Message from Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Special Meeting on Terrorism and International Law at the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, San Remo, Italy, 30 May 2002
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The events of September 11 last year brought to the international limelight the dangers of extremist terrorist groups, as well as the need for states to unite in the effort to combat them. As High Commissioner for Refugees, I support all efforts, at both the national and international levels, aimed at eradicating terrorism and at punishing those responsible for terrorist acts. My Office stands ready to participate actively in these efforts, wherever they fall within the scope of its mandate.
At the same time, the fight against terrorism must also be firm on the need to ensure full respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens. Those who are themselves the victims of violence - such as refugees - must find the protection they need, and should not be victimized twice.
As is made clear in the UNHCR report that will be shared with you, there have been some positive and encouraging examples of measures adopted to combat terrorism that fully respect the rights of bona fide asylum seekers and refugees. There have, however, also been examples of measures which - even though they may have been adopted in good faith - have negatively affected people in need of international protection. In some cases, carefully built refugee protection standards may have been eroded by the application of unduly restrictive legislative or administrative measures.
No unwarranted linkages should be made between refugees and terrorism. Indeed, any discussion on security safeguards should start from the assumption that refugees are themselves escaping persecution and violence - including terrorist acts - and are not the perpetrators of such acts.
International refugee instruments do not provide a safe haven to terrorists, and do not protect them from criminal prosecution. On the contrary, they foresee their exclusion from refugee status and do not shield them against either criminal prosecution or expulsion, including to their country of origin.
There has been a disturbing trend in recent years of increasing criminalization of asylum-seekers and refugees. While there may be some persons in both categories who may be associated with serious crime, this does not mean that the majority should be damned by association with the few.
Asylum-seekers are facing growing difficulties in a number of states, either accessing procedures or overcoming presumptions about the validity of their claims, which stem from their ethnicity or mode of arrival. The fact that asylum-seekers may have arrived illegally does not invalidate the basis of their claim. Likewise, the fact that they have a certain ethnic or religious background, which may be shared by those who have committed grave crimes, does not mean they should also be excluded.
If we fail to uphold human rights in our responses to terrorist acts, then the terrorists will have won. That is precisely what they aim at: destabilizing countries and destroying democratic values and principles. I am confident that your discussions and recommendations will be of great help in ensuring the protection of human rights in the context of the global fight against terrorism, and I wish you a fruitful and productive meeting.