War on terrorism attacks human rights

LSE professor Conor Gearty has strong views on post-9/11 developments, and he was not shy about expressing them at the Human Rights and Conflicts seminar in the House of Sciences (Tieteiden talo) on 28 October.

War on terrorism attacks human rights

"The United Nations panicked after 2001 and created an anti-terror bureaucracy. Governments are now able to use the war on terror to justify their human rights breaches," Gearty said.

In the 1990s, human rights were still mainly a legal question. 9/11, however, changed perspectives both in the United States and in Europe.

"The idea of a Western way of life with the supreme understanding of democracy and equality was emphasised particularly in the rhetoric of the second George W. Bush administration. Terrorism posed a threat to these values."

War on terrorism has often been waged at the cost of human rights. The torture cases in the Abu Ghraib prison are an example of this.

Gearty does not like the word 'terrorism'. He notes that despite frequent attempts, not even the United Nations has been able to define the meaning of the word. Gearty believes that acts of terrorism must be considered as criminal acts and processed in international courts of law according to principles of equality.

Lynn Hunt from UCLA offered the seminar participants a historian's point of view. She told that up until the 19th century, human rights were a question of power conflict between citizens and authorities. In the 20th century, human rights were established in the global rhetoric.

In the panel discussion that ended the seminar, Gearty observed that in the last few decades, human rights have been a mask behind which governments can promote their own interests.

Researcher Reetta Toivanen from the Erik Castrén Institute mentioned the admonition Finland has received for breaches of the rights of the Sámi minority. Toivanen suspects that the planned national action plan to promote human rights will not change things in this respect.

Conor Gearty is a Professor of Human Rights Law at the London School of Economics. Lynn Hunt is a Professor of Modern European History at the University of California, Los Angeles. The seminar was organized by the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights together with the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

The Human Rights and Conflicts seminar »»

The Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights »»

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Text: Maria Niku
Photo: 123rf
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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