Human rights expert welcomes proposals for victims of terrorism compensation

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Human rights expert welcomes proposals for victims of terrorism compensation

16th May 2012

Proposals by the UN to grant anyone seriously injured or maimed by acts of terrorism around the world automatic legal rights to compensation have been welcomed.

Mark McGhee, an expert in Human Rights law with Fentons Solicitors LLP, was speaking as the report, drawn up by the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, was due to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.

“It is very unfortunate that over the last decade, international human rights laws have too often been subjected to negative press,” said Mr McGhee, a partner with Fentons. “Time and again, human rights laws and The European Court in Strasbourg that upholds them come under fire in the British press - particularly in regard to issues such as giving prisoners the vote and the recent delays in deportation proceedings against radical cleric Abu Qatada.

“The negative connotations that are regularly attached to the term ‘human rights’ and the charge that human rights legislation protects the undeserving at the expense of the law-abiding, represent a significant challenge,” said Mark. “It is crucial however, that people now understand that in regard to terrorism, the law is there to protect the victims of acts of terrorism, and not just those who are suspected of instigating such acts.”

The report’s author, Ben Emmerson QC, is a leading British human rights lawyer and is short-listed to represent the UK at the European Court of Human Rights later this year. He will address the UN next month to argue that more attention should be paid to the human rights of victims of terrorism. His report will recommend a number of far-reaching proposals, foremost among them that countries where acts of terrorism occur must offer compensation for human rights violations to those who are injured or killed as a result.

“This is in effect, what already happens here in the UK where victims of terrorism can apply for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) scheme, although it must be added that victims of the 7/7 attacks in London have complained of long delays in securing compensation,” said Mark. “Few states outside western Europe have similar schemes including the United States where payments can only be made as an ‘act of beneficence.’ Victims of terrorism are in a very special category in that they are victims of gross human rights violations. Their rights can no longer simply be ignored - they must instead be placed centre stage.

“To date, insufficient attention has been paid to the rights of victims. The fact that in recent years, 19 separate international treaties on co-operation around counter-terrorism have been made yet not a single one has been devoted to the human rights of victims, illustrates perfectly how human rights legislation has been given such a bad name,” added Mark. “It is no wonder that in the eyes of the general public, human rights laws are so often seen as protecting the perpetrators but not the innocent victims.“

Emmerson's report, which is understood to have considerable support in the Foreign Office and other UK departments, including the Home Office, will also press the case for all member governments to implement a ban on life insurance policies containing exclusion clauses for any deaths or injuries caused by acts of terrorism.

“It is both appalling and incredibly insulting for bereaved families whose loved ones are taken from them in such a violent and horrific way to be told that they have no recourse to compensation due to some exclusion clause buried in the small print of their loved one’s insurance policies,” said Mark. “It is heartening that Mr Emmerson’s proposals would also affect travel insurance policies covering medical and other care for those killed or injured through terrorism while on holiday, as to be left without any financial help to deal with permanent or disabling injuries is simply deplorable.”

If the Emmerson report is accepted, it would oblige all UN states to adopt a uniform set of standards that would firmly establish in international law the tenet that terrorist acts amount to gross violations of the human rights of their victims. Victims of terrorism would include those killed or seriously injured both physically and psychologically, their next-of-kin and any dependants as well as innocent individuals who have been killed or suffered serious injury indirectly attributable to an act of terrorism.

“International human rights laws have been suffering a crisis of public and political confidence for some time now and are too often the cause of public bemusement,” said Mark. “Mr Emmerson’s proposals are therefore incredibly important in that they will hopefully lead to a fundamental shift in people’s thinking by dispelling the notion that human rights laws focus too much on protecting the rights of terrorists, and not enough on those they attack, murder and maim.”

Read more: The Guardian