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International Commission of Jurists: Report on Counter-Terrorism

(Mar. 2, 2009) The Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights has issued a report on the impact of counter-terrorism policies on human rights around the world at the request of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a non-governmental organization dedicated to the protection and the promotion of human rights through the rule of law. The report, entitled Assessing Damages, Urging Action, was released on February 16, 2009. The Panel, composed of eight jurists from different regions of the world, conducted an in-depth inquiry over a three-year period. It held 16 hearings covering more than 40 countries (Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights 2009 Report, Executive Summary, ASSESSING DAMAGE, URGING ACTION1-2 (Geneva, 2009), available at

When the report was released, the Chair of the Panel, Justice Arthur Chaskalson, former Chief Justice of South Africa and First President of the South African Constitutional Court, said:

In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the extent of the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world. Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights. The result is a serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework. (Press Release, ICJ, Report: Leading Jurists Call for Urgent Steps to Restore Human Rights in Efforts to Counter Terrorism (Feb. 16, 2009), available at

The Panel found that the legal framework existing before September 11, 2001, was “sufficiently adaptable to meet the current threats” but that “the framework of international law is being actively undermined,” in particular by “some of those liberal democratic States that in the past have loudly proclaimed the importance of human rights … .” The Panel also emphasized that no “war” on terror excuses the states from abiding by international human rights law. (Executive Summary, supra, at 3-4.)

Finally, the Panel issued detailed recommendations on means to repair the damage. It called upon the new U.S. administration to “reaffirm the US's historic commitment to fully uphold and faithfully apply the laws of war during situations of armed conflict and recognise that human rights law does not cease to apply in such situations.” (Id. at 18.)