Britain’s ‘Prevent’ strategy has ‘a negative and discriminatory effect on Muslim communities’
The UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, dubbed Prevent, has come under fire from a UN special rapporteur for ‘targeting Muslim communities’ ahead of a controversial independent review.
Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, said the strategy had a “negative and discriminatory effect on Muslim communities” and that its implementation is “incompatible” with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Although the effect of the initiative “has not been felt equally by all children”, said Ni Aolain, “minority ethnic or religious communities” have been particularly affected.
She said the UN ‘has a number of concerns about the prevention strategy’ and has taken up these sorts of government strategies used by the UK and other countries with the Human Rights Council. organization man.
Since becoming law in 2011, the strategy has been criticized by equality and rights groups for the challenge it is said to pose to freedoms and the foundations of the justice system.
There have been regular calls for the strategy to be withdrawn because of its discriminatory nature against Muslims and because the UK government has provided no evidence that it prevents terrorism.
“In fact, we know of at least 13 people who have carried out terrorist attacks and they were known to Prevent before their attacks and Prevent did not arrest them,” said Layla Aitlhadj, director of Prevent Watch, a campaign group. that supports those affected by the strategy.
Under Prevent, public authorities such as schools, colleges, universities and health departments are required to monitor students, patients and clients for potential signs of radicalization in children from the age of of four years.
Thousands of referrals are made each year, and the largest proportion of Prevent referrals come from the education sector.
One such case was that of a 12-year-old child who wished to remain anonymous.
Among several others, she was reported by her school to counter-terrorism police after showing sympathy towards the Palestinians.
“An assistant teacher took me out of my lesson and she led me into an empty room with a long table, and there was a policewoman sitting at one end of the table and I was advised to sit down on the other end before the teacher came out and closed the door behind her.
“I was so scared I was trying to hold back my tears,” she said, saying the policewoman “didn’t even explain what was going on and looked like she was threatening me.”
The officer told her that she would be taken to the police station for further questioning. But in the end, the decision was made that they would interrogate him at school.
“I thought that meant I would go to jail. But overall it was my first face-to-face experience with the police at 12,” she said.
After the interrogation, she called her father crying, thinking he knew what had happened.
“I found out that I was put in a room with a police officer without warning or explanation without my parents’ permission,” she said.
His father was also surprised by the incident.
“Just imagine the amount of fear, stress and frustration you can feel when, as a parent, you receive a call from a police officer telling you that your 12-year-old daughter has been questioned at her school.
“No consent was given by us. No information was given to us. We had no idea what happened to him,” he said.
Prevent, as part of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, operates in the pre-crime space, long before any intent, planning or preparation for criminal action has ever been committed.
This means that the individuals singled out by Prevent often never even considered committing such a crime.
The logic is that “you can arrest someone at the age of four or five, when they are just displaying certain ideas or beliefs, because in 10 or 20 years they can become a terrorist, which is quite an extraordinary claim,” Aitlhadj said.
“If someone came up to you and said, ‘Oh, I can predict your future,’ you would probably laugh at them.
“And yet the UK government has convinced not only its citizens, but it has convinced other countries around the world that Prevent works and that they can essentially predict the future who can go on to commit future crimes,” he said. she asserted.
Unlike anti-terrorism legislation, there is no independent reviewer with a statutory duty to report on any extension of the prevention strategy or any problems with its implementation.
The UK government recently came under scrutiny when it appointed William Shawcross, a former chairman of the Charity Commission well known for his neoconservative views and Islamophobic rhetoric, to chair an independent review of Prevent.
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper recently published a leaked draft that outlined Shawcross’s plans to claim in the landmark journal Prevent that the government’s counter-terrorism agenda has focused too much on right-wing extremism and should now refocus on what he calls “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamist extremism”. .”
Shawcross believes Prevent treats “traditional right-wing commentary” as far-right, while what it calls “Islamist propaganda” is “ignored”.
Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Prevent, said excerpts from the review suggested Shawcross’ findings were an unwarranted attempt to “politicize counter-terrorism policing”.
Many civil rights organizations, Muslim community groups and scholars have declared a boycott under Shawcross’s new role.
Two leading experts on Prevent, Aitlhadj and John Holmwood, as an alternative to government review, chaired the largest study ever of Prevent, called “The People’s Review of Prevent”, and found that it does not prevent terrorism, but wrongly targets and traumatizes hundreds of innocent people, including some young children.
However, the British government continues to ignore these criticisms, and Shawcross, who was a member of Policy Exchange, a British think tank known for its Islamophobic positions, published a report which was endorsed by former Prime Minister David Cameron suggesting that those who criticize Prevent as a law enable terrorism.
“So that’s part of how Prevent works. If you criticize it, you too are in some way extreme or conducive terrorism.
“I myself was mentioned more than 33 times in this report, and only Muslim organizations and individuals were targeted in this report,” Aitlhadj said.
In defense of Prevent, the government recently cited figures for 2021 which showed less than a quarter of those referred were because of what they called “Islamic extremism”.
But, Aitlhadj said, it’s all part of the government’s repackaging of the clearly discriminatory law to convince the public that it targets all forms of extremism.
The reality is that Prevent disproportionately targets Muslims, “because they make up only 5% of the UK population”, she added.
Ni Aolain, the UN rapporteur, clarified that public evidence suggests that Prevent “has been used primarily to target minority Muslim communities” and that this issue has not only been raised by its mandate but also by the mandate UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Tendayi Achiume.
Ni Aolain said the best way to counter terrorism and violent extremism is to do so in a manner consistent with international law and human rights.
“When we ignore our human rights obligations in doing this work, what we often do, governments often end up doing, is being in a vicious cycle where you reproduce the conditions conducive to violence precisely by alienating communities and those you most need to partner with,” she added.
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