You're Here: Home > Keynotes > Freedom, Security and Civil Liberties

Contents: Keynotes, Panels, Sessions

March 9, 2005

Freedom, Security and Civil Liberties

Moderator: Celso Lafer
Panellists: Robert K. Goldman, Nicholas Howen, Jorge Dezcallar, Terry Davis, Irene Khan

In the panel Freedom, Security and Civil Liberties, the panellists discussed how civil liberties and human rights could best be protected in the fight against terrorism. Most panellists agreed that existing provisions were not only sufficient, but that it was essential to defend them. Others argued that terrorist attacks will lead people to accept more limits on their personal freedoms, and that it was important to educate the public about the effectiveness of the existing arrangements. The panel was organised in cooperation with the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE).


Complete audio of the conference

Transcript / Transcripción

Moderator: Celso Lafer, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Jurisprudence and General Theory of Law, University of São Paulo Law School
[…] the role of democracy in handling the issue of terrorism. Yet we also know that there are important shades of public opinion in many countries that are concerned with other things: the issue of security, the exception to the rule, the state of necessity and the situation of duress. And this means: what are the limits? What are the appropriate standards to certain exceptions that are sometimes conceived to deal with these situations? We plan in our panel to tackle this issue. To start our discussion, I will first call upon Professor Robert Goldman to address the issue.

Robert Goldman
Thank you very much and I’m delighted to be here today and grateful to the Club of Madrid and the Spanish government for making this possible.

When one frames the debate, and it’s frequently in terms of the balance of liberty and security, I think it’s very much a false debate, because the struggle against terrorism and the protection of human rights are by no means antithetical: they are really complementary responsibilities of states. If there’s any doubt about this, people should take a look at Security Council Resolution 1456 of 20 January 2003, in which the Security Council indicated that states must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with other obligations under international law, in particular human-rights, refugee and international humanitarian law.

When states conceived of human-rights law and elaborated the principle of regional and international instruments dealing with civil and political rights, they clearly sought to strike a balance between the requirements of national security in exceptional situations and the protection of human rights. States included in all these instruments –except in the case of Africa– provisions permitting them to restrict rights and to limit rights and, in certain exceptional situations, to temporarily suspend the free exercise of rights, that is, to derogate rights. That suspension, however, it is quite clear from the jurisprudence in Europe, in the Americas and by the Human Rights Committee, is always temporary and always exceptional, because the purpose of derogation and temporary suspension is basically analogous to a plea of self-defence and can last no longer than the threat; and it is clear that these things are not self-judging and the derogation measures may never be used to weaken or destroy democratic institutions.

What is somewhat disheartening is the short memory of a variety of states, particularly various Western states on both sides of the Atlantic, because international concern about the use of emergency measures to quell terrorist violence and deal with subversion was the subject of enquiry within the United Nations in the 1970s and by inter-nongovernmental organisations such as the International Commission of Jurists, who published a major study of States of Emergency.

One of the things they did in the UN and so forth was to look at emergency situations, particularly those that were characteristic in the Southern Cone of Latin American during the dirty wars by de facto military governments and their policies, as well as in South-East Asia and elsewhere. They identified certain kinds of practices, as well as emblematic human-rights violations, and they reached certain conclusions. And one of the things they noted was that in emergency situations where you have a flow of power into the hands of the executive branch –and this also occurs in democratic countries and we’ve seen this today– there tends to be abuse. And one of the prime recommendations that was made across the board in all of these situations was the absolute need to maintain the independence of the judicial branch and to ensure it had broad supervisory powers with respect to the measures that may be undertaken by states.

Sometimes this is slow in happening; recently in the United Kingdom and the United States, the highest courts have ruled against various government practices involving indefinite detention and so forth. This admonition from thirty years ago is no less relevant today in the current struggle against terrorism and its current manifestations than it was thirty years ago. Because even if you’re dealing with global networks that are more sophisticated and so forth, the wisdom of having judicial control to ensure, for instance, that there are no violations of human rights and so forth and that governments do not step over the lines, is extremely important.

The other thing I wish to emphasise is that the states themselves have established the limits. The devils might be in the particular details, but states purposely carved out a group of rights in times of war and in times of peace that simply cannot be subject to legitimate interference. These deal with arbitrary deprivation of life, freedom from torture, upholding the principle of legality in connection with freedom from ex post facto law and the like. Unfortunately, many of these things we thought were firmly entrenched in international law have been called into question in connection with various conceptions of how to deal with torture.

Prominent voices in the world today have been raised in terms of seeking to justify the use of torture. Indeed, in the United States government it has now been disavowed, fortunately, by the current Administration, but the Office of Legal Council at the Justice Department actually set forth a memo which, in my view, was nothing short of a road map of how to torture and an equal road map of how to avoid prosecution for torture by government defendants. This is something I never thought I would ever see, but the reality is that not only do you have people in government looking at this, but you have prominent voices in academia who have used the ticking bomb thesis and so forth to justify the use of what are clearly proscribed methods which have been proved to be ineffective over time.

I want to touch on one other point which is very, very important in the current discussion. However states may view the struggle, whether as a war or whether to confront it mostly through a law-enforcement, cooperative multilateral approach to terrorism, it is extremely important, both legally and conceptually, that acts of terrorism not be invariably conflated with acts of war. Acts of terror, such as attacks on civilians and diplomats and destruction of civilian aircraft and so forth, can take place during peacetime, during emergencies or during armed conflicts. If they occur during armed conflicts, they can constitute war crimes, but such practices frequently occur in situations falling short of armed conflict and if they do take place in situations falling short of hostilities, then their perpetrators simply cannot be labelled, tried, held and targeted as combatants. This does not mean that terrorist violence may not trigger armed conflict or occur during armed conflict. In such situations, it’s important that international humanitarian law not only become fully applicable, but be properly applied. There is no such thing as an armed conflict where one side can invoke all the rights and deny all the protections of international humanitarian law to its adversaries.

And finally, it’s important to remember that human-rights law, however one conceives of the current struggle against terrorism, does not cease to apply in situations of armed conflict. Human-rights law applies simultaneously and cumulatively with the law of armed conflict. And given the weaknesses in the regime of supervising enforcement of the law of armed conflict, human-rights bodies are going to be called upon, such as the Inter-American Commission was called upon when I and Juan Méndez were members of it, to try to protect the fundamental rights of individuals who essentially were placed beyond the protection of IHL, and I’m referring to the detainees in Guantánamo through the issuance, for instance, of precautionary measures. These are important things to keep straight and so forth. We have minimum rules –states have made the rules, not NGOs– and those rules, unfortunately, are under assault today.

Thank you very much.

Thank you Professor Goldman for your presentation and I would now like to give the floor to Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar

Jorge Dezcallar
Muchas gracias al señor presidente. Voy a hablar en castellano. Espero que esto no cree un problema insoluble. En la sala me dicen que la traducción está asegurada.

Quiero agradecer a aquellos que han pensado que mi contribución hoy podía ser de interés para este foro y decir que realmente yo creo que hay un acuerdo amplio sobre que todos queremos libertad, seguridad, con derechos individuales y el problema está precisamente en encontrar cuáles son los límites de esta ecuación. Yo quisiera hacer, aprovechando que estoy aquí, un enfoque muy práctico basándome en lo que ha sido mi experiencia de los últimos años. Y durante estos últimos años, mi experiencia clara ha sido que los derechos individuales han primado sobre las necesidades de la seguridad. Voy a ponerle sólo tres ejemplos muy claros.

En España, cuando se produce una solicitud de nacionalidad española, el servicio de inteligencia tiene que emitir un informe. Normalmente el informe es positivo. Pero cuando el informe es negativo, como está basado en información procedente de otros servicios de inteligencia o procedente de la propia investigación de un servicio de inteligencia y por tanto no es judicializable, los jueces tienden a fallar a favor del solicitante porque entienden que en caso contrario se produciría un supuesto de indefensión. Y en consecuencia nos encontramos con que personas que de acuerdo con el servicio de inteligencia no deberían recibir la nacionalidad española porque están involucrados a lo mejor en problemas de terrorismo en otros países reciben la nacionalidad española porque el juez protege su derecho a una adecuada defensa.

Otro caso, esto no pasa sólo en España; ocurre también en otros países europeos: otro supuesto es el de las personas que reciben acogida en Europa, tierra de asilo, tierra de libertad, y bien orgullosos que tenemos que estar de estos calificativos. Cando huyen y escapan de otros países se presentan como perseguidos políticos y en esos países o se aplica la pena de muerte o no hay derechos humanos, no se respetan suficientemente o son simplemente incapaces de presentar un exhorto judicial en debidas condiciones. ¿Qué es lo que sucede? Que acogemos en España a personas que están involucradas en problemas de terrorismo que se presentan como perseguidos políticos y tenemos colonias estables de gentes vinculadas a los grupos más radicales en este momento del mundo que viven entre nosotros.

Tercer ejemplo: el Centro Nacional de Inteligencia de España, para interferir en las comunicaciones telefónicas de una persona o para entrar en su domicilio, derechos protegidos por el artículo 18 de la Constitución necesita una autorización de un magistrado del Tribunal Supremo. En algunos países de nuestro entorno, hablo de Europa, la autorización la da el Secretario de Estado en cinco minutos. A nosotros nos cuesta tiempo, o nos costaba tiempo cuando yo estaba allí; se puede luchar contra el terrorismo con un desfase de 48 horas, de 72 horas, desde que se hace la solicitud y se recibe. O es necesario operar con más rapidez, quiero decir y me parece bien porque todos somos herederos de nuestra historia, que la protección de los derechos individuales ha estado por encima de los requisitos de seguridad.

En mi opinión, esto empieza a cambiar el 11 de septiembre y continua cambiando el 11 de marzo. Ahí se produce una nueva situación porque nos encontramos con un enemigo que es diferente, cuyo objetivo, aparte de ser más cruel –en Madrid hablaban de hacer ríos de tinta en un segundo atentado–, es destruir nuestra sociedad que está basada en ciertos parámetros, que utiliza métodos distintos, que se beneficia de todas las facilidades de la globalización, que hace ineficaces nuestras defensas.

Les voy a contar un caso práctico. Un individuo o un agente de los grupos especiales operativos, la unidad de élite, la unidad más aguerrida de nuestra policía, la primera baja la tuvieron después del 11 de marzo cuando fue asaltado el piso de Leganés donde se habían refugiado los terroristas. Nuestra gente está preparada para entrar en un piso y reducir a los terroristas, lo que no está preparada es para entrar en un piso y que ese piso salte por los aires, y lo hagan saltar por los aires las propias personas que están dentro.

Nos encontramos ante una nueva situación que exige nuevos métodos y al mismo tiempo una situación, unos terroristas que aprenden. El 11 de septiembre dejó en el éter rastros numerosísimos. Del 11 de marzo no dejó ninguno. ¿Qué es lo que sucede? ¿Por qué pasa esto? Entonces de repente los europeos, los norteamericanos, los europeos, nos sentimos vulnerables, todos éramos neoyorquinos el 11 de septiembre, todos íbamos en los trenes de Madrid el 11 de marzo. Pero antes ¿nos habíamos sentido ciudadanos de Dar-El-Salam o ciudadanos de Bali, o ciudadanos de Kenia, de Nairobi?

Somos vulnerables, el mundo no es seguro pero el micromundo es más incierto. Entonces se puede reaccionar a tres niveles. El primer nivel es obvio, aceptamos incomodidades que hace diez años no hubiéramos aceptado. Hoy, pasar una frontera, cruzar un aeropuerto, te someten a uno a todo tipo de humillaciones, quítese los zapatos, quítese el cinturón, pase por aquí, pase cinco veces por delante de este arco, te lo preguntan cuatro veces, en beneficio de la seguridad colectiva. Hace diez años no es evidente que lo hubiéramos soportado.

Otras reacciones se producen dentro de la ley pero pueden estar un poco en el límite. Yo me quisiera referir a esta norma que se está discutiendo en el Reino Unido en este momento, donde sobre la base de presunciones razonables se pueden dictar medidas de control. Presunciones razonables, si se supone que alguien está involucrado en un grupo terrorista se le puede prohibir o se le podría si la ley fuera aprobada. Prohibir residir en determinados lugares, tener ciertos trabajos, viajar a ciertos sitios. Y sin embargo es algo que exige la seguridad.

Un problema que nosotros teníamos y con el que nos enfrentábamos a diario era la convicción de que una persona estaba involucrada en un grupo terrorista y sin embargo no tener contra él más prueba de que había robado una tarjeta de crédito o que tenía, o había robado un teléfono, o que había falsificado un pasaporte, asuntos por los cuales no se puede llevar a la cárcel. Pero si ese pasaporte se utiliza para ir a otro país, y en una tarjeta de crédito se roba o se alquila un coche y con ese coche se traslada una sustancia a un tercer país, se pone una bomba. Si tenemos la imagen global tenemos un grupo terrorista, si tenemos la imagen aislada no tenemos más que pequeños delincuentes a los que no podemos –y es muy frustrante– [hacer nada], contra los que no podemos hacer [nada].

Hay algunos casos en los que se combate al terrorismo yendo más allá de la ley. Yo no quiero ser polémico pero el Tribunal Superior de Justicia, por ejemplo, ha criticado el muro que los israelíes están levantando o han levantado, que ciertamente ha hecho bajar el terrorismo. Hay menos delitos terroristas, hay más seguridad, pero a costa de qué, a costa de la libertad de movimiento, del derecho de los palestinos –dice el Tribunal Internacional de Justicia– derecho a la salud, a la educación, a la libre circulación, a la autodeterminación.

El problema entonces es cuál es el límite. Estamos de acuerdo en que hay que adoptar nuevas medidas, ¿cómo lo hacemos? Yo creo que ninguna ley se opone a que se adopten medidas para una mayor protección. El primer ministro Blair, en un artículo que escribió, un artículo en el Daily Telegraph, donde decía que la mayor protección, la mayor libertad, es no sufrir un ataque terrorista. Y no le falta razón pero entonces ¿dónde pone uno el límite? Hombre, yo creo que las medidas que se adopten tienen que ser mínimas, tienen que estar bien definidas, tienen que ser revisables periódicamente, tienen que ser limitadas en el tiempo y sobre todo tienen que estar sometidas a controles, sobre todo a control judicial.

Lo que yo tendría dificultades de aceptar es que se llevara el concepto de guerra preventiva al mundo y la lucha antiterrorista y sin embargo es algo que puede fácilmente ocurrir. Si nos encontramos a corto plazo con otro atentado masivo como el de Madrid o el de Nueva York, yo creo que la opinión pública va a demandar medidas más fuertes, va a aceptar muchas más incomodidades. El público aceptará que se limiten libertades individuales y derechos individuales en aras de una mayor seguridad. Habrá una nueva división de países entre los que apoyan y no apoyan, y hagan labores de policía internacional.

Yo creo que se puede y se debe combatir el terrorismo y tenemos la obligación de hacerlo pero creo que hay un margen muy grande para hacerlo dentro de la ley sin necesidad de recurrir a medidas que limiten los derechos individuales. Yo creo que es un problema que tiene que ver con la educación, que tiene que ver con la integración, que tiene que ver con reforzar la cooperación interna entre aquellos que combaten el terrorismo y que no están bien coordinados, reforzar la cooperación internacional, lograr tener una visión de conjunto, lograr tener centros de datos a los que podamos acceder en tiempo real. Dar efectivamente más medios a aquellos que tienen que luchar contra el terrorismo y darles el apoyo ciudadano que a veces no tienen, el apoyo y la simpatía. Yo, en el fondo, y ya con esto termino, señor presidente, prefiero saberme frágil, y saberme vulnerable y al mismo tiempo libre que tener un gran hermano, que sería la otra alternativa, que vigile todo porque en ese momento habremos perdido la batalla. Muchas gracias.


Gracias, embajador. Ortega, a very distinguished Spanish thinker, used to say that perspective does not distort reality; it organises reality. I’d like to thank him for the contribution he has given to the organisation of the issues we have before us. I give the floor to Nicholas.

Nicholas Howen
In two days’ time I fly to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, where there’s been a very deep and fierce armed conflict going on now for almost nine years. I’m going because the King just recently declared a state of emergency, suspended almost all the rights under the constitution, took direct power and allowed the military to have free rein in the fight against the Maoist insurgents the government is fighting. And he’s doing this justified on the basis of fighting terrorism.

I will be going and saying to him that as a government you have a legitimate interest in protecting your people, but what you have done justified in the name of terrorism is to sweep away a series of laws, values and principles which have been the bedrock of your very young democracy. By abusing and sweeping away these rights, you are removing all democratic checks and balances which keep your government on an even keel and you’ll be creating a recruiting ground for the Maoist insurgents. What I’ll be seeing in Nepal is an example of the use of the war against terrorism globally. This is not just a question of the US, even though clearly the policies and laws in the US are leading the world and others are following.

What we’re seeing in the war against terrorism is a way of thinking. It’s a disturbing rhetoric, a security-dominated discourse, as we’ve seen in Nepal or the US today. It says that we can sweep away existing laws because they unnecessarily constrain the unfettered discretion of the executive. During the plenary this morning, there was a slightly unreal consensus, but we all agreed about the rule of law being an essential part of the fight against terrorist acts. What I find, whether it’s in Washington, London or Kathmandu, is a very similar argument. They all say to me: your laws are the old laws; your laws will no longer adequately allow us to meet the threats we face today. Ambassador, the argument you presented that we have a very different enemy, with different parameters, a much crueller enemy. I’m a lawyer, but I’m also a human being. I respond to that argument I hope not in a legalistic way, but in a human way to say: ‘Yes, we must justify whether or not the human-rights laws we have today are adequate.’

I think we probably have to answer that by asking three questions and being quite honest and open in the answers. The first one is to ask whether or not the terrorist threats we face today – and there are many different kinds of terrorist threats – are so significantly or qualitatively different from the terrorist threats of the past, which have been regulated by some of the laws Bob explained. Whether the current threats are so qualitatively different that it justifies changing the laws and framework we use to regulate the powers of the executive when facing an emergency. This is something which I think hasn’t really been explored in great detail.

My conclusions, having been a human-rights advocate dealing with situations in Peru, Sri Lanka, India, Northern Ireland, Spain, Malaysia, South Africa – many, many different situations – is that while there are clearly some characteristics of the global elements of terrorism today which are more global, by and large, most of the situations governments face are sufficiently similar to the threats of the past not to be able to argue that the legal framework should change. I think very much of the situation in Sri Lanka, which I’ve visited many times as a human-rights advocate, where the Tamil Tigers would blow up, for example, the Stock Exchange, where hundreds of people were killed or seriously injured for life in one single suicide bombing.

Where the Tamil Tigers were funded by a diaspora, through front organisations using professional accountants to launder money globally. In some ways not dissimilar to some of the characteristics of the modern threats. Clearly there are differences, but this is an issue we need to explore. I do not see that the policies governments are applying and the threats they are facing are so very different. I very much agree with Bob that this is a question of learning from history.

The second question is whether or not the human-rights law we have today allows governments to adequately respond to these threats in a robust way. In other words, the question you were asking Ambassador, and I would put it this way: whether or not human-rights law has limits that are acceptable and proportionate to the threats faced.

This comes back to the issue Bob raised. We’re talking about laws drafted by states who have had a very keen sense of national security. It is a law which does allow states to take swift and robust action against terrorist threats, but it has limits and nuances. Let’s look, for example, at whether or not governments are allowed under human-rights law, to put people in prison on the orders of a Minister, rather than the orders of a court, namely, preventive or administrative detention, which over the next few years I believe will be resorted to more and more.

The answer is that human-rights law does not completely prohibit administrative detention. It does say you should use it in exceptional circumstances; it should be very limited; you must always have the courts judicially control whether or not someone has been put in prison legally; you must put someone in preventive or administrative detention with the view to charge and try them under criminal law at some time in the future. So why do we as human-rights advocates oppose the UK legislation that was overturned by the House of Lords’ decision? Because that said that the government could put people in detention forever, indefinitely, and only if you were a foreigner. So it breeched the finely crafted human-rights law that states themselves crafted.

The golden rules of human-rights law – I would posit – are sufficiently robust to be able to counter the threats we face today. But there are golden rules and I will turn to this, about torture, for example, again as Robert said.

The third question is: do the laws we have reflect values we still consider to be essential to the democracies this sort of gathering is promoting and which we consider to be at the heart of our system of government? That one I think I can leave for yourselves to consider and the discussions which we heard this morning. I believe the carefully crafted human-rights law and laws of war embody those values, which I’ll return to in a minute, which are essential in this fight against democracy.

I’m sure many of you remember the execution on television of Mr Ceau_escu in Romania in 1989. A very inauspicious start to a state that was embedding a new democracy, and I would say that it took a considerable time to overcome the legacy of a beginning to that country that violated the basic principles we hold dear.

Now let’s return to history briefly and ask: what are some of the lessons that can be learnt from the past cycles of terrorism and counterterrorism? I’ll be very brief here.

Firstly, you cannot have a little bit of torture. What we are seeing today is an attempt to bureaucratise and regularise forms of highly coercive interrogation methods which will inevitability slip into torture.

Secondly, do not remove the supervisory role of the courts, because of the essential check and balance. When you have a public that is frightened and fearful of terrorist attacks and a legislature that is very aware of the political dimensions of fear, the courts become the last bastion of checks and balances.

Thirdly, security forces must always be accountable to the courts and legislature, and we are seeing the actions of security forces being taken beyond that sort of control.

Fourthly, do not compensate for poor intelligence by arbitrary detention and other methods that were described to me once by a politician in Sri Lanka as ‘draining the sea to catch a fish’.

Fifthly, one must rely primarily on the criminal-justice system. One must bring perpetrators, those suspected of having committed terrorist acts, to justice, and if there is not sufficient evidence, they must be released. This does not deny the possibility of other methods of dealing with them, but we cannot have a parallel system of administrative detention, indefinitely holding people because there is not enough evidence. We cannot say we will push aside the criminal-justice system; the criminal-justice system is the heart of our democracy. I think sixthly, in most cases, the criminal-justice system is adequate as I’ve said.

And lastly, in most cases, the experience of the last twenty years is that extraordinary measures against real and perceived enemies more often than not rapidly become measures to oppress those who actually are perceived as opposing political policies and who are not real terrorist threats.

Thank you very much.


(Continued in: Freedom, Security and Civil Liberties, part 2).


From left to right, Robert Goldman, Nicholas Howen, Jorge Dezcallar, the chairman, Celso Lafer, Irene Khan and Terry Davis, in the conference (Photo: Club of Madrid).

With the collaboration ofSafe Democracy Foundation
Members of the Club de Madrid

© Club de Madrid | Privacy Policy | Disclaimer | Contact Us | Feed RSS RSS 2.0