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Of terrorism, security and human rights

Updated Mon, April 7th 2014 at 00:00 GMT +3


For almost three decades, Kenya has been locked in a struggle against international and domestic terrorism. This manifests as violence perpetrated against the public in order to attain a political goal.

The killing on April 1, 2014, of the fiery radical Muslim preacher Abubakar Shariff, alias Makaburi, like that of Sheikh Aboud Rogo in August 2012 and Ibrahim Ali in October last year, reignites the debate on the proper balance between dictates of security and concerns of the human rights movement in the fight against terrorism.

Critical challenge

These killings are, rightly or wrongly, blamed on security agents. The deaths of these clerics should be contrasted with the 1998 Nairobi-American Embassy bombing, the recent Westgate attack and countless assaults on churches, restaurants and entertainment spots in the country.

Everybody acknowledges that terrorism is a violation of human rights. It is also accepted that the threat of terrorism does not provide licence for indiscriminate executive action that infringes on human rights.

The photographs of baby Satrin, with the bullet that killed his mother lodged in his brain, and that of the body of Makaburi being loaded into a police van express the infamy of these situations.

Like many other democracies, we face a critical challenge – how to effectively deal with threats of terrorism and maintain a respect for human rights.

This is important for two main reasons: First, the country must not drop into lawlessness because of the presence of elements of terror in our midst.

We must not vacate our democratic ideals due to terrorism, for in doing so, we shall hand the terrorists their most prized victory; the destruction of our normal way of life.

Secondly, when we descend into a frenzied over-reaction, we drive terrorists further underground, generate sympathy for them and make them heroes.

Serious debate

This in itself radicalises the youth and dries up sources of crucial information from the community.

There is a need for a serious debate on the compatibility of human rights with present requirements of security.

How do we balance individual rights and the need to maintain collective security? Discussions on this issue are often emotional and subjective.

On the one hand are human rights purists who hold the view that rights must be respected whatever the situation.

On the other are those who claim to be realists – those who welcome the need for tougher executive action in order to provide national security.

The former are said to live in a pre-September 11, 2001 mindset and are accused of being terrorist sympathisers, while the latter claim to have a better view of the gravity of the present circumstances.

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