UN investigator calls for independent review of Prevent

Date: 13th June 2017
Category: Civil Rights and Freedoms

A former UN Special Rapporteur has called for an independent review of the UK's 'divisive' counter terrorism strategy, Prevent.

Maina Kiai, previously the Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association, made the recommendations in his final report to the Human Rights Council, following a visit to the UK in April 2016. Kiai pointed to the strategy failings, claiming it singled out certain groups, "dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it".

Prevent is a strand of the government's counter-terrorism strategy that aims to reduce the threat of attacks by stopping "vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism and extremism".

More than 4,600 people including children of primary school age were referred into Channel, a Prevent-linked deradicalisation programme, in the first year after the introduction of the strategy in 2015.

Public sector workers including teachers and doctors are required to give "due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism".

The calls for a review come in the run-up to the UK general election, where Prevent has come under renewed scrutiny following a suicide attack in Manchester, which killed 22 people.

The Kenyan lawyer lambasted the British government for its inability to define "non-violent extremism" and that the lack of definition had helped create an environment of "unease and uncertainty around what can legitimately be discussed in public".

His findings were reached after a three-day fact-finding mission last year, when he met UK government officials, activists and individuals affected by Prevent.

Kiai is the second senior UN expert to speak out about Prevent.

In a report in February, Ben Emmerson, the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said that teachers "should not be required to act as watchdogs or intelligence officers".

Adriana Edmeades, the legal and policy director for Rights Watch UK, welcomed Kiai's report, describing Prevent as "simply not fit for purpose".

"We welcome the report and recommendations of the UN special rapporteur... who has added his voice to the growing call for an independent review."

"As a strategy that targets non-violent extremism, [it] raises very serious human rights concerns and is simply not fit for purpose," said Edmeades. "The message to the government is clear: they must establish an independent review without delay."

Kiai's damning report rallied international support for existing calls by senior parliamentarians and the UK government's own former independent reviewer of terror legisaltion, David Anderson QC, for a review of the strategy.