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Source: United Nations News Service (See also > DPI)
Department of Public Information (DPI)
9 December 2002

States must fight terrorism while safeguarding human rights, UN official says

9 December Countries have an obligation to fight international terrorism, but in the process they must also protect human rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said today in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

"States have not just a right - they have a duty - to protect themselves and protect their populations from this new threat of terrorism such as the one that occurred last year and again this year in Bali and more recently in Moscow," Mr. Vieira de Mello said in response to questions.

The High Commissioner noted that under international treaties, States could suspend some civil and political rights in case of an immediate threat to their security. "We don't welcome the suspension of any such rights but when they are suspended they should be suspended in transparency," he said.

Asked specifically about the United States, Mr. de Mello replied that "no one disputes" the country's right to detain people who may possess important information which would enable Washington to prevent further attacks on civilian targets. But he cautioned that "in doing so, the suspension of certain fundamental rights such as access to a defence lawyer, contacts with families and ultimately the right to be taken to court if charges are levelled against these individuals is something that can not be denied indefinitely."

The High Commissioner said he had discussed these concerns with US officials, as had others. "I believe that together we can influence the policies of the United States on this question," he said, noting that officials in Washington "are themselves having internal debates on this question."

To a question on the situation in the Middle East, Mr. Vieira de Mello voiced sympathy for the "appalling" conditions prevailing in the occupied Palestinian territory. Fundamentally, he stressed, the region requires a comprehensive solution such as that being presented by the diplomatic Quartet, which is comprised of the UN, United States, European Union and Russian Federation. "The only way for all human rights of Palestinians and Israelis to be actually respected - to be granted to all of you, which is what you deserve - is a settlement of this conflict," he said.

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