How (not) to counter extremism

By Prof Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence (University of Bristol Law School).*

The ‘Peace Window’ memorial to Dag Hammarskjøld, by Marc Chagall

Earlier this year, the Government fulfilled one of its General Election Manifesto commitments by appointing Sara Khan as the first chair of a new Commission for Countering Extremism. The Commission’s task is not an enviable one, since if not exactly an admission of failure, its establishment represents at least a significant pause for thought. Its job will be to support society in countering extremism and to advise the Government on new policies and powers. We have some idea of what it aspires to achieve, and how it will work, but as yet no concrete proposals have emerged.

The creation of the Commission is the latest stage in a fairly rapid process of policy development. In its current guise, the idea of countering extremism first emerged in the 2011 version of Prevent, the counter-terrorism strategy. Extremism was defined there as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. It was identified as a problem because, it was claimed, extremist ideologies can lead to terrorism – the use or threat of serious violence or other damaging attacks on the public to advance a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. However, at that point the only thing the Government suggested should be done about it was ‘challenge’ – in other words the use of informal social and political pressure to reinforce liberal values in the face of illiberal ones.

In October 2015 – after the ending of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition – the Government’s counter-terrorism policy took another turn. A new counter-extremism strategy identified extremism as a harm in its own right, requiring new legal responses and new Government powers. Ever since, the Government has been trying to work out what these should be. (more…)

Six myths about the ‘Prevent duty’ in universities

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, and Dr Lindsey Bell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) has aroused great controversy by imposing a legal duty upon schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ (the ‘Prevent duty’). However, in an article published in the current issue of the academic journal Public Law, ‘Counter-Terrorist Law in British Universities: A Review of the “Prevent” Debate’, we argue that the campaign against the Act and the duty in higher education rests largely upon myths, six of which are particularly prevalent. In this blog, we provide a summary of those myths (you can also watch a short video outlining the main arguments). (more…)

Hostages and Human Rights at the European Court of Human Rights: The Tagayeva and Others v Russia Case

By Dr Sofia Galani, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

On Thursday, 13 April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights released one of the most anticipated decisions in the Court’s history – the Tagayeva and Others v Russia case. The judgment concerned the siege of the Beslan School, North Ossetia by Chechen fighters in September 2004 and the ensuing rescue operation by the Russian forces. During these tragic incidents, 330 people lost their lives, including more than a hundred children. Almost 180 of the victims were burnt to an extent that the identification of the remains and establishment of the cause of death were impossible.

The purpose of this blog is to summarise the key findings of the Court’s 239-page decision and provide a brief overview of the human rights obligations of states in the context of hostage-taking as discussed by the Court. Although this hostage-taking incident was of an unprecedented scale, terrorist groups have never stopped taking hostages within or outside Europe, and as a result European states have been involved in a number of rescue operations. Therefore, this judgment can help clarify the obligations that states have before, during and after a hostage-taking incident occurs. (more…)

Universities and Counter-Terrorism in the UK: ‘Educators Not Informants!’, ‘Boycott Prevent!’?

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School).

PreventHow – consistent with democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the preservation of cosmopolitan community cohesion and public confidence in law and its enforcement – should the UK respond to the threat posed by terrorism and, in particular, how should it seek to prevent people, especially vulnerable young people, from being enticed into it? These questions have arisen in a particularly acute form as a result of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 which, amongst other things, imposes a legal duty upon schools, universities, charities, the NHS etc – but not directly upon their staff individually – to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’ This may include banning some activities, regulating others, and/or taking appropriate steps to identify those who may be at risk and to refer them to appropriate welfare agencies.

The policy of the University and College Union (UCU) – which represents over 110,000 academic and other staff in higher and further education in the UK – is to boycott the requirements of the Act and the wider ‘Prevent strategy’ of which it is a part, on the grounds that they seriously threaten academic freedom, stifle campus activism, require staff to engage in racial profiling, legitimize Islamophobia, and jeopardize safe and supportive learning environments. Hence the slogans ‘Educators Not Informants!’, ‘Boycott Prevent!’, ‘Prevent Prevent!’ and ‘I Dissent from Prevent!’ which circulate in and around the campaign. This blog summarises work in progress – part of a much larger project concerning terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights in the post-9/11 UK – which argues that the UCU boycott is not only illegal, illegitimate and deeply flawed, but also potentially dangerous and irresponsible.

(more…)