Europe’s expanding national security state

Amnesty International (AI) has launched a report looking at the national security state in the European countries which began as response to the series of terrorist attacks that have touched the continent in the last 2 years. “Dangerously disproportionate: the ever-expanding national security state in Europe,” provides glance at the national security landscape.

According to AI Europe director, John Dalhuisen, “a disturbing picture is emerging in which unchecked powers are trampling freedoms we have long taken for granted.”

“The last two years, however, have witnessed a profound shift in paradigm across Europe: a move from the view that it is the role of governments to provide security so that people can enjoy their rights, to the view that governments must restrict people’s rights in order to provide security. The result has been an insidious redrawing of the boundaries between the powers of the state and the rights of individuals,” reads the report.

States have adopted and proposed measures that expose people to government surveillance, restricts freedom of expression and enhance executive powers. According to AI, these measures are dismantling the state of rights protection that was constructed after the Second World War.

It focuses on eight themes: states of emergency/emergency laws, principle of legality, right to privacy/surveillance, freedom of expression, right to liberty, freedom of movement, stripping of nationality and the principle of non-refoulement.

These counter-terrorism initiatives have many things in common within the 14 EU members studied. For example, legislation is fast-tracked and little or no consultation is made with parliaments, experts or civil society and there is an ineffective or lack of independent oversight mechanisms to monitor the adopted measures, which may lead to human rights violations to be left unidentified.

Also, ‘terrorism’ is not defined accurately enough in laws which leads to numerous abuses. Additionally, “states [invoke] national security concerns and the “threat of terrorism” to arbitrarily target migrants and refugees, human rights defenders, activists, political opponents, journalists, minority groups, and people lawfully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” concludes the report.

This breaches one of the foundational principles of the EU, that of non-discrimination. Men, women and children have been verbally and physically abused, people have been removed from planes because ‘they looked like a terrorist,’ burkini was banned on the beaches of France, and refugee children in Greece have been arrested for playing with plastic guns.

Even if these measures are increasingly seen as acceptable by the state and its agents in a national security context they are not.

“Amnesty International is calling on all states, including EU member states, to renew their commitment in law and in practice to upholding their international human rights obligations in the context of countering terrorism. The steady regression in many aspects of rights protection in the EU must end.”


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