Amnesty: Fight against terror is dismantling human rights in Europe

Police escort a group of refugees in Slovenia. [Denis Rozan/Shutterstock]

Amnesty International on Tuesday (17 January) shed light on the sweeping arsenal of security measures being enforced in the EU and their cost to citizens’ personal freedoms. EURACTIV France reports.

According to a report by human rights NGO Amnesty International, the legislative frenzy that has followed recent terrorist attacks in Europe, under the guise of protecting EU citizens, has badly impinged on human rights and individual freedoms in the bloc.

The report entitled Dangerously disproportionate: The ever-expanding national security state in Europe examines the measures used to strengthen the security measures of 14 European countries (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Spain, France Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom and Slovakia) and how they impact on personal freedoms.

“Europe’s human rights framework, which was so carefully constructed after the Second World War, is being rapidly dismantled,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe director.

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The fight against terrorism

The principles of equality, the right to a private life, the freedom of expression and free movement are being endangered by the governments of several member states.  France, which has passed a raft of legislation increasing the powers of the executive, is a particularly striking example, according to Amnesty.

Over the last two years, additions to France’s anti-terrorist legislative armoury include the criminalisation of “apology of terrorism”, a measure that has so far led to 298 trials and 385 sentences, one third of which were against minors.

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But many of these new laws have only the vaguest of legal bases, which means they can easily be extended to cover issues beyond their terrorism brief.

For example, a new surveillance law “allows indiscriminate surveillance for reasons unrelated to the fight against terrorism, like France’s industrial and commercial interests,” said Amnesty’s France director, Dominique Curis.

More worrying still is that far from stopping at the French border, this tendency to toughen security legislation can be seen spreading across the European continent.

“In the wake of a series of appalling attacks, from Paris to Berlin, governments have rushed through a raft of disproportionate and discriminatory laws,” said Dalhuisen. While individually concerning, taken together these measures paint a picture of a continent where freedom is systematically subordinated to security.

State of emergency

By establishing a state of emergency – and renewing it five times – France is largely responsible for the normalisation of this trend. Intrusive measures allowing the police to ban demonstrations, to conduct house searches without a warrant and keep people under house arrest have been taken up by other European governments.

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“France is the only country to have invoked national security to establish a state of emergency,” said Curis.

But Paris’ actions have paved the way for other EU capitals to follow suit. “EU governments are using counter-terrorism measures to consolidate draconian powers,” said  Dalhuisen.

Refugee crisis

One of the measures picked out by the human rights NGO was the stigmatisation of foreigners, particularly refugees, which is creeping into society in many countries.

For example, the Polish government has recently enacted a law permitting it to survey foreign nationals for up to three months following their arrival in the country, without seeking any legal justification.

“This is legislation that concerns only foreigners and directly attacks the principle of non-discrimination,” said Dalhuisen.

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“What is more, many EU member states tend to link the refugee crisis to the terrorist threat,” Dalhuisen added.

One of the striking examples denounced in the report is that of a Syrian citizen resident in Cyprus, sentenced by a Hungarian court in November 2016 to ten years imprisonment for his involvement in clashes with border guards. This was classified as an act of terrorism by the Hungarian state.

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