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PUCL Bulletin, 2003

Terrorism and Human Rights:
National and International Perspective
-- By Y.P. Chhibbar

International attention became focused on terrorism with the attack on World Trade Centre twin towers and Pentagon on September11, 2001. Since it was the first time that such attacks were experienced by the U S A on its surface, it shook up the entire country from the President downwards. And for the first time terrorism became a four letter word in the U S A. The citizen on the street and the entire power structure of the U S A felt humiliated at the gall of the attackers.

A similar incident, back home, was the attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001.Here the situation was different in the sense that for the first time such a serious attack was mounted on the symbol of Indian Republic in the capital of the country. It gave the government a powerful argument in favour of 'streamlining' and 'providing more teeth' to the existing anti-terror laws.

The power structure of our country did not react qualitatively very different from the power structure of the United States except that the latter was in a position to take independent decisions in its interest unhindered by any other limitations. The power structure of our country felt strengthened in its pleadings in the court of the U S A against Pakistan.

The international bulwark of joint action concerning any development that impinges on the international law rightfully belongs to the United Nations. The new situation created by the attack on the twin towers exposed the impotence of the world body and underlined the position of the U S A as an undeclared rival of the United Nations.

On the home turf, the government received widespread popular support in favour of the existing laws designated as 'anti terror laws' and a fillip to adopt more such measures with the result that in the general atmosphere created by this attack in favour of license to curtail liberties, the attempts to browbeat and suppress the media, Indian and foreign, did not evoke much protest. Even when those elected representatives who had supported such 'anti-terrorism' laws in the Parliament were themselves detained under these laws there was not much hue and cry against it.

While in the USA the brunt of anti-terrorism steps was borne by the foreigners, mainly the foreigners from Asian countries, in India it fell on the common citizen. It had happened in the past also when the TADA was in operation. It was widely applied on trade union workers, political activists, and defenders of Human Rights.

One fallout of the United States campaign against terrorism was destruction of Afghanistan and conversion of Pakistan into one of the bases for mounting attacks on Afghanistan, compelling the country to completely reverse its policy vis-à-vis Taliban Afghanistan.

There are strong possibilities at present (which may turn into a reality by the time these lines appear in print) that the U S A may start a second war against Iraq. How far is the USA concerned with containing Iraq in its 'criminal' intentions and how far is it concerned with its oil is an important question. It is also important to note that it has been made clear that while the USA has the right to pre-emptive strikes, India (or for that matter Pakistan) does not.

The point to be noted here is that while all anti-terrorism fortifications, technological and armament based, in countries in the Asian sub-continent and the limited wars as anti-terrorism steps, prove a tremendous strain on the economy of such countries, they result in a huge surplus creation for the American armament industry. Such situations, therefore, receive solid backing of the American politico-economic structure. As other under developed countries step up the process of equipping for 'containing and facing terrorist acts' the American economy, and also the economics of its European allies, net increased demand in these fields. Limited wars between two under developed countries or against such a country by the U.S. creates increased demands in Defence Industries of the U.S. and its allies.

The Armament industry thrives during such wars. Armaments are produced for destruction and are needed again and again as the war goes on. The relationship of the development of capitalist countries and the resources and markets of the underdeveloped countries has been forcefully laid bare by political and economic thinkers like A.A. Berle, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul A Baran, Paul A Sweezy, and others.

The above may appear a disjointed narration but there is a binding string running right through. In today's unipolar world scene anti-terrorism campaigns, especially those emanating from the U.S.A., cannot be separated from globalisation and the end aim turns out to be service of American economy.
At home we have to pause and think. We have to separate the grain from the chafe. Our political thinkers, academics, and the media have to girdle themselves to examine rationally all the steps being taken to see how far they impinge on the Human Rights of the people. How far in the name of challenging terrorism from across the borders we are fanning communalism at home (a la Modi, Bal Thakckeray, Togadia, Singhal et al.) How far we are creating an atmosphere of intolerance by exhorting the people against one religion or the other and calling upon the people to be vigilant against one minority or the other is a question that merits serious consideration. In a surcharged atmosphere you may not need to say something in so many words. An oblique Togadia or a blatant Singhal would serve the purpose. In such situations there is always a possibility of going back to June 1975. We have to remember that suspension of fundamental rights may not always be sudden and in one stroke.

Every law restricts some rights. Some laws restrict even human rights as defined by the United Nations. True, some restrictions may be inevitable because society in the real world is not Utopia as visualized by Sir Thomas More wherein everything is perfect or idealistic and all the citizens are selfless. The spirit of capitalism, today's reigning philosophy, derives from selfishness of human beings. In a society of self-less citizens Capitalism will fail. Capitalism has to have laws to safeguard the selfish spirit of the individual. It is not called individualism for nothing.

One person's rights ends where the other person's rights begin. We have to be clear and conscious, therefore, that when we make a law and restrict the freedoms of the citizens, the restrictions have to be minimum, well defined, and open to justiciability. There have to be clear and strong safe guards and the restrictions have to be, the especially in the case of human rights, temporary.
In today's scenario we have also to see whether our laws serve our interests. The interests of an under developed country may clash with the interest of developed countries, though their will always be grey areas. Such a situation needs fearless and honest leadership. We have to beware that compelled by globalization or 'need to curb terrorism' we may not be surviving the interest of the developed world. Just as terrorism is temporary, curbs on human rights also have to be temporary as human rights are permanent.

To summarise the argument, we have to understand that every act of terrorism infringes on the human rights of the people. We also have to accept that laws restrict rights of the people, necessarily or unnecessarily. But we have to be clear that we have to define terrorism in the context of our country and have to devise temporary limitations on the rights of the people. International pressures may land us in situations which may push us into the lap of self appointed Inspectors of the world who need our markets and resources and are therefore keen to point out 'identity of interests' in fighting 'international terrorism'.

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