Balancing Rights and Military Necessity

Did September 11 mark the end of a period of the expansion of the human rights idea and the beginning of a process of retrenchment? Leading human rights organizations - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists - fear that this might indeed be the case, and they have been steeling themselves to oppose any attempt to push back their hard-won conquests.

Ever since its inception in the early sixties, the international human rights movement had been steadily gaining ground. It campaigned with increasing effectiveness against political killings, torture and arbitrary imprisonment. It mobilized public opinion against the abuse of State power; in the process, it got the sympathetic attention of the international media and enlisted the support of democratic governments. In the years since the end of the Cold War, the movement gathered further impetus. The global agenda began to be dominated by novel initiatives for the advancement of international justice and for the protection of human rights: international criminal courts, new forms of universal jurisdiction, humanitarian intervention.

Yet in the wake of September 11, the focus of the debate has suddenly shifted, and it now revolves around the extent to which it may be justified to suspend or restrict certain rights - starting with immigration rights and the rights to due process, freedom of expression and privacy - so as to fight the so-called "War on Terror" more effectively. Many opinion makers, especially in the United States, have begun to argue openly that unorthodox wars like the battle against Al Qaeda cannot be won by adhering to the fine print of human rights law or the laws of armed conflict.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Angela Merkel’s Endgame?

    The collapse of coalition negotiations has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a stark choice between forming a minority government or calling for a new election. But would a minority government necessarily be as bad as Germans have traditionally thought?

  2. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.

  3. A GrabBike rider uses his mobile phone Bay Ismoyo/Getty Images

    The Platform Economy

    While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

  4. Trump Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Profiles in Discouragement

    One day, the United States will turn the page on Donald Trump. But, as Americans prepare to observe their Thanksgiving holiday, they should reflect that their country's culture and global standing will never recover fully from the wounds that his presidency is inflicting on them.

  5. Mugabe kisses Grace JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

    How Women Shape Coups

    In Zimbabwe, as in all coups, much behind-the-scenes plotting continues to take place in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of President Robert Mugabe. But who the eventual winners and losers are may depend, among other things, on the gender of the plotters.

  6. Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

    The Abnormality of Oil

    At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

  7. Israeli soldier Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

    The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games

    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.