“No evidence that PREVENT actually prevents terrorism” – UN Special Rapporteur slams UK’s Counter-terrorism strategy
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Friday May 25 2018
The United Nation (UN)’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, has released a statement slamming the UK’s counter-extremism strategy, PREVENT, for being “inherently flawed” and has raised “very serious human rights concerns”.
The Special Rapporteur, Ms E. Tendayi Achiume, visited the UK from 30th April to the 11th of May at the behest of the Government to “assess the situation of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance in the United Kingdom”.
The statement, and Ms Achiume’s findings thus far, are preliminary and the UN is still currently accepting submissions until November 2018, with the final report being presented to the June 2019 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Rapporteur, in her observations on racial discrimination stemming from UK counter-terrorism law and policy, highlighted the Government’s PREVENT strategy as being “inherently flawed”, “vague” and lacking any supportive evidence of its efficacy.
She further noted that there was “no evidence that PREVENT actually prevents extremism” and that the Government had not published any findings on the impact of PREVENT on human rights or racial equality.
The PREVENT duty requires public bodies to have “due regard to the need to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism”, enforcing students and staffs of schools, colleges and universities, as well as all other public bodies, to report anyone who they suspect may be vulnerable to becoming radicalised.
An analysis conducted by CAGE, ‘The ‘science’ of pre-crime: The secret ‘radicalisation’ study underpinning PREVENT’, examined the scientific study on which PREVENT was based. The group noted that a study on convicted prisoners by two Home Office Forensic Psychologists formed the Extremism Risk Guidance 22+ (ERG22+) criteria that is used to identify individuals likely to be radicalised.
However, the report highlighted a number of problems in the methodology of the study and its practical application. This included the fact that it had not been through a credible peer review process, had ignored political factors as a cause of radicalisation, the findings had been generalised across wider society without scrutiny “far beyond the original remit” and also pointed out the authors themselves had questioned the reliability and validity of the ERG 22+.
It is interesting to note that figures released by the Home Office this year show that of the 6,093 people flagged by the PREVENT strategy only 1,146 (19%) were considered for CHANNEL support, with a significant amount (36%) requiring no further action.
Numerous critics of the counter-terrorism strategy argue that it has stigmatised, marginalised and victimised entire groups of people based on their religious, racial and political standpoint, particularly and disproportionately targeting the British Muslim community.
These critics include the NUT, the NUS, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Rights Watch UK, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and more than 140 academics, politicians and experts in a single letter alone.
Ms Achiume notes that the duty provides “vague criteria” to identify individuals or groups that are somehow “predisposed to terrorist ideology and violence” and the “lack of a clear, workable definitions of “extremism” and “British values”” had led to “horrific consequences”.
Other groups have noted a number of cases in which individuals have been flagged due to discrimination on racial, religious or ethnic grounds.
In one case, an “Asian man” was flagged because he was overheard planning a future trip to Saudi Arabia, which had been interpreted by a nurse as being a cause for concern. The man was planning a Hajj pilgrimage that is compulsory for all Muslims to conduct at least once in their lifetime and is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith.
In another case, a student at the University of Staffordshire was flagged up by a University staff member for reading a course book on terrorism. Mr Mohammed Umar Farooq was undertaking a Master’s degree in Terrorism and Security Studies at the time and had explained this to the staff member during a brief chat. However, subsequent to the chat the staff member complained to the university security that “there [was] a man, who is Asian, and with a beard, who is not a student and is reading a book on terrorism”. The University eventually apologised noting that the incident was the result of PREVENT training which was “devoid of detail” and was underpinned by guidance that contained “insufficient detail to provide clear practical direction”.
The Rapporteur noted that this was the direct result of the flawed strategy and that it allows for non-expert individuals to make “life-altering judgements on the basis of vague criteria in a climate of national anxieties that scapegoat entire religious, racial and ethnic groups as the presumptive enemy”.
Governmental figures have sought to defend the strategy by highlighting the fact that it takes into account far-right ideology as well as Islamist ideology. Figures released this year have shown that individuals being referred to PREVENT and subsequently receiving CHANNEL support for concerns of “Islamist Extremism” dropped by 30.3% relative to last year, the opposite was true for individuals being referred for concerns on “Right Wing Extremism”, which increased by 25.3%.
However, the Rapporteur noted that inclusion of multiple ideologies was not a basis of defence considering the entire strategy was empirically unfounded. She noted that the “PREVENT duty is inherently flawed, and expansion of a flawed program to cover more groups is by no means curative”.
In light of the evidence received, the Rapporteur recommended that the Government “at the very least suspend the Prevent duty” and commit to investigating and publishing publically-available data on racial inequality stemming from counter-terrorism law and policy.
The Rapporteur concludes by repeating her praise of the UK’s strong legal framework and leadership in key areas in eradicating racial inequality. However, notes that there are further steps that must be taken to identify and address structural forms of racial discrimination and inequality, and to repeal and review active legislation and/or policies that directly or indirectly discriminate against particular groups.
The Government has yet to respond to the Rapporteur’s findings.
In April, when the UN raised concerns about “racism rooted in the fabric of the United kingdom’s society” particularly the criminal justice system, a Home Office spokesman at the time said: “The Government takes allegations of police racism very seriously and expects all allegations to be investigated thoroughly…”