Too often, counter-terrorism measures include a violation of human rights and place state security ahead of a broad-based definition of individual human security, which would include economic security, respect for human rights and freedom from disease. In this context, from October 20 - 23, 2011 Cordaid and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) convened a conference of global civil society actors to develop a collaborative strategy for civil society engagement in implementing the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy.
More than 40 participants from five continents attended, representing civil society organizations (CSOs) whose work included women’s rights, conflict prevention and peace building, development, security sector reform, internet freedom, and human security.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, policymakers have been skeptical about involving civil society organizations (CSOs) in addressing violent extremism. However as the national security policy pendulum is shifting from an emphasis on hard security measures towards a prevention, rights-based approaches, official bodies are starting to see the importance of engaging civil society.
However, there are problems CSOs face in working with states in the area of counter-terrorism. The key dilemmas include:
the current counter-terrorism discourse: The dominant official discourse advocates a state-centered, militaristic security approach to counter-terrorism that too often breeds violence, violates human rights, and closes space for civil society.
the need for independent civil society efforts for human rights, development and peacebuilding: While government-civil society partnership can open space for less militaristic approaches, it is critical that CSOs keep their independence and that they play the role of ‘watchdog’ organizations, holding governments and official agencies accountable.
the value to networks of leveraging CSO voices to counterweigh official forces. This includes the creation of secure online and offline spaces for sharing and collaboration, especially protection of organizations operating in dangerous, repressive contexts.
In contrast,the human rights discourse does not offer states and populations clear security alternatives in the context of pressing threats. Thus, due to the negative impact of counterterrorism measures, conference participants recommended the human security paradigm as a conceptual framework to use complementary to the human rights framework. The human security framework positions individual and community well-being at the center of the security discourse. It includes protection from non-military threats to security, including disease, lack of education, lack of economic opportunity, and the denial of human rights.
The report then continues with unpacking number of critical security issues CSOs are already working on, including the empowerment of victims of both terrorism and counter-terrorism, the inclusion of women's perspectives, the monitoring of human rights' violations and conflict prevention.
Internet freedom is another theme CSOs engage with in security policymaking. The report states that civil society can be particularly helpful in three areas – the development of legal frameworks, technical mechanisms to prevent internet abuse, and countering extremist narratives.
Finally, the report outlines a three-step strategy to help engage CSOs within the international counter-terrorism community. The pillars include:
A review of the UN Global Counter-terrorism Strategy that is organized around these four pillars:
Measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism
Measures to prevent and combat terrorism
Measures to build States' capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system in this regard
Measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism
Creation of a network of CSOs to engage the issue of counter-terrorism measures, including outreach to women's right groups during the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Develop communications strategy, including documentation of stories of victims of counter-terrorism measures.