Queen’s Speech 2017: UK Government to strengthen widely criticised counter extremism policy, despite serious human rights concerns

Rights Watch (UK) urges Government to address human rights implications of Prevent before pressing ahead with counter extremism agenda outlined in Queen’s Speech.

Today, the Queen’s Speech affirmed that the Conservative minority Government intend to establish a commission for countering extremism ‘to support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms’. The speech also announced that the Government will institute a review of their counter terrorism strategy.

Rights Watch (UK) urge the Government to establish an independent review of the Government’s counter extremism strategy, Prevent, before pushing forward with any new measures to counter extremism.

During the last Parliament the Government were forced to abandon their proposals to introduce a ‘Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill’ when they failed to arrive at a legally acceptable and workable definition of ‘extremism’, with Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights concluding that the Government had given them ‘no impression of having a coherent or sufficiently precise definition of either ‘non-violent extremism’ or ‘British values’.

Prevent, the Government’s flagship counter extremism policy, has been the target of widespread criticism. In July 2016 Rights Watch (UK) published a report that found that the policy, which defines extremism as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’, gives rise to serious human rights concerns. Furthermore, Prevent is deeply divisive: sowing seeds of mistrust between students and teachers, and alienating entire communities.

Yasmine Ahmed, Executive Director of Rights Watch (UK) commented:

‘In light of the widespread criticism of Prevent, and the absence of any definitional clarity about what the Government seeks to address, it is imperative that the Government review their approach rather than building on a deeply flawed strategy.’

Prevent falls outside of the remit of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, such that it not subject to any independent oversight. Last October the Government stated, in response to a question in the House of Lords as to whether the Government intends to set up an independent review of Prevent, that they had conducted an internal review of the Strategy, which concluded that Prevent should be ‘strengthened, not undermined’.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association has become the latest independent expert to call for an independent review of the Strategy, explicitly recommending that the Government should examine the Strategy’s impact on fundamental freedoms and seek input from all relevant stakeholders.

Ahmed commented:

The behind closed doors approach the Government has been pursuing amounts to an abject failure to listen to affected communities or engage with legitimate concerns. Instead they are reinforcing a strategy that is having the opposite of its intended effect by stigmatising and marginalising communities and has faced sustained criticism at home and abroad.

A further internal review will do little to blunt these criticisms. There is a clear gap in independent oversight, which the Government must remedy by establishing a genuinely independent review, with the results made public.’


For more information contact Yasmine Ahmed (Director) on (+44) 0203 6030 972 or yahmed@rwuk.org

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