Contemporary Trends and Issues

AuthorMark Freeman, Gibran Van Ert
International human rights law is constantly evolving. Its major con-
troversies tend to track global political developments. This final chap-
ter examines some of the main contemporary debates and emerging
trends in the field and offers some reflections on the challenges partic-
ular to Canada’s reception of, and participation in, the field of interna-
tional human rights law.
A. Terrorism and Human Rights
Following the massive terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, govern-
ments around the world proclaimed a “war” against terrorism as a cen-
tral domestic and foreign policy objective. But despite the existence of
well over a dozen anti-terrorism treaties, there is still no generally
accepted definition of the term “terrorism.”1The lack of a definition
1 The key UN treaties are: the Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts
Committed on Board Aircraft 1963 [1970] CanTS no. 5, the Hague Convention
for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft 1970 [1972] CanTS no. 23,
the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil
Aviation 1971 [1973] CanTS no. 6 and the Protocol for the Suppression of
Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation 1988 [1993] CanTS no. 8, the
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against International-
ly Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents 1973 [1977] CanTS no. 43,
the Convention against the Taking of Hostages 1979 [1986] CanTS no. 45, the
was one reason why terrorism was not included as a crime in the Rome
Statute.2To some extent the controversy over its definition centres on
the familiar adage that one person’s terrorist is another person’s free-
dom fighter. But there is also controversy regarding fundamental ques-
tions such as who can be responsible for acts of terrorism — private
individuals only, or states as well?
Counter-terrorism efforts raise a number of important human rights
questions. Indeed, the so-called war on terrorism presents a major new
challenge to the human rights movement.3Many human rights advo-
cates are concerned that the war against terrorism is nothing more than
a war against human rights, and in particular civil rights. This may be
a valid concern. The counter-terrorist legislation enacted in many states
in the aftermath of September 11th often strained the balance between
public security and the protection of individual rights. In the US, Japan,
the UK, Australia, and even Canada, the threat of terrorism prompted,
or was used to justify, far-reaching legislation unimaginable before the
September 11th attacks.4There are examples of legislation authorizing,
among other things: detentions of indefinite duration of legal and ille-
Conclusion: Contemporary Trends andIssues 517
Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material 1980 [1987] CanTS
no. 35, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety
of Maritime Navigation 1988 [1993] CanTS no. 10, the Convention on the
Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection 1991 [1998] CanTS
no. 54, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings
1997 [2002] CanTS no. 8, the International Convention for the Suppression of
the Financing of Terrorism 1999 [2002] CanTS no. 9.
2 See “Note by the Secretary-General on the establishment of an international
criminal court,” UN doc. A/53/387 (1998) at para. 9, which states that the UN
Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of the Interna-
tional Criminal Court
regretted that no generally acceptable definition of the crimes of terrorism
and drug crimes could be agreed upon for the inclusion, within the jurisdic-
tion of the Court [and recommended that] a Review Conference should con-
sider the crimes of terrorism and drug crimes with a view to arriving at an
acceptable definition and their inclusion in the list of crimes within the juris-
diction of the Court.
3 See, for example, M. Ignatieff, “Mission Impossible?” New York Review of
Books, 19 December 2002.
4 See generally Amnesty International, World Report (2003) at “2002 In Focus,”
“Introduction,” and “Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights.” The report notes:
“Exploiting the atmosphere of fear that followed 11 September, many governments
ignored, undermined or openly violated fundamental principles of international
human rights and humanitarian law.” Regarding Canada, the report states that
“fears increased that people accused of supporting armed Islamist groups were at
risk of being deported to countries where they faced a serious risk of torture.”

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