San Salvador, El Salvador, January 23, 2003


Chairman, Vice-Chairman,  Executive Secretary, and Members of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism,


I am very pleased to have been invited to the Third Regular Session of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism to speak on behalf of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the role of human rights in the anti-terrorism campaign in the Americas.


Terrorism and the violence and fear it perpetuates have been a prevalent and distressing feature of the modern history of the Americas, and have presented the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with significant challenges since the Commission’s creation over forty years ago. The three terrorist attacks of unprecedented proportion perpetrated simultaneously in the United States on September 11, 2001 confirm that terrorism remains an on going and serious threat to the protection of human rights and to regional and international peace and security. In the face of this reality, the Commission has declared that the implications of these developments for the protection of human rights and democracy are extremely grave and have demanded immediate and thorough consideration by the international community, including the organs of the Organization of American States.


It is important to recognize in this regard that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism share a common challenge in ensuring that the population of this region is protected from the violence of terrorism as well as from disproportionate state responses to such violence. The responsibilities and efforts of both institutions in this respect may now be considered to be derived in part from the recently-adopted Inter-American Convention against Terrorism, which aims at strengthening cooperation among the states parties to the treaty to prevent, punish and eliminate terrorism. Of particular significance to the work of the Commission and the Committee against Terrorism, Article 15 of the Convention stipulates that the measures carried out by states parties under the Convention must take place with full respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.


Given that the Commission is the principal organ of the OAS responsible for promoting the observance and protection of human rights in the Hemisphere, and given that the Committee against Terrorism has been charged by the OAS General Assembly with developing cooperation among OAS member states to prevent, combat and eliminate terrorist acts and activities, the Commission’s deliberations concerning the interrelationship between human rights and terrorism may be considered to have particular pertinence to the Committee’s work. In this connection, the Commission recently released its comprehensive Report on Terrorism and Human Rights, which is intended to provide member states with guidance in adopting anti-terrorism laws and regulations that accord with international law. The Report is the result of twelve months of deliberations by the Commission, and drew in part upon the views of international experts on human rights and terrorism as well as written observations provided by OAS member states and pertinent non-governmental organizations on the topic.


Of particular pertinence to the issues being discussed during the course of the Committee’s session, the Commission included in Part I(B) of its report a discussion of terrorism in the context of international law, as well as an overview of the international law against terrorism under Part II(A). These portions of the report, which are intended to provide a context for the Commission’s analysis, include references to the work of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism as well as other regional and international bodies dedicated to preventing, punishing and eradicating terrorism. The introductory portions of the report also recognize that to-date there has been no consensus on a comprehensive international legal definition of terrorism. At the same time, the Commission concludes that it is possible to identify several characteristics frequently associated with incidents of terrorism that provide sufficient parameters within which states’ international human rights and other legal obligations in responding to terrorism may be identified and evaluated. These characteristics include the nature and identity of the perpetrators of terrorism, the nature and identity of the victims of terrorism, the objectives of terrorism, and the means employed to perpetrate terror violence. 


In analyzing the role of international human rights commitments in light of these characteristics of terrorism, the report emphasizes in no uncertain terms that governments of the Americas are obliged to take the measures necessary to prevent terrorism and other forms of violence and to guarantee the security of their populations. States also remain bound, however, by their international human rights obligations in all circumstances, subject only to suspensions or restrictions that are specifically permitted under international law when the life of the nation is threatened. The Commission also emphasizes that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, though unprecedented in their magnitude and horror, have not changed these fundamental precepts.


As part of its methodology, the report acknowledges that terrorist violence may occur in times of peace, in states of emergency, and in situations of war, and therefore considers states’ obligations under both international human rights and the law of armed conflict. The report considers standards of protection under these regimes of law in six main areas: the right to life, the right to humane treatment, the right to personal liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of expression, the rights to judicial protection and non-discrimination, and the protection of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and other non-nationals.


Each of these areas is afforded extensive analysis in separate chapters of the report. With respect to the right to humane treatment, for example, the report emphasizes that detainees must never be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, through conditions of detention, methods of interrogation or otherwise, and that the treatment of detainees must be subjected to appropriate oversight mechanisms as prescribed under applicable regimes of international law, in times of peace and in times of war. With regard to the right to a fair trial, the report also stresses that persons charged with and tried for terrorist-related offenses must, in all situations, be afforded fundamental due process protections, including the right of a defendant to prompt notification in detail of the charges against them, the right to be assisted by counsel without delay, and the right to a public trial. The report also acknowledges that identifying and obstructing financial and other resources of terrorist groups is widely recognized as an important strategy in impeding the operations of such groups, but emphasizes that strategies of this nature must take into account the fact that the use and enjoyment of property is protected as a fundamental human right under inter-American human rights instruments. The report concludes with a series of specific recommendations for OAS member states to give effect to the Commission’s conclusions.


The Commission encourages member states as well as other organs and institutions of the OAS, including the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, to incorporate the Commission recommendations into their anti-terrorism deliberation and initiatives. 


In conclusion, I would like to express the Commission’s strong interest in future opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with the Committee against Terrorism in our common struggle against terrorist violence in the Americas.


Thank you.