UN rights rapporteur calls for greater safeguards on intelligence collection

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website; JURIST news archive] has called for greater protection of individual rights and increased oversight of intelligence agencies in a report [text, PDF] to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website]. The report, obtained by AP, is critical of the weak supervision of intelligence agencies by national governments after the agencies were given increased power in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. Scheinin's report particularly criticizes joint counterterrorism operations organized by the United States, the presence of foreign intelligence agents [Washington Post report] during the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the use of non-traditional and extra-statutory powers to arrest, detain, and interrogate terrorism suspects. Scheinin concludes:

The increased powers of intelligence services to conduct measures that seriously interfere with individuals’ rights, as well as the increasing relevance of intelligence for legal and administrative actions, make it essential that adequate accountability mechanisms are put in place to prevent human rights abuses. Under international human rights law, States are under a positive obligation to conduct independent investigations into alleged violations of the right to life, freedom from torture or other inhuman treatment, enforced disappearances or arbitrary detention, to bring to justice those responsible for such acts, and to provide reparations where they have participated in such violations. States retain this positive obligation to protect human rights where they grant privileges within their national territory to another State, including to intelligence services.
The report recommends creating legislative intelligence oversight committees with wide-ranging investigative powers, increased transparency for the actions of intelligence agencies, and the creation and adoption by the UN High Commission for Human Rights of guidelines for human rights compliance and best practices for intelligence agencies.

Scheinin has been a vocal proponent of greater limits on the power of intelligence agencies to act with limited safeguards under the justification of national security. In October 2008, he urged the UN to restructure or eliminate [JURIST report] the existing terrorist "blacklisting" system. In June 2008, he called on the US to set a concrete deadline [JURIST report] for closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, a task accomplished [JURIST report] in January 2009 by President Barack Obama. In May 2008, he urged Spain to reform its legal standards [JURIST report] for the treatment of suspected terrorists.


 

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