Report Of The Panel Discussion On Counter-Terrorism And Human Rights Compliant Policing: Challenges And Prospects


Panel organised on 5th November 2015 at the margins of the 57th Ordinary Session of the Commission


The Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa,  Honorable Commissioner Med S.K. Kaggwa, in collaboration with the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) and the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF), held a panel discussion on Counter-terrorism and Human Rights Compliant Policing: Challenges and Prospects. The side event was held on 5 of November 2015, on the margins of the 57th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission).

The event was facilitated by Honorable Commissioner Maya Sahli Fadel, The Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

In his introductory remarks, Honorable Commissioner Med Kaggwa noted the recent expansion of his mandate to include issues relating to Policing and Human in accordance with Resolution ACHPR/Res. 306 (EXT.OS/ XVIII) 2015[1], adopted during the Commission’s 18thExtraordinary Session, held from 29 July to 7 August 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya. Commissioner Kaggwa also indicated that his mandate as the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa is now amended with the following title: “The Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa”.

Commissioner Kaggwa framed terrorism in terms of how it undermines policing and security across Africa, with a profound impact on the enjoyment by all of the right to life, civil and political rights, social, economic, cultural and environmental rights. While noting the key role that law enforcement agencies play in combating terrorism, Commissioner Kaggwa encouraged all participants to suggest concrete recommendations to address perceived challenges in the policing and terrorism context, including: lack of human rights training for police officials, lack of independent oversight mechanisms for police organisations, and economic, social and cultural factors that contribute to human rights violations by the police while countering terrorism.

Commissioner Kaggwa’s opening address was followed by a presentation by Mr. Niklas Kabel Pedersen from DIHR, who spoke on the “Importance of a Human Rights Approach to Policing in the context of Countering Terrorism”. Mr. Pedersen set out the basic elements in a human rights approach to preventing and combating terrorism, which he described as important to promoting a ‘sustainable’ fight against terrorism that addresses the root causes and not just the symptoms of insecurity as follows:

·         Terrorism and consequences: States should combat terrorism by ensuring security for all persons in its territory, and where specific security measures are imposed, they should be temporary, reasonable and in the public interest.

·         Gender-inclusive approaches to prevention: Involving women in counter-terrorism efforts, and promoting women’s rights, is essential to effectively addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.

·         Terrorism and children: to avoid radicalization in prison, States can promote alternative measures, and invest in services that promote rehabilitation and reintegration of children.

·         Prohibition of the abuse of rights: Persons or groups engaged in activities aimed at committing criminal or terrorist activities should be afforded all rights guaranteed to them by law.

·         Terrorism and ‘shoot to kill’ policies : Law enforcement officials should operate within the law, using force only when absolutely necessary, and systems of accountability should ensure that abuse of power is prohibited and prevented.

·         Torture or arbitrary killings: The rights to life and freedom from torture are non-derogable, even in a state of emergency.

·         Terrorism and the protection of victims: States have an obligation to protect, which should include emergency and long-term assistance, psychological support and effective access to justice for victims of terrorism.

The  third presentation was made by Mr. Théophane Seguéda from the West african Police and Human Rights Platform (POLI.DH) on the “Challenges Faced by the Police when Countering Terrorism”. Drawing on recent examples from Burkina Faso, Mr. Seguéda cautioned that States should be aware of the international and regional standards on combating and preventing terrorism, and to ensure that State actions do not undermine the rule of law and human rights. Mr. Seguéda highlighted the following challenges amongst others: the police’s understanding of the phenomena of terrorism; ensuring that legislative provisions for arrest, detention and investigation are complied with; transport and infrastructure difficulties; lack of staff (especially female officers); and vigilante actions.

Mr. Seguéda recounted efforts made in Burkina Faso to address some of these challenges through cooperative projects with DIHR. Central to those efforts he said, are the recent recruitment of 2500 officers in Burkina Faso, enhanced police human rights training, the establishment of the POLI.DH to promote a forum for exchange of information, and good practices between the police in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Mr. Seguéda presentation was followed by Maître Ibrahima Kane from the Open Society Foundations, who presented on “the Mechanisms in place to ensure Human Rights Compliant Policing while Countering Terrorism”. Maître Kane noted that African police agencies have adopted counter-terrorism measures that are allowed by the text of laws on combating terrorism, however, the power afforded to the police under these laws are expansive and create human rights challenges. He specifically mentioned renditions, extradition and refoulement, the use of private security firms, and the practice of holding suspects in incommunicado detention.

The mechanisms available in terms of supervising the role of the police in counter-terrorism context were listed by Maître Kane as including: continental level mechanisms through AU structures (noting the need for a specific mechanism to deal with terrorism-related matters at the Commission level), judicial supervision, police oversight, national human rights institutions and the Ombudsmen.

Maître Kane noted that at its 56th Ordinary Session, the Commission adopted Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples’ Rights while Countering Terrorism, and encouraged the Commission to consider the adoption of a Model Law on Police and Oversight Institutions in terms of counter-terrorism.

The final presentation was made by Ms. Josiane Somdata Tapsoba from the Secretariat of the Commission, who formally marked the launch of the 6th Newsletter on Police & Human Rights in Africa, a bi-annual publication of the ACHPR, APCOF and DIHR.

Commissioner Fadel opened the floor to the 90 participants in attendance, and comments were made in relation to:

·         The need to clearly define terrorism

·         Alignment of policing cultures to the broader culture of the state

·         The nature of terrorism, the role of national justice systems, and the importance of regional and sub-regional cooperation

·         The role of the military in countering terrorism, and the need to understand the military or paramilitary approaches and the impact on civilian policing practices

·         The rights of victims of terrorism including the access to a psycho-social assistance

·         The importance to train the Police in Countering Terrorism rather than only focusing on strengthening the army capacity in the area;

·         The need to discuss as well the exposure of Law Enforcement Agents themselves to violations of their rights while countering terrorism

Closing remarks were made by Hon. Commissioner Kaggwa, who thanked the Chair, panelists and participants, and noted three key issues that had emerged from the discussion, namely the military dimension of counter-terrorism discussions, the practice of rendition and the need to involve survivors of terrorism in dialogue about addressing the challenges of terrorism.

With those few remarks, the side event came to an end.