UK anti-terror plan harms children's rights

2016-07-13 22:26


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London - The UK's counter-terrorism strategy is stifling children's freedom in classrooms, infringing young people's right to privacy and causing Muslim students to self censor out of fear of being reported to authorities, according to a new human rights report.

Rights Watch UK on Wednesday called for the programme known as Prevent, which aims to stop people "becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism", to be abolished.

Racial profiling

Prevent is "leaving a generation of young Britons fearful of exercising their rights to freedom of expression and belief," said Yasmine Ahmed, the NGO's director.

"It is also proving counter-productive, driving children to discuss issues related to terrorism, religion, and identity outside the classroom and online where simplistic narratives are promoted and go unchallenged."

Prevent was introduced in British schools in July 2015.

Teachers have a legal duty to try and stop students from being lured into "terrorism" and schools are expected to have in place policies that identify children who are at risk and "intervene as appropriate".

But the programme has before been criticised for racially profiling young British Muslims.

"Our research has found that Muslim children across the United Kingdom are self-censoring for fear of being reported," said Ahmed.

"We have uncovered a number of instances where children have been referred to Prevent for legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression in situations where they pose no threat to society whatsoever."

Accused or suspected

Critics say the programme has seen some teachers misidentify cases where the child is not at risk, leading to an atmosphere of fear and nervousness.

"It is completely unacceptable that the government is collecting, retaining and potentially sharing information on children in the United Kingdom without their consent and with no apparent regulation and oversight, particularly in instances where these children are not even accused or suspected of engaging in unlawful activity," Ahmed said.

"This is a clear violation of the right to privacy."

The £40m-a-year programme was introduced by the Labour government after the 2005 London bombings and has been continued by successive administrations.

"Prevent began as a benign means of enabling those involved in counter-terrorism to identify and approach those who had found themselves involved in terrorist activity and possibly regretted it," said Peter Carter, a barrister with Doughty Street Chambers specialising in terrorism and international human rights law.

"It has now developed into a programme which is more extensive, more intrusive and more intimidating. By doing so, it risks alienating sections of our society who would wish to be law abiding. Attempts to suppress ideas will be counter-productive. Attempts to suppress the discussion of ideas which fall short of encouraging or inciting violence are inconsistent with the rule of law.

Read more on:    rights watch uk  |  uk  |  human rights

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