Our Mission: Promoting human rights and holding governments to account, drawing upon the lessons learned from the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Our Expertise and Achievements: Since 1990, Rights Watch (UK) (formerly British
Irish Rights Watch) has held the UK Government to account for human rights abuses in the context of counter terrorism operations both domestically and abroad. We work with victims and communities to expose human rights abuses, to obtain redress and to hold those responsible for such abuses to account. Our interventions have reflected our range of expertise, from the right to a fair trial to the scope of the government’s investigative obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention in Human Rights. We have a long record of working closely with NGOs and government authorities to share that expertise. And we have received wide recognition, as the first winner of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Prize in 2009 alongside other honours.
How well you believe Prevent is being delivered locally by the Met Police, MOPAC, and other organisations involved in tackling extremism in London?
In our experience, individuals, community groups and other NGOs with whom we have spoken to about the Prevent programme have been generally negative. In general the sentiment has been that the programme is discriminatory, increases community tensions, and is widely discredited within the community. The overriding perception is that Government and the police are seeking to work against, rather than with, the community, and are unwilling to engage with the communities concerns. We believe that a key lesson from the conflict in Northern Ireland is that Government must seek to work with communities, and build cohesion, otherwise risk increasing factors that put individuals at greater risk of engaging with terrorist activity. We expand on the relevant lessons from the Northern Irish conflict in our answer to the third question below.
We would also like to draw the Police and Crime Committee’s attention to the following information which we believe will be of some use in answering this question:
What impact the new Prevent duty will have for the Met Police, MOPAC and other statutory bodies specified under it?
The new prevent duty found in the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) is unlikely to have a significant impact on the operation of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) or Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), comparative to other bodies specified under it.
This is because it is not so much a new duty, as making a previously non-statutory that applied in specific situations to specific bodies as to a more general statutory duty. The Government states that the intention of this action is ‘to make delivery of [Prevent activity] a legal requirement for specified authorities and improve the standard of work on the Prevent programme across Great Britain.
As MOPAC and the MPS have both been participating in Prevent activity prior to the enactment of the CTSA, it is therefore unlikely for it to place any additional burden upon them. Any statutory bodies who have not yet been engaging with Prevent activity will be required to ensure that their policies and procedures take this duty into account. This may have a limited impact on their functions, depending on the changes needed to bring such policies and procedures into line with this duty.
What the priorities and objectives should be for a London-wide Board to oversee Prevent activities?
Rights Watch (UK) believe a London-wide strategic Board should refocus the Prevent strategy by aiming to engage communities and individuals deemed vulnerable to extremism. The current Prevent strategy has damaged community relations in London and other areas of the United Kingdom. The Prevent strategy intends to prevent people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, and wants to challenge extremist ideologies. However, the Board has to address the mutual suspicion and alienation of communities that the policy has created. There should be a clear objective to prevent isolation, focus on cross-community relations and minimise the risks of continued stigmatisation. It has to be a priority to demonstrate that Muslim communities feel included in the process because otherwise communities will fail to engage with the strategy. This is imperative because otherwise the Prevent strategy risks not learning from the lessons in Northern Ireland. The Muslim community feels alienated and stigmatised by the policy, and this occurred to communities in Northern Ireland throughout The Troubles. Not only did this ensure members of that community felt isolated and disengaged in the decision making process, but it made an element of the community more sympathetic to groups such as the IRA. If the Prevent strategy is serious about tackling extremism and learning from mistakes of the past, then there must be different priorities and objectives for the Prevent strategy.
On a strategic level, the Board should be aware of potential counter-productive consequences of targeting a particular community with anti-terrorism measures. The Board must draw lessons from the conflict in Northern Ireland and learn from them to prevent history from repeating itself. Tactics like internment without trial, the arrest of community members for intelligence gathering purposes and the erosion of procedural rights damaged the trust between the British State and the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. The Prevent strategy risks repeating such mistakes with the Muslim community by attempting to infiltrate community groups with informers and the continued surveillance of ‘suspect’ communities. For example, by using video surveillance as part of Project Champion in Birmingham mistrust of the authorities was bred and the community felt stigmatised. Although it occurred in Birmingham and not London, this increased the perception of stigmatisation amongst the Muslim community in the UK. Not only does this demonstrate the dangers of radicalising communities in attempts to stop extremism, but it indicates that there must be new methods of the Prevent strategy if it is to engage the Muslim community.
It is apparent the trust between the Muslim community and the police and local authorities has been damaged due to the Prevent strategy. Aminul Hoque, a lecturer and author on British Islamic identity, has stated the policy has ‘widened the schism’ between the Muslim community and other Britons. Former Muslim police officer Dal Banu recently went as far to label the strategy a ‘toxic brand’ that failed to understand the needs of the community and treated young Muslims separately to other vulnerable young people. It therefore has to be a priority to demonstrate that Muslim communities feel included in the process and prevent a feeling of isolation. This would ensure that people within the Muslim community do not feel ostracised from other areas of British society, and as consequence help to insulate them from the influence of extremists. There must be a clear priority to include community groups in the policy and dialogue that surrounds the Prevent strategy to help achieve that aim.
The Muslim community are currently not engaged in the Prevent strategy, and as a result this means Muslims are less likely (or feel unable) to engage with the strategy. The ex- radical turned community worker Hanif Qadir has openly stated the government is struggling to find members who engage with Prevent. Due to a pervading mistrust of the authorities and police, Muslim communities feel excluded. This has striking parallels with the Catholic/Nationalist community in Northern Ireland. This mistrust fostered division between the community and the authorities. Unfortunately steps towards rectifying that situation were only taken relatively recently, and meant that an entire community did not feel like it could speak to the police or relevant authorities. This situation continues in Northern Ireland to this day. This meant that those within the community who might have provided information about groups such as the IRA felt completely unable to do so. Evidently, this is a clear problem. To avoid a repeat of such division, the Board should prioritise community engagement as a method of reaching the more vulnerable members of the community.
It should be of the highest priority to learn lessons from the Northern Irish conflict; to be careful of treating the Muslim community as a ‘suspect community’, or ensuring the Muslim community believes this to be the case. Respected Academic Paddy Hillyard, in his study of anti-terror legislation, has noted that the police treating the Irish as a suspect community in Britain resulted in the public doing the same. He argues that this contributed to the criminalisation of the Irish throughout Britain and lead to their isolation. It apparent that there are parallels between the approaches taken towards the Irish and Muslim communities, which has to be addressed. Not only does the current strategy ostracise the Muslim community, limit community engagement with anti-extremism and fail to prevent extremism, it contributes to a sense of isolation and demonisation by the community. Not only should a Board wish to stop British citizens feeling this, it should realise that continued harassment of a particular community does nothing to prevent extremism and can actually lead people towards extreme ideas.
Rights Watch (UK) strongly believe the Board should take immediate steps to change the current Prevent strategy. The Prevent strategy should be more accountable, with the Board having powers to amend or modify strategies that are patently not working. It is clear current methods are alienating the Muslim community, damaging the trust between that community and local leaders, struggling to engage Muslims in anti-extremism and leading to disengagement with the wider British state. Furthermore, the recent examples of Mohammed Emwazi and Michael Adebolajo demonstrate that the strategy is failing to prevent extremism. It is clear a different, more inclusive approach is needed to ensure that the strategy has the support of the Muslim community and work with the community in order to prevent home grown terrorism. It should be clear that there pertinent lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland; that the criminalisation and stigmatisation of a community was actually counter-productive. When the state employs arbitrary policies, it alienates the communities that are required for good intelligence. It is apparent that the Prevent strategy again misunderstands the crucial importance of police – community relations. Instead of perpetuating the feelings and perceptions of alienation and exclusion, the Board should prioritise respecting local communities to ensure a good working relationship focused on combating extremism.
Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, Explanatory notes, Part 5, para 176 ↑
Hillyard, Paddy, ‘Suspect Community: People’s Experience of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain’.