UK Government urged to reconsider its counter extremism strategy

Date: 26th July 2016
Category: Civil Rights and Freedoms

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a report that urges the UK Government to reconsider its counter extremism strategy. Echoing recent recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the JCHR calls for rigorous and transparent reporting about the operation of the Prevent Duty in schools.

The report concludes that while there is agreement that tackling terrorism is a priority, there is no agreement about how to combat extremism, particularly since the Government is also under a duty to uphold the democratic and human rights which terrorists so often aim to extinguish.

Over the past year progress on a forthcoming Counter Extremism Bill appears to have stalled or even gone backwards, with the Government retreating from providing any level of detail. The Committee recommends that if any new legislation is brought forward it must be informed by evidence as to what works and what simply drives wedges between communities, and that the Prevent strategy must be reviewed.

Prevent requires teachers from the childcare sector up to university to identify apparent signs of student extremism and refer youngsters to the government's deradicalisation programme, known as Channel. Rights Watch UK conducted interviews with affected students, teachers and parents and found many accounts of discrimination and overzealous reporting. The organisation found that children as young as four had been identified as being at risk of being radicalised just because of the way they pronounce words or because of clothes they wear. In another case, a 16-year-old was referred to Prevent after borrowing a book on terrorism from the school library. Also as part of online safety measures in the UK, schools will begin to monitor every website a student visits from September this year, despite concerns from rights groups that the measure will impact children's right to information and privacy.

Overall, the JCHR report recommends that the UK Government should reconsider its counter extremism strategy, use the existing extensive legal framework for dealing with people who promote violence, and introduce new legislation only if it can demonstrate a significant gap.

New Concluding Observations

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in June released a new set of recommendations for the UK - including Scotland - known as Concluding Observations, last updated in 2008. These Concluding Observations highlight where there are still gaps in policy, practice and legislation in fulfilling children's rights. Echoing many of the concerns of the JCHR report, Concluding Observation 21b under non-discrimination recommends that the State Party:

"Strengthen the oversight mechanism, including regular independent reviews, to assess and ensure that the implementation of the counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures, including the Prevent Strategy (2011), will not have a discriminatory or stigmatising impact on any group of children."