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Victims of Terrorism

November 30, 2008

The multiple terror attacks in Mumbai are unprecedented and blatantly violate the most fundamental principles of law and justice. Regrettably, as Mumbai shows today, there is a huge gap between governmental counter terror rhetoric and the reality of human security observance on the ground. Much more needs to be done to mainstream counter terror strategy and action throughout the government security system and states must demonstrate the political will and promptness to translate human security and rights commitment into action.Mumbai reminds us of such serious attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania (USA) in September 2001, which amounted to crimes against humanity; in Bali, Indonesia in October 2002; in Casablanca, Morocco, in May 2003; in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004; in Saudi Arabia in June 2004, in Bedlam, the Russian Federation, in September 2004; in London, the United Kingdom in July 2005; in Amman, Jordan, in November 2005; in Egypt in April 2006; in Mumbai, in India, in July 2006; in Afghanistan in April 2007, in Iraq in February and in Algeria in August 2008. There have been other serious terror attacks in Afghanistan, 

Israel and the Occupied Territories, Iraq and Sri Lanka in past.

In the time of increasing peoples’ insecurity we must demand that States have a duty to protect all those under their jurisdiction. Individuals, groups and states have a duty to respect the human rights of others. Attacks by terror groups which are indiscriminate or which deliberately target civilians are grave human rights abuses and can also be crimes under international law. Certain conduct committed with the intention to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group can amount to genocide. Such attacks can never be justified. In India today, terror or armed groups are committing grave human rights abuses. Various reports detail them. Their perpetrators must be brought to justice, in fair proceedings that meet international human rights standards.

When hundreds of Mumbai people are killed and injured and the citizens are suffering immensely, their rights to justice, truth and reparation should also be emphasized to heal the wounds. While the  state will focus on counter-terrorism policies, they must not neglect the needs and rights of victims. We have seen security forces dying to save the city, the police personals getting killed or seriously injured in saving the citizens. Now state should ensure in law and in practice the respect and protection of human rights of victims, including through dedicating adequate resources without discrimination on any ground prohibited by law.

How does the State deal with victims and their families with humanity, compassion and dignity with due respect for their privacy? How the State should acknowledge the status of victims – both the direct victims of terrorist attacks and their families, as well as to people who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims? How should the State ensure that emergency medical and psychological assistance is available and accessible to any person having suffered mentally or physically following the terrorist attack? How should the state also ensure the availability, accessibility and provision of necessary and appropriate continuing assistance, including medical, psychological, legal, social and material to victims of terrorist attacks as well as to their families.

Following this massive terrorist attack, States have the obligation to open a prompt, thorough, effective and independent official investigation, capable of leading to the identification of the persons and groups reasonably suspected of being responsible for such act. Victims must have the right to present and challenge evidence and receive prompt information about the progress of the investigation, unless they specifically request not to. The methods, scope and results of the investigation should be made public. At all stages of the investigation and any subsequent proceedings, appropriate measures must be taken to protect the safety, physical and psychological well-being, dignity and privacy of victims and witnesses.

Victims of terrorism have a right to reparation, which include compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. Mechanisms for reparations should be easily accessible, involve a simple procedure and allow for reparation to be provided for rapidly. In some cases, states should consider establishing reparations programs to ensure that victims receive prompt, full and effective reparations.

Mumbai city and its citizens need healing touch for long. And for this to happen effectively, the State must respect and protect the freedom of expression of citizens and civil society organizations. Such individuals and groups should be able to campaign and offer assistance without any hindrance from State authorities or others. There is also a need to check any kind of direct and indirect victimization of minority communities which often suffer violence and harassment after an attack.

Following several terror attacks in the country, a wider range of counter-terrorism pronouncements and practices have came in place. Some political leaders have also claimed that the security of some can only be achieved by violating the rights of others. The voices of human rights defenders, political opposition leaders, journalists, people from minority groups and others have also been stifled. Governments have rushed through problematic laws. States have used the climate of fear created by terrorism to enhance powers to suppress legitimate political dissent, to torture detainees, subject them to enforced disappearances. Mumbai reaffirms once again that there is no other way to counter terrorism than to strengthen the national security architecture by implementing the police reforms and promoting the rule of law, respect for human rights, effective criminal justice systems and non-partisan, non-discriminatory political decisions which should constitute the fundamental basis of our common fight against terrorism. We can call on states and security bodies, in consultation with citizens, NGOs and national human rights institutions, to evolve and implement counter terror strategy with a view to ensuring that the rights of victims are respected in a framework that ensures the protection of the human rights of all.

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