Human Rights are Part of the Solution to Terrorism

Jonas Grimheden talked about the European Union’s counter-terrorism policies and their implications for human rights recently at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

As Senior Policy Manager at the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), a decentralised center of fundamental rights expertise for the EU, Grimheden works daily to ensure full respect for human rights across the Union.

Grimheden discussed the current EU legal framework that is in place to combat terrorism and asked if it is ever possible for human rights to be compatible with counter-terrorism measures.
“For a sustainable strategy combating terrorism, human rights have to be included,” he said. “The two are not in opposition with each other and human rights have to be part of the picture.”

The current counter-terrorism framework has been developed over the course of several years but has seen periods of increased intensification.

“These phases have always occurred after events such as the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels,” he said. “This trend is a direct consequence of these attacks creating a momentum within the EU to take action.”

While he acknowledges that some of the legislative actions should have been taken long ago, there are many examples of measures that are clearly too strong and will not be sustainable over time.

He reiterated a quote from the European commissioner for the Security Union, Julian King, who said, “We should not put fundamental rights at risk. That is what the terrorist are attacking”.

Grimheden addressed the phenomenon of “legislation by event” and highlighted the risk of policy makers legislating as a reaction to an event.

“This approach fails to take a holistic view of the problem. But it is quite understandable that the EU would take quick action and react to these recent events. The Brussel attacks in March 2016 hit one subway stop away from where the headquarters of the European Commission are located,” he said.

He also touched upon the very current topic of legal populism and the dangers of policymakers legislating in order to please their constituents by showing them that they’re taking action.

“It is the FRA’s task to be a voice of reason that reminds the ministers that this is just a phase of fear and to think about the long-term consequences about any political and legal measures,” he said. “It is my wish that anti-terrorism measures are kept at a general level while being precise enough to provide legal clarity. If measures are taken with the aim to catch the Berlin truck driver you might miss the next guy and attack.”

Grimheden voiced his concerns over the recent counter-terrorism directive where the aim has been to control foreign fighters by surveilling travel habits and controlling travelling. But in the legislative process the usual impact assessment was skipped with reference to the urgency of the matter at hand.

“It will still take many years until the directive comes into force and this reduces the validity of the urgency argument. The ignorance of important procedural principles is dangerous not only because of the lacking impact assessment but also because it endangers the symbolic credibility of the EU’s legal instruments,” he warned.

Through strong monitoring mechanisms, the EU can ensure that the directives are not implemented too forcefully, too vaguely or are compromising any fundamental rights. According to Grimheden, it is an insufficient strategy to only focus on criminalisation.

“There’s a need to also account for how a lack of opportunities, societal and educational exclusion might work as a breeding ground for terrorism. Human rights are part of the solution to terrorism and their inclusion is crucial for ensuring sustainability,” he said.

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