This module is a resource for lecturers

Key issues

The principle of non-discrimination and those associated with fundamental rights play a central role in effective counter-terrorism efforts in several respects.

One way is that the very undermining and violation of these rights and fundamental freedoms, together with their accompanying rights, are commonly specific terrorist objectives. As the Human Rights Council noted in its resolution 30/15 on human rights and preventing violent extremism, "acts, methods and practices of violent extremism, in all their forms and manifestations" are "activities that aim to threaten the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and democracy, and threaten territorial integrity and the security of States, and destabilize legitimately constituted governments" (para. 1).

A second way is that in seeking to prevent and respond to terrorist acts it is critical for States to respond in accordance with the rule of law to safeguard those rights and freedoms that are foundational to the very fabric of their societies and to not inadvertently further terrorist agendas. For example, the previous Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, was concerned that any framing of the international violent extremism agenda - which refers to "extremist ideologies or intolerance" but with no requirement for the involvement of violence - carries with it the risk of being used inappropriately at the governmental level to silence critics (General Assembly, Human Rights Council report 30/15, para. 27). More specifically, and of particular relevance to the fundamental freedoms considered in this Module, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief has observed, in the context of "the securitization of human rights", that "[p]olicies that are adopted to enhance the capacity of security forces to combat terrorism by limiting fundamental rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, often have dire consequences for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief" (General Assembly, Human Rights Council report 34/50).

Another important consideration is that any undermining of human rights and fundamental freedoms, whether or not in the context of counter-terrorism, can be associated with root causes of violent extremism leading to terrorist acts (General Assembly report 70/674, paras. 3, 27-29). Therefore, a central theme in the Secretary-General's Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism is that where States embrace international human rights norms and standards and uphold the rule of law, they create an enabling environment for civil society and reduce the appeal of violent extremism (General Assembly report 70/674, paras. 20 and 50). Similarly, the United Nations General Assembly, in its Resolution 68/127, A world against violence and violent extremism, "called upon all States in the fight against violent extremism to protect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law and support all actions ... to foster understanding, tolerance and non-violence" (Para. 7). See further Module 2 on countering violent extremism.

A further reason is that mutual respect for and commitment to fundamental freedoms, together with non-discrimination, underpin international cooperation efforts. Numerous United Nations efforts, including on counter-terrorism, reiterate, "the importance of interreligious and intercultural dialogue and its valuable contribution to promoting social cohesion, peace and development, and calls upon Member States to consider, as appropriate and where applicable, interreligious and intercultural dialogue as an important tool in efforts aimed at achieving peace and social stability and the full realization of internationally agreed development goals" (General Assembly resolution 71/249, para. 3).

Specifically, this Module examines four fundamental freedoms with their accompanying rights, namely

  • freedom of religion,
  • freedom of expression,
  • freedom of assembly, and
  • freedom of association.

Furthermore, it considers the principle of non-discrimination which should underpin all counter-terrorism efforts, including in ensuring that any necessary restrictions on fundamental freedoms (and indeed other human rights) are exercised in a non-discriminatory manner.

The sub-pages to this section provide a descriptive overview of the key issues that lecturers might want to cover with their students when teaching on this topic.

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