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UN: Counter-Terrorism Plots Violate Human Rights


Under the guise of cracking down on terrorism, some governments have been unfairly targeting women and transgender people, says a report by a United Nations envoy (opens as PDF). "There's been a lot of progress in acknowledging terrorism can most effectively be fought with compliance with human rights; nevertheless there's still a lot to do," said Martin Scheinin, a U.N. special rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. Appointed by the Human Rights Council of the U.N., Scheinin was tasked with exploring human rights and making recommendations on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

Scheinin's report details examples of people who are doubly victimized by extremist groups and government measures. He noted that Algerian women who reported sexual violence perpetrated against them by armed Islamic funamentalists have themselves been arrested and accused of extremism by the government. Palestinian women were delayed in reaching hospitals because they were detained at Israeli checkpoints. In Nepal transgender people who were attacked by insurgents have also been targeted by police as potential terrorists.

"The breadth of governments' counterterrorism measures have resulted in significant gender-based human rights violations," he wrote in his most recent report to the United Nations. "In many instances, governments have used vague and broad definitions of 'terrorism' to punish those who do not conform to traditional gender roles and to suppress social movements that seek gender equality in the protection of human rights."

"Enhanced immigration controls that focus attention on male bombers who may be dressing as females to avoid scrutiny make transgender persons susceptible to increased harassment and suspicion. ... This jeopardizes the right of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities to recognition before the law."

"Women fall double victims of such profiling practices, first because terrorist organizations, in order to avoid the profile of authorities, may force women or recruit women to become a new wave of suicide bombers," Scheinin said. "Second, when states detect this they may target women or specific groups of women such as pregnant women as perceived suicide women because of how they dress and look," he said.

Conservatives have attacked the report, especially for its language regarding gender identity. In an interview with, Frank Gaffney, a Reagan-era Defense Department official and founder and president of think tank Center for Security Policy, blasted the report. "It strikes me as a parody of U.N. political correctness and sexual universality," Gaffney said, "and it's just hard for me to believe that anybody thinks that these notions actually should trump security concerns -- as I think it's only too clear that ... the people who are trying to blow us up have absolutely no use for any of these sexual proclivities."

Scheinin's recommendations include procedures for security officials that consider sensitive treatment of "persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities," notably trans women.

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Matthew Breen