War on Terror and Human Rights: A Vexed Revolution

war on terror and human rights

The revolution of Human Rights is as old as the most fundamental concept that became the most contradicting and conceptual view in today’s world, humanism. It was formed in order to protect the infringement of the basic personal rights of human beings. Human Right purely concentrates on the rule of law and democratic rights rather than the offense and crimes which cause distress to the public. Human Rights are relevant to terrorism as it concerns not only the rights of the victims but also the rights of the perpetrator as a human being. In order to protect the livelihood of the citizens as well as to not infringe the private rights of humans, the concept of Human Rights is given first priority.

The origin of Human Rights can be traced back to the oldest of the scripts, but to reach the world on a wider basis and on a global level the universal declaration of Human Rights was first established in 1948 which laid down that every nation should promote Human Rights as a rule of law in order to protect inherent dignity and inviolable rights of human beings. This principle was further adapted by many other nations, and they came together to make this concept to be recognized all around the world as it is of vital importance for the general public to know what factors affect their private rights and what does not affect their private lives.

In some scenarios, the private rights are being violated by the government with the will of the public as the public misinterprets that giving out their private information and making them vulnerable is acceptable because it’s a governmental body and they have supreme powers. This is where the people are so wrong. In whatever situation possible the private right of individuals cannot be infringed. But this very same concept is misunderstood by many and is used to protect the wrong bodies who actually are a supposed threat to the society in a local and global level, and this body is generalized as Terrorism. Any external or internal body who disrupts the natural living of the citizens and causes distress in a wider basis or on a global level are supposedly known as Terrorists and the act is known as Terrorism.

Terrorism, as we know has a major impact on society on a global level. The destructive impact of terrorism has not only disrupted the very liberty of humans but has also created a major impact on a democratic and political level. Even though many commissions for human rights are being formed in order to keep peace with the offenders, there is still something missing out in the counter-terrorism activities.

Human Rights and Terrorism

The Vexed Relationship

The Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, the subsequent declaration of a “global war on terror,” and the rapid development of more stringent counter-terrorism efforts have pitched the issue of human rights and terrorism into high relief.[1] This is true not only in the United States but in a number of countries who have signed on as partners in a global coalition to crack down on terrorist activity.

Terrorism itself is an attack on human rights. The direct linkage between terrorism and human rights was first recognized by World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, 1993, of the Vienna Declaration and its program of Action stipulates that “acts, methods, and practices of terrorism in all its forms and manifestation as well as linking in some countries to drug trafficking are activities aimed at the destruction of human rights.[2]

Terrorism attacks the values that lie at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations:[3]

  • respect for human rights; the rule of law,
  • rules of war that protect civilians,
  • tolerance among peoples and nations,
  • and the peaceful resolution of conflict

Terrorism flourishes in environments of despair, humiliation, poverty, political oppression, extremism, and human rights abuse, it also flourishes in contexts of regional conflict and foreign occupation and its profits from weak State capacity to maintain law and order.

Two new dynamics give the terrorist threat greater urgency. Al-Qaida is the first instance not likely to be the last of an armed non-State network with global reach and sophisticated capacity. Attacks against more than 10 Member States on four continents in the past five years have demonstrated that Al-Qaida and associated entities pose a universal threat to the membership of the United Nations and the United Nations itself. In public statements, Al-Qaida has singled out the United Nations as a major obstacle to its goals and defined it as one of its enemies. Second, the threat that terrorists of whatever type, with whatever motivation — will seek to cause mass casualties creates unprecedented dangers. Our recommendations provided above on controlling the supply of nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological materials and building robust global public health systems are central to a strategy to prevent this threat.[4]

Conventions and Resolutions:

  • International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, (New York, 17th December 1979):

The impetus for the negotiation of the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages (“Hostages Convention”) was the proliferation of hostage-taking in the 1970s. In September 1976, the Federal Republic of Germany (“Germany”) proposed that the drafting of a convention to address the problem should be included on the agenda of the thirty-first session of the United Nations General Assembly. Hostages had recently been taken at the German Embassy in Sweden in April 1975, resulting in the loss of two lives. Other prominent seizures of hostages around that time included an incident at the Vienna headquarters of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in December 1975 and an aircraft hijacking at Entebbe airport in Uganda in June 1976.

While hostage-taking was already prohibited under international humanitarian law, including as a war crime, there was not yet any international instrument addressing hostage-taking outside armed conflict. Nor did the few existing “sectoral” anti-terrorism conventions adequately address the problem; since they were confined to specific contexts like craft safety or damage to internationally protected persons. Other norms of general law too were insufficient; like, rules on the inviolability of diplomatic premises and personnel didn’t cover other victims, criminalize the perpetrators, or impose obligations directly on non-State actors for whom no State can be held accountable.

The preamble to the Hostages Convention declares that “the taking of hostages is an associate offense of grave concern to the international community”. It also highlights the Convention’s role in furthering the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter in maintaining international peace and security and promoting friendly relations and co-operation among States. While the preamble also describes “all acts of taking of hostages as manifestations of international terrorism”, it is clear that hostage-taking is an offense even if it involves compulsion for private rather than political purposes.[5]

  • International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (New York, 15 December 1997):

The objective of the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (the Convention) is to boost international cooperation among States in production and adopting effective and sensible measures for the hindrance of the acts of terrorist activity, and for the prosecution and penalty of their perpetrators.

Any person commits an offense within the meaning of the Convention if that person unlawfully and intentionally delivers, places, discharges or detonates an explosive or other lethal device in, into or against an area of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or intensive destruction seemingly to result or really leading to major economic loss. Any person also commits such an offense if that person attempts to commit an offense as set forth above or participates as an accomplice in an offense, organizes or directs others to commit an offense or in any other way contributes to the commission of such an offense by a group of persons acting with a common purpose.

The Convention doesn’t apply wherever associate degree act of this nature doesn’t involve any international components as outlined by the Convention. The parties are needed to determine jurisdiction over and make punishable, under their domestic laws, the offenses described, to extradite or submit for prosecution persons accused of committing or aiding in the commission of the offenses, and to assist each other in connection with criminal proceedings under the Convention. The offenses within the Convention are deemed to be extraditable offenses between Parties underneath existing extradition treaties and under the Convention itself.[6]

  • International convention for the suppression of the financing of terrorism (New York 9th December 1999)

The international community’s efforts to stop and penalizes the finance of terrorism are part of a bigger effort to combat all aspects of terrorism. These efforts are deployed at the world and at the regional levels. At the global level, the United Nations has been involved in the issue since 1970. In 1972, the General Assembly established the first ad-hoc Committee on International Terrorism, and in 1994, it adopted a Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism. In 1996, the General Assembly established a new ad-hoc committee to elaborate international conventions on terrorist activities. It is in this ad-hoc committee that the Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism was elaborated. Since 2000, the ad-hoc committee has begun work on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism.[7]


Over the years, with the rapid development of technology, weaponry has also taken a huge leap towards increasing use of firearms in order to protect people from each other as well as the upcoming dangers that are foreseen. As the common saying goes “Every coin has two sides” similarly the development of firepower also has two sides.

The fault doesn’t compel with the legislature however with the system wherever implementation isn’t done with efficiently. The matter at hand cannot be restricted to a narrowed down area. Legitimate powers as required to tend as a result of the situation is extraordinary. If the terrorist activities are allowed to increase in the name of improper legislation, there will be several threats which will reveal themselves with respect to the security of the nation. Learning from the experiences of past terror activities which shook the nation, people who are against such legislation should reconsider their stand and accept the fact that these laws are needed to uphold the unity, sovereignty, and integrity of the country.

Today, terrorism does not remain only a cross-border or militant issue. Today terrorism has reached the heart of India with major attacks at cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Preventive detention laws without any safeguard whatsoever against their misuse were required in the Seventies and Eighties when the time was relatively peaceful. Those kinds of laws are not required now. Having such laws, even with safeguards against the misuse, is to give up to a sickening streak of one-sidedness.

The main problem faced when it comes to punishing terrorist is the concept of Human Rights which is entitled to the said accused. So, in order to face terrorism in a more precise manner, it is first of required in dealing with this confusion that always creates a barrier or hurdle in the path of justice.

“Justice delayed is justice denied.” This maxim ought to be applied in case of crimes especially terrorism since nothing can justify such a terrible deed. The prime requirement for this kind of offense is a speedy trial which will create fear among other offenders and also prevent future crimes.

Edited by Ankita Jha


[1] Amy Zalman, Human Rights And Terrorism: An Overview, About News, http://terrorism.about.com/od/humanrights/a/Human_Rights.htm, last visited: 19/08/2016, 16:06.

[2] Terrorism And Human Right, Law Teacher, http://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/terrorism/terrorism-and-human-right.php, last visited:  16/08/2016, 15:23.

[3] Terrorism, United Nations, http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/terrorism/sg%20high-level%20panel%20report-terrorism.htm, last visited:  14:08/2016, 16:48.

[4] Terrorism, United Nations,  http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/terrorism/sg%20high-level%20panel%20report-terrorism.htm, last visited: 14/08/2016, 17:00.

[5] Ben Saul, International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, social science research network, Dec 9, 2014,

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2536150 last visited: 14/08/2016, 18:04.

[6] International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, Special Treaty Event, April 2009, https://www.unodc.org/documents/treaties/Special/1997%20International%20Convention%20for%20the%20Suppression%20of%20Terrorist.pdf, last visited: 14/08/2016, 19:05.

[7] Glenn Gottselig and Chris Matson, Suppressing the Financing of Terrorism: A Handbook For Legislative Drafting, Legal Department International Monetary Fund 2003, 1-2.

Sakshi Raje
I am Sakshi Raje from M.S. University Vadodara, pursuing BALLB (hons.). Tort law and it's interpretations in legal world are way too interesting according to me. I am attracted towards it because of its interpretation done differently according to the needs of society. Apart from this I am fond of travelling and tracking different places.