|There is an urgent need to formulate anti-terrorism responses that are both effective and in consonance with the rule of law.|
Rapid Action Force personnel stand guard at Lumbini Park in Hyderabad on Sunday.
Saturday’s terrorist attacks in Hyderabad once again highlight the grave threats to human security in India and other countries. While we mourn the dead and treat the injured, there is a need to reflect on the problem of terrorism and its huge implications for democracy and human security. Over the next several weeks and months the focus will be on the investigation to track down the perpetrators. But given the frequency of these incidents in India and elsewhere, the re is an urgent need to understand the problem with a view to formulating effective responses that are in consonance with the rule of law.
Louise Richardson, a Harvard University professor in her recent book What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Terrorist Threat, observed: “…Terrorism needs a sense of alienation from the status quo and a desire to change it. Terrorism needs conditions in which people feel unfairly treated, and leaders to makes sense of these conditions, to organise a group and make it effective. Terrorism needs an all-encompassing philosophy, a religion or secular ideology, to legitimise violence, to win recruits to the cause and to mobilise them for action. Terrorism, to survive and thrive, needs a complicit society, a societal surround sympathetic to its aspirations, if not necessarily to its actions.”
It is important that as a society, we understand the problem of terrorism better. This is so that we can formulate counter-terrorism policies that are effective and also take into account the need for balancing human rights and civil liberties while protecting national security.
In this regard, the response to terrorism should encompass the following:
1. Strengthening the law-enforcement machinery and civil society:
An effective law-enforcement machinery will be better equipped not only to appropriately respond to terrorism but also to develop intelligence and to provide proper training to officials in formulating counter-terrorism policies. India is faced with huge challenges relating to enforcing the rule of law. The criminal justice system is under severe stress and all institutions of governance suffer from corruption, mediocrity, and inefficiency, all of which undermine the effectiveness of the legal system. The fight against terrorism needs the support of the legal system and civil society whereby the law-enforcement machinery, including the criminal justice process, needs to be strengthened. This is essential so that acts of terrorism are thoroughly investigated, fairly prosecuted, and justice delivered within a reasonable time frame with due regard to the principles of equality and fairness. Unfortunately, in the Indian context, strengthening the law-enforcement machinery has been misunderstood to be the passing of draconian laws in the form of TADA and POTA, both of which have had a dubious track record of violating human rights and civil liberties, besides not being very effective in fighting terrorism. The development of a sound legal framework relating to anti-terror laws is necessary but not enough. Even with a good legal framework, it is not possible to effectively fight terrorism if the law enforcement machinery is not sufficiently empowered.
It is important to recognise that the support of civil society is essential. The strengthening of the law-enforcement machinery for adopting suitable counter-terrorism policies ought to focus on the availability of necessary resources, proper training and support for the police and other institutions engaged in protecting national security, and most important, instilling faith and trust of the law-enforcement machinery among the people by reducing corruption and inefficiency.
2. Reducing social and economic inequalities:
While it cannot be said that poverty and impoverishment are the causes of terrorism, reducing social and economic inequalities helps in dealing with discontent and marginalisation in society. Institutionalised social and income disparities over a period of time can result in people losing hope and a sense of despair can prevail. This can lead to the affected adopting violent and unconstitutional measures to achieve certain economic or political ends.
The state’s capacity to deal with poverty and impoverishment has to be strengthened along with efforts to maintain peace and harmony among different communities. A recent report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector tellingly noted the following on the conditions of work and promotion of livelihoods in India: “…77 per cent [of the] people, totalling 836 million, had an income less than twice the official poverty line or below Rs.20 per day per capita. These are the poor and vulnerable segment of the Indian population. About 79 per cent of the unorganised workers, 88 per cent of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, 80 per cent of the OBCs and 84 per cent of the Muslims belong to this category of the poor and vulnerable.” A society responding to threats relating to human security should look at terrorism as one of the important threats. This will ensure that the resources it puts in ensuring national security through the law-enforcement machinery does not obfuscate other efforts needed to empower vulnerable people so that stable communities that foster peace and respect for individuals and the community at large is promoted. The policies relating to ensuring human security needed in India ought to bring into their fold the need for eradicating poverty, generating employment, eliminating all forms of discrimination, and improving the effectiveness of the legal system, including the institutions engaged in law enforcement — all of which contributes in many ways to strengthening the ability of the Indian state to ensure human security to all its people.
3. Protecting human rights and civil liberties:
Terrorism and the victimisation it causes violate human rights and established norms of human dignity and personal security that is mandatory for peaceful existence in any society. The responses to combating terrorism should not deviate from the universal values of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. The responses to terrorism and human rights violations demonstrate the perpetual conflict between public protection (national security) and individual rights. The question of what should be done when the enforcement of human rights appears to clash with the enforcement of national security measures is the key issue in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. It is important to recognise the need for valuing human rights and promoting civil liberties so that democracies can create space for meaningful dialogue and debates while maintaining the notion of dissent within civil and political society. Any deviation from the rule of law framework will not only be ineffective in fighting terrorism but may also lead to further problems, including but not limited to profiling, perpetration of religious biases, and other forms of prejudices against individuals and communities, and discrimination.
The anti-terrorism laws should be compatible with both the national and international human rights framework. The courts and the human rights commissions are best suited to ensure that such laws do not undermine the existing protection of human rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and other laws.
Terrorism poses serious threats to Indian democracy, but it is important to recognise that the response ought to be within the rule of law framework for it to be effective and legitimate.
(C. Raj Kumar is Associate Professor of Law at the School of Law, City University of Hong Kong and Honorary Consultant to the National Human Rights Commission in India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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