11 September Aftershock: the case of Human Rights Defenders

September 21, 2002

From 18-21 September 2002, over 30 human rights defenders (HRDs) and international experts met at the Orthodox Academy of Crete, to assess the impact of the 11 September 2001 events on their work. They reflected on the damage done to the cause of HRDs, but also explored opportunities for promoting respect for human rights in the new context

The retreat was organised by the Orthodox Academy of Crete, in close collaboration with the Martin Ennals Foundation, the  Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights from Greece, the  Human Rights Defenders Office of the International Service for Human Rights (Geneva) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Paris, a joint programme of the  International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the  World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). It also received financial support from the European Commission (DG/EAC) and  NOVIB from the Netherlands.

Concluding Statement


The events of 11 September 2001 have created conditions in which it has become more difficult for Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) to do their work. In this context, the participants made a number of general points:

In many countries, anti-terrorist measures have increased secrecy and caused HRDs to be denied access, thus seriously hampering their capacity to defend the rights of others.

The direct effects of the 11 September aftermath on the activities of HRDs differ from country to country. In some, new and sometimes far-reaching national security legislation or administrative measures are being considered or have been introduced by governments. This is worrisome even though in some of these countries the legislatures acted effectively to limit the introduction of measures to restrict human rights and the work of HRDs. In a few cases, national courts have successfully challenged new legislation, administrative measures and government practices since 11 September on human rights grounds and sought to end some abusive practices, which restrict the work of HRDs.

More generally the international campaign against terrorism has given repressive governments new justifications for policies that violate human rights, but the effects on HRDs have often been more indirect. In these countries legal and administrative measures that obstruct the work of HRDs were either already in existence and have simply been activated with greater vigour in an anti-terrorist and national security context, or were law and measures that some governments had wanted to introduce anyway but could now be pushed through with less opposition.

Arbitrary detentions, denial of habeas corpus, unfair trials, increased and unregulated surveillance, constraints on freedom of association and expression, unwarranted seizure of funds, extraditions and expedited removals without safeguards, are among the most problematic areas to have emerged since 11 September, especially for individuals and groups that belong to ‘suspect’ minorities.

HRDs are themselves sometimes the target of smear campaigns by their own governments or other actors in society who claim they are associated with terrorist activities.

Where terrorist acts are committed, governments are entitled to take action to protect the lives and liberties of citizens, democratic institutions and human rights more generally. Measures to prevent and punish terrorist acts should protect human rights, democracy, and human security; measures that undermine these fundamental values can be expected to be counterproductive.

In the longer term, HRDs will need to address wider causes of political alienation and violence. In this context the participants stressed the importance of sustained human rights education, and efforts to improve the quality of the media’s reporting of human rights issues. While recognizing that no simple link can be made between poverty and political violence, the participants also recognised that social marginalisation and economic injustice create conditions in which political violence is more likely to occur.� In consequence, work to promote social and economic security is no less important than work to promote political justice, and HRDs should therefore give renewed attention to the protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights.

Participants also expressed concern over other changes in government policies in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 that would adversely affect HRDs, including:

  • Travel restrictions: HRDs will be affected by measures restricting travel and visa applications. Some HRDs have already been denied visas on the grounds that they are associated with ‘terrorism’.
  • Diplomatic support: There are indications that some governments are becoming more reluctant to speak out in support of human rights work and protect HRDs in countries where terrorist activities are widespread. Withdrawal of political support will expose HRDs in such countries to additional risks.
  • Funding: Fears were expressed that government and intergovernmental donors would restrict financial support for HRDs from certain countries in the post 11 September political climate.
  • Refuge: Further tightening of asylum procedures and severe reductions in the number of resettlement cases, are likely to affect HRDs at risk.
  • Access: There was particular concern that in some countries, HRDs have been refused access to individuals seeking refugee status, especially since 11 September.

A number of meetings, mostly organised at the regional level by non-governmental organisations, have reported on the negative impact of 11 September 2001 on the work of HRDs, while the latest Report by the UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders, Ms Hina Jilani, provides a global overview of the problems encountered in this context. Cases are nevertheless under-reported for a variety of reasons, and participants therefore felt that stepping up careful documentation is essential.


  1. The participants agreed that HRDs should impartially condemn all deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, wherever these occur, including the attacks of 11 September 2001, and should do so in relation to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law
  2. The participants reaffirmed that the proper and most effective response to such attacks is an approach based oninternational law. The participants welcomed the creation of the International Criminal Court, which establishes individual criminal responsibility for, inter alia, crimes against humanity whether these are State sanctioned or the actions of groups.
  3. When anti-terrorist legislation is drafted, at national, regional or international level, HRDs are often excluded and should be consulted. The UN Security Council should include the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on HRDs in its deliberations on anti-terrorist issues.
  4. HRDs should actively promote the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, to ensure that the work of HRDs is understood to be legitimate, and to ensure that all those who defend human rights – economic, social, and cultural, as well as civil and political – are understood to benefit from its protection. Governments should also be encouraged to disseminate the UN Declaration on HRDs and to conform with its provisions. The mandate of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on HRDs should be therefore fully supported.
  5. The participants welcomed the creation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of a Special Unit for HRDs, which should be fully supported by governments in the Americas, and also recommended that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Council of Europe should establish as soon as possible a similar focal point or unit. Such initiatives should be pursued by other regional organisations including the OSCE.
  6. The participants would welcome greater interaction among the United Nations and regional intergovernmental mechanisms and with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on HRDs, and suggested that a joint meeting between them should take place as soon as possible to examine the situation of HRDs and coordinate efforts towards the promotion and protection of HRDs.
  7. HRDs should also improve cooperation and networking among themselves, and in particular should improve their links with domestic legal and civil rights organizations, in order to ensure that vulnerable people are afforded maximum legal protection in accordance to international human rights standards.
  8. In this respect, participants expressed particular concern about the vulnerability of individuals detained under anti-terrorist legislation. All persons held in detention should have prompt access to lawyers and other HRDs to ensure that their fundamental human rights are respected.
  9. They also called on governments and media to protect the rights of refugees. Certain media and government officials have unfairly implied or stated that refugees pose a general threat to security, even though asylum seekers are already subject to very restrictive procedures.
  10. HRDs should establish effective protection measures for HRDs who are at risk in the countries in which they work. They should also ensure that arrangements exist to facilitate their entry into safe countries (including the provision of economic and practical assistance), where this becomes necessary.
  11. The participants reaffirmed the importance of accuracy, transparency and impartiality in the work of HRDs.

In a period of increased insecurity there is more need than ever to generate public support for the values of human rights. It is good to recall that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that every individual and every individual organ of society shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.


The following persons, from the organisations mentioned in parentheses, participated in the meeting:

  • Simia Ahmadi (Martin Ennals Foundation), Rapporteur
  • Robert Archer (International Council on Human Rights Policy)
  • Pascale Boosten (Peace Brigades International-European Office)
  • Santiago Canton (Inter-American Commission for Human Rights)
  • Peter Jarman (Conference of European Churches)
  • Victor Dankwa (African Commission Human and Peoples’ Rights)
  • Catherine Francois (Int’l Federation for Human Rights & and Observatory for HRDs)
  • Ciping Huang (Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition)
  • Marit Flo Jorgensen (Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network)
  • Nozima Kamalova (Legal Aid Society of Uzbekistan)
  • Natasha Kandic (Humanitarian Law Centre, Yugoslavia)
  • Christine Faddoul, Law Group for Human Rights, Jordan
  • Mary Lawlor, Front line (International Foundation for the Protection of HRDs)
  • Leah Levin (International Alert)
  • Alice Marangopoulos (Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights)
  • Mike McClintock (Lawyers Committee for Human Rights)
  • Andrej Mironov (Memorial, Russia)
  • Alexandros Papaderos (Orthodox Academy of Crete)
  • Anna Papadopoulou (Ombudsman Office, Greece)
  • Joanne Petropoulou (Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights)
  • Eleni Petroula, (Greek League for Human Rights)
  • Christos Pourgourides (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe)
  • T. Rajamoorthy (Third-World Network & the Regional Council for Human Rights in Asia)
  • Pierre T. Roy (Inter-American Platform for Human Rights, Democracy and Development)
  • Ally Saleh (Journalists Association of Zanzibar)
  • Andreas Selmeci (Human Rights Desk of German Diakonia)
  • Jo Szwarc (Amnesty International)
  • Morris Tidball-Binz (Human Rights Defenders Office of the ISHR)
  • Hans Thoolen (Martin Ennals Foundation)
  • Deepeka Udugama (Faculty of Law, Colombo University, Sri Lanka).
  • Emmanouil Athanassiou (conference secretary)
  • Elina Heretaki (assistant rapporteur)
  • Cliff Cook (assistant rapporteur)
Saturday, 21 September 2002
OAC/Kolymbari, Crete