Political posturing and Cameron's 'anti-terrorism' proposals

Political posturing and Cameron's 'anti-terrorism' proposals
The British prime minister has promised tough laws to prevent citizens from supporting the Islamic State group, but human rights groups say such measures suggested will be illegal and unenforceable.
3 min read
24 November, 2014
Cameron already has tough anti-terrorism law at his disposal [Getty]
The beheading of British and US citizens by the Islamic State group - by a militant believed himself to be British - brought promises from British Prime Minister David Cameron of tough new anti-terrorism laws.

These include monitoring the internet and special exclusion orders that prevent the return of British citizens to the UK for two years unless
they comply with government requirements, such as "de-radicalisation programmes".

But how could these proposals be enforced?

Civil rights groups have said the proposed exclusion orders would be illegal and the former Conservative Party attorney general, Dominic Grieve, told BBC Radio 4 on 14 November that such bans "would in effect be rendering an individual stateless, which is in breach of international... and British common law". 

Grieve said that discussions in Downing Street indicated the proposed rules were likely to end up "in the right place". 

Hugh Southey, a human rights barrister, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that this means a returning British citizen who refused to take part in a de-radicalisation programme was unlikely to be refused entry.

"The critical issue is what happens if someone arrives back in Dover from Syria and says 'I'm not going to participate in your programme'", he said. "If a person is still going to be let in, there's no radical change at all."

Cameron's new measures therefore do not consist of substantial changes to existing anti-terrorism laws. They are, rather, a bid to appear tough on terrorism in the face of the new threat of IS, its gruesome acts of violence and the phenomenon of British citizens travelling to support them.

Anti-terrorism law since 2000

The Terrorism Act of 2000, and its subsequent revisions after the 9/11 attacks in the US and the London bombings of July 2005, are already severely criticised by some civil rights groups and human rights lawyers.
     If a person is still going to be let in, there's no radical change at all.
- Hugh Southey, human rights barrister 

The act's "Schedule 7" is its most controversial.

Under this provision, anyone can be stopped and searched at airports, stations, ports and borders without evidence of wrongdoing, and held for a limited number of hours.

The person's rights of silence and representation are denied, and their fingerprints and DNA may be taken and their possessions held for up to a week.

Human rights barrister Southey believed the most concerning thing about this schedule is the absence of due process. "The state can take pretty draconian actions against you without you having the opportunity to put your case forward," he told al-Araby.

Not having the right to a minimum level of disclosure in regard to allegations against you was "fundamentally wrong", he said.

Cerie Bullivant, a spokesman for Cage UK, which campaigns for those affected by anti-terrorism law, said that the measures start from the presumption of guilt rather than innocence.

Bullivant was for two years subject to a control order after trying to travel to Syria to learn Arabic and work for a charity. His freedom of movement was severely restricted, affecting his ability to study and work.

Bullivant said placing further restrictions on British citizens returning from Iraq and Syria unfairly targeted aid workers, particularly "small, off-the-radar" NGOs and charities that work in areas too difficult for major NGOs to access.

Control orders were in 2011 replaced by Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures, or TPims, which are a little more flexible.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission, meanwhile, has said that Schedule 7 overwhelmingly and unfairly targeted the Muslim community.

Southey agreed that although the counter-terrorism laws cover individuals associated with groups such as the IRA or the Tamil Tigers, the main powers directed against individuals, such as TPims, had overwhelmingly been used against Muslims.

It remains to be seen whether any new provisions, such as those announced by UK Home Secretary Theresa May on Monday, will similarly be seen as unfairly targeting religious, ethnic or linguistic minority communities - or even be workable, effective or useful in practice.