Right to safety must not come at the expense of other human rights

Written by Sarah Isal on 8 December 2015

Measures to prevent radicalisation must not become a license to discriminate, warns Sarah Isal.

Recently, the European Parliament voted on a report by Rachida Dati (EPP, France) on the prevention of radicalisation and recruitment of European citizens by terrorist organisations. This report came in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris on 13 November and heightened security fears across Europe.

While the need to prevent radicalisation is clear, some proposals put forward in the report may endanger the enjoyment of fundamental rights in the EU, especially by Muslims, migrants and people perceived as such. Yet in the current context, it is all the more important to ensure fundamental rights are respected. 

The proposals for passenger name records, data mining, surveillance practices and additional controls at external borders, if not based on strict indicators and assessment criteria, could lead to racial profiling and have a disproportionate impact on ethnic and religious minorities that fit certain general profiles, in particular Muslims and those perceived as such. A number of EU member states have already introduced additional border controls which run the risk of racial profiling.


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The report also recommends separating 'radical' prisoners from the rest of detainees. This would be difficult to implement without infringing on freedom of religion, as no member state has formulated a reliable and non-discriminatory list of indicators of radicalisation. In addition, existing separation practices have been considered unsuccessful, including by prison administration. It would be more effective to ensure imams and chaplains receive specific training to work in prisons. 

The proposal to put returning foreign fighters in administrative detention brings up serious human rights concerns. It is a pre-emptive punitive measure during which suspects don't have access to evidence against them, and therefore can't organise their defence. Without due substantive rights for detainees as well as time limitations, and without judicial review, this measure is worrying.

On the other hand, one positive aspect of the report is that it calls on member states to implement EU equality law and adopt specific strategies for combating Islamophobia. This is important as discrimination and exclusion act as fertile ground - although not the only ground - for people to fall into violent extremism. 

Muslims and people perceived as such are one of the main groups at risk of discrimination, including structural forms of discrimination, which can lead to these communities feeling disenfranchised, humiliated and not part of society's fabric. 

Islamophobia is both a factor that could lead to radicalisation and the consequence of counter-terrorism measures. Equality and non-discrimination standards must therefore be complemented by specific strategies by member states to address the causes and effects of Islamophobia. 

Now more than ever, countries must live up to their equality, social inclusion and democratic obligations. Strategies to counter terrorism and radicalisation will not be effective unless there is deeper and more long-term investment in employment, education and social inclusion. European citizens and residents have the right to feel safe, but not at the expense of other human rights.

About the author

Sarah Isal is Chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR)

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