New Report: Embedding human rights in countering extremism

Together with my Birmingham colleague Katherine Brown and her PhD student Jessica White, I was commissioned by the Commission on Countering Extremism to undertake research on human rights and countering extremism. The result of this work is a report entitled “Embedding human rights in countering extremism: reflections from the field and proposals for change”, which was published by the Commission early in August 2019. The abstract summarises our findings:

Countering Extremism (CE) programmes and policies have been criticised for infringing on human rights because they are state-centric and security orientated in design, and because they can have unintended disproportionate impacts on rights such as those to freedom of expression, assembly, family life, and non-discrimination. The expanding remit of CE (and counter-terrorism) since 2001, but particularly since 2005 in the UK, means that state and security agendas now infuse many more areas of ‘ordinary living’ than would previously been countenanced, with disproportionate impact on socio-economically disadvantaged parts of society. As a consequence CE can be ineffective: extremist beliefs regarding state excess and victimisation of populations can inadvertently be affirmed, extremist behaviours strengthened as the state loses trust as the provider of human security or wellbeing, and extremist modes of belonging and identity normalised. As a result, there are vocal demands for alternative approaches to CE in the United Kingdom.

There are two main challenges to unpacking these critiques and responding to calls for change. The first is recognising ‘how’ CE produces outcomes of this kind, and the second is identifying alternatives that may mitigate such impacts and produce better outcomes. This paper begins to address these two knowledge gaps. It does so through utilising expert and practitioner testimony via a small number of interviews (18) and an expert workshop, as well as a review of existing research on countering extremism. It proceeds by (a) outlining our participants’ general understanding and critiques of CE in the UK, (b) drawing out specific critiques requiring attention, and (c) proposing the instigation of a rights-based approach to CE and of independent review of CE activities so that the effectiveness and outcomes (including negative societal impact) of CE initiatives can be identified through systematic and robust independent processes.

The report is available from the Government website here.

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New Article: Politicisation, law and rights in the transnational counter-terrorism space

The European Review of International Studies recently published my latest article, entitled  “Politicisation, Law and Rights in the Transnational Counter-Terrorism Space: Indications from the Regulation of Foreign Terrorist Fighters” ((2018) 5(3) European Review of International Studies 115). In the article, I extend my ongoing work on transnationalism and counter-terrorism, and especially on the European Union as a relevant counter-terrorism actor. Here is the abstract:

Since 2001 a transnational counter-terrorism space has emerged that is vast in its scale and ambition and which can be discerned at both ‘universal’ (i.e. United Nations) and regional (e.g. European Union) levels, as well as in other formal and informal international organisations (for example the G7 and the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum). This article explores the question of politicisation within that transnational counter-terrorism space, and the potential for meaningful politicisation in respect of initiatives and measures emanating from transnational processes. Taking the example of ‘foreign terrorist fighters’ it argues that a shift in arena to the transnational counter-terrorism space has fundamentally challenged the capacity for effective and meaningful politicisation; that the transnational counter-terrorism space can be depoliticised by design, that where this happens the domestic counter-terrorism space is depoliticised by implication, and that the legal benefits of politicisation may thus be lost to the detriment of rights, legality and accountability.

The paper is available open access in pre-print form from the University of Birmingham, or in final form (£) from the publisher.

New article: Is there a Conservative Counter-Terrorism?

The latest issue of the King’s Law Journal is a special reflection on ‘civil liberties under Conservative-led governments since 2010′. The papers within the issue cover a wide range of topics including human rights protection across what Colin Harvey calls the “fractured union” of the UK, to the European Social Charter discussed by Colm O’Cinnéide.

My colleague Lydia Morgan and I have a paper on counter-terrorism law and policy (“Is there a Conservative counter-terrorism?”), wanting to question whether there is something distinctive about the Conservative approach to counter-terrorism in the post-2010 era when compared with what came before it. In the paper we find that actually there is a remarkable level of substantive continuity between New Labour governments from 1997-2010 and the 2010+ approach in Conservative-Led governments. The Blair/Brown approach in turn is deeply informed by what preceded it, especially in Northern Ireland, so that in fact there is a fairly wide and deep consensus about some core commitments within UK counter-terrorism law. Those core commitments are: a focus on prevention, an embrace of surveillance, and a manifestation of human rights scepticism in the counter-terrorism context. Continue reading New article: Is there a Conservative Counter-Terrorism?

New article: On public submissions to the Citizens’ Assembly

1-s2.0-S0277539518X0003X-cov150hMy latest paper, written with Mima Markicevic, has just been published in the Women’s Studies International Forum. The paper, entitled “Reforming abortion law in Ireland: Reflections on the public submissions to the Citizens’ Assembly“, builds on a hand coding of a sample of over 1,000 submissions to the Assembly on the 8th Amendment and considers the arguments made out therein, placing them against the backdrop of the Joint Oireachtas Committee and the eventual referendum campaign. Access is free through this link for the first 50 days of publication, and this extract from the introduction gives a good sense of the overall argument:

Following a detailed, hand-coded analysis of over 1000 of the submissions received we found that they attend primarily to ‘broad’ or ‘first principles’ arguments about abortion per se, and are only minimally concerned with technical (and technocratic) arguments about the future shape and nature of the legal regulation of abortion. Within the submissions themselves there is limited evidence that key arguments about harm, the impact of criminalization, and the requirements of international human rights law that were advanced by pro-repeal advocates achieved significant purchase, while the pro-retain submissions revealed a significant dependence on emerging arguments about disability and disability rights in anti-abortion activism. In contrast, arguments of constitutional design, of international human rights law, of legal certainty, of medical practice etc. dominated the official narrative that followed the Assembly, in particular the Joint Oireachtas Committee that was established especially to receive and consider the report of the Assembly and make recommendations to the parliament as a whole (Houses of the Oireachtas, 2017). In this paper we focus on the primary arguments made the submissions from the general public to the Citizens’ Assembly. We go on to consider the extent to which these arguments subsequently arose in the referendum campaign of 2018. Relying on a detailed exit poll from the referendum vote (RTE & Behaviour and Attitudes, 2018), we argue that the arguments made in these submissions continued to motivate voters on the day of the referendum itself, even where the elite and official discourses of the referendum campaign itself diverged somewhat from these. This analysis raises questions about the purpose of the Citizens’ Assembly per se and particularly about whether its primary impact was on official political narratives of abortion law reform in Ireland rather than on the everyday voter as she engaged with the issues.