South Asia: Upholding human rights while countering terrorism

While it is recognized that acts of terrorism are a gross violation of all human rights, it is imperative that counter-terrorism measures respect international law, including human rights law and strike the right balance between national security and human rights. Counter terrorism measures that violate human rights are self-defeating. 

Over the years, the UN General Assembly, Security Council as well as the international community has laid great emphasis on moving towards counter-terrorism measures in which human rights play a central role. In this context, UNODC conducted together with the SVP National Police Academy, Government of India from 27 to 29 July 2015 a regional workshop titled: Special investigative techniques in counter-terrorism cases within a rule of law framework.

The three-day workshop which brought together criminal justice officials from South Asian countries focused on special investigative techniques used in terrorism cases based on adequate checks and procedural safeguards as well as measures to safeguard human rights of suspects during detention and investigation.

A total of 28 participants from SAARC countries shared their experiences in dealing with terrorism cases as well as the challenges they face. All countries possess sufficient national laws with regard to human rights and also with regard to procedural safeguards, however, there are many practical challenges in effectively implementing them. Also, all countries use some type of special investigation techniques, such as interception of communications, monitoring of social media accounts, the monitoring of financial transactions and bank accounts and the use of informants. However, a difficult task remains to gather evidence which is admissible in court and which has not violated human rights.  In this context, participants stressed the need for proper training in developing investigation and interrogation skills, without which too often officers resort to confessions as the only means of evidence, entailing possible force or coercion.

The workshop used presentations as well as case studies that were discussed in groups bringing together participants from different countries in South Asia.   Experts from the Philippines, UK and US provided insights in cases that could be investigated and prosecuted successfully while also alerting to the risks of using certain techniques, especially in the case of informants/covert agents.  

Participants acknowledged the need to discuss the focus of human rights in the criminal justice system more and with more stakeholders. They also highlighted the following needs: 

1. Dialogue with stakeholders at top level to enforce the obligation of respect for human rights in the criminal justice system.
2. Reforms in the police system with regard to investigation procedures and maintaining independence. 
3. Need for training in special investigative techniques including interrogation / interview skills and sharing of good practices.
4. Conduct a study of existing interrogation methods, including in terrorism cases, to examine their effectiveness and recommend better interview techniques, which could be adopted to strengthen investigations in criminal cases. 

The workshop was conducted in collaboration with the SVP National Police Academy, Government of India and was possible thanks to the financial support from the United States of America.