C. Raj Kumar

Responses to terrorism ought to be based on a holistic understanding of security, within the human rights and rule of law framework.

TERRORISM IN all its dimensions has a long history in India; the attack at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, was only the latest incident. Every time a terrorist strike takes place on Indian soil or elsewhere in the world, governments tend to formulate similar responses. There are enthusiastic calls for strengthening the law enforcement regime, possibly advocating greater powers of investigation for the police and intrusive measures such as telephone tapping that undermine privacy.

The need to increase the period of detention, pass new laws that would strengthen the anti-terrorism framework, tighten immigration policies, and keep an eye out for disloyal persons is also emphasised. Rarely do governments think of addressing the problem of terrorism from human rights and development perspectives.

The randomness of a tube station attack or a roadside bomb carries a very powerful scare message - practically anyone who is unlucky enough to be at the spot can get killed or be seriously injured. A society that lives in fear cannot achieve the kind of goals its people want. Whenever there is a terrorist attack, victimisations takes place.

The direct consequences of terror attacks are: one, they result in victimisation of the people who get killed, are injured or otherwise affected. Two, the family members of the victims are also affected because of their loved ones being directly involved. Three, the society in which the terrorist attacks take place becomes a victim as the people develop a sense of fear and lack of freedom to pursue their goals.

Some of the indirect consequences are: the strengthening of the law enforcement and intelligence machinery, including passing of draconian laws that violate human rights and civil liberties, and compromise privacy rights. Racial profiling and hate crimes against people belonging to certain religious and racial groups. Undermining of the rule of law both domestically and internationally due to certain responses adopted by governments with a view to ensuring national security, including use of torture and other extreme measures in interrogating suspects. And, relegation of development to the backburner.

Once a terrorist attack takes place in a country, regardless of its human consequences, the entire legislative, executive, and judicial apparatus tends to focus on the problem. This is because terrorism challenges the state's legitimate monopolisation of violence and threatens its claims to be the protector of citizens. Micro and macroeconomic problems, poverty, third world debt, and even other major issues that affect humanity at large, like global warming and climate change, tend to become secondary. Resources that would have been otherwise directed at solving these issues are diverted to fighting terrorism.

Sadly, the resources (financial and human) that are pumped into tackling terrorism have not even closely matched the results gained in terms of ensuring greater security. Sometimes the strategies used may actually incite greater threats. While it is possible that many potential terrorist attacks might have been averted, given the fact that the approach has not helped in providing a sense of greater security, there is a need for a serious reassessment.

In March 2005, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan submitted a report to the General Assembly titled In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All. The Executive Summary of the report notes: "The world must advance the causes of security, development and human rights together, otherwise none will succeed. Humanity will not enjoy security without development, it will not enjoy development without security, and it will not enjoy either without respect for human rights ... Hence, the cause of larger freedom can only be advanced by broad, deep and sustained global collaboration among states."

The response to terrorism ought to be based on a holistic and inter-related understanding of human security, rights, and development. It should always be within the human rights and rule of law framework. The domestic and international legal framework being put in place as a response to terrorism is desirable. But what is not acceptable is individual states resorting to unilateral actions that are not justified within the international law framework, or committing acts that violate the Geneva Conventions or the Convention Against Torture.

Use of force should not be the sole response as is believed in the "war on terror." Individual states, while passing counter terrorism legislation, ought to take into consideration human rights implications and the potential for abuse by law enforcement authorities. The fact that young people in different parts of the world are ready to die for a cause (however illegitimate it may be) shows there is something fundamentally wrong.

Under these circumstances, there is a more urgent need for the international community to help in building societies based on principles of democracy, good governance, human rights, and development so that they do not serve as recruiting grounds for terrorists.

A number of issues need to be considered. It is important that the international community distinguish between two aspects of terrorism-related violence. The first aspect relates to individuals or organisations involved in organised crime, money laundering, using the resources they generate for terrorist activities.

The other aspect is the need for greater caution, creativity, and political judgment in handling the growth of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Here, the battle takes place in the minds of the youth in many parts of the world. It is clearly an ideological issue, with a huge dose of religious extremism. The result is there is a proliferation of thinking and even discourse that advocates certain acts, or glorifies or tolerates acts, that are totally unacceptable in a humane society.

The traditional law enforcement approach of dealing with crimes, including crimes relating to terrorism, will not be entirely successful. There is need for greater engagement within a particular community and in particular to involve the right-thinking members of the community. The change has to come from within and an environment ought to be created in which violent acts of any kind are not tolerated.

But for this to happen, the powerful countries have to take responsibility for their actions. Along with this, efforts need to be taken to address development issues, including third world aid and debt. The partnership between developing and developed countries should be based on a sense of common humanity so that threats of all kinds are jointly addressed.

Thus, national security strategies should bear in mind that human security threats are much wider. Countries formulating them should consider the notion of `larger freedom.' Domestically, it is important to recognise that the fight against terror should not get any undue priority, leading to the neglect of other equally important issues relating to development and governance. The counter terrorism laws and practices that are being developed should be based on greater respect for human rights and should be within the rule of law framework. The domestic constitutional commitment and laws ought to be protected in the fight against terrorism so that civil liberties are not undermined.

Larger freedom is about ensuring people have a variety of choices in their life. These choices are possible only if their security, development, and human rights are assured. Values of non-violence and fraternity are essential to the progress of societies and for the common good of humanity. The present state of anti-terrorism efforts worldwide, including in India, has given little assurance to people who are living without any hope of development and whose human rights are violated day in and day out.

(The author is Assistant Professor, School of Law, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; and Chief Executive Officer, Legal Education and Research Society (LEARS), India.)