transporting weapons, are also defined as terrorist activities.

The same applies for the public distribution of messages, including messages that ‘glorify’ terrorist acts. Threats of committing such acts are equally punishable, as well as attacks against information systems or “seriously destabilising the fundamental political, constitutional, economic infrastructures of a country or an international organisation”.

Rights groups slammed the directive for running the risk of undermining fundamental rights and having a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on ethnic and religious communities.

Criminalising public protests?

Amnesty International, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), European Digital Rights (EDRi), the Fundamental Rights European Experts (FREE) Group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) all voiced concerns about the directive.

They warn that the overly broad language of the text could lead to criminalising public protests and other peaceful acts, as well as suppressing the exercise of freedom of expression protected under international law, including expression of dissenting political views and other unjustified limitations on human rights.

NGOs see the legislative process for adopting the directive as “extremely problematic”, as in their view it was rushed through behind closed doors without any human rights impact assessment or any consideration for civil society’s input.

The groups call on EU member states to ensure that implementation of the directive in national law includes additional safeguards to guarantee compliance with regional and international human rights obligations.

“A terrorism directive put together without a proper consultation, without any impact assessment and without meaningful public debate creates the worst possible outcome,” said Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights.

He added that “it is too unclear to be implemented in a harmonised way across the EU, too shrouded in secrecy to have public legitimacy and too open to interpretation to prevent wilful abuse by governments seeking to exploit its weaknesses.”

Anti-racism groups warned against discriminatory practices such as ethnic profiling.  ENAR Chair Amel Yacef said that “being lenient about the protection of the rights of some, for the purported benefits of ‘a’ majority, is a blatant distortion of our human rights based values and will never cater for peace, reconciliation and inclusion”.

According to ENAR, since the state of emergency was declared in France after the November 2015 Paris attacks, human rights NGOs have reported 3,594 raids on houses, mosques and prayer halls as well as house arrests, resulting in six criminal investigations for terrorism and only one ongoing trial.

France arrests seven people suspected of planning terror attack

France said yesterday (21 November) it had foiled a possible militant attack after detaining seven people, including some who had been in the ranks of Islamic State in Syria.

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In the United Kingdom, surveillance cameras have been placed in so-called Muslim areas and social workers are required to denounce ‘radical’ behaviour.

Many innocent Muslims are targeted mainly on the basis of their religious practice, with no evidence pointing to their involvement in any criminal act, the rights group warns.

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