UK's anti-terrorism strategy has 'negative effect' on Muslim communities

  • 26 Jun 2022

A UN special rapporteur has criticised the UK's Prevent Strategy for targeting Muslim communities, highlighting that its implementation is "inconsistent" with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Since becoming law in 2011, the strategy has been criticised by rights groups for the challenge that it is believed to pose to the justice system's foundations. ( AA )

The UK's anti-terrorism strategy, dubbed Prevent, is facing criticism from a UN special rapporteur for "targeting Muslim communities" ahead of a controversial independent review.

Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, said the strategy has had a "negative and discriminatory effect on Muslim communities" and its implementation is "inconsistent" with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

While the effect of the initiative "has not been felt equally by all children," Ni Aolain said, "minority ethnic or religious communities" were impacted in particular.

She said the UN "has a number of concerns about the Prevent strategy" and that she addressed these kinds of government strategies used by the UK and other countries with the organisation's Human Rights Council.

Since becoming law in 2011, the strategy has been criticised by equality and rights groups for the challenge that it is believed to pose to liberties and the justice system's foundations.

There have been regular calls for the strategy's removal due to its discriminatory nature against Muslims and because the UK government has failed to provide any evidence that it prevents terrorism.

"In fact, we know of at least 13 people who have gone on to commit terrorist attacks and they were known to Prevent prior to their attacks and Prevent did not stop them," said Layla Aitlhadj, the director of Prevent Watch, a campaign group that supports people affected by the strategy.

READ MORE: No, Muslims critical of Prevent are not ‘enabling terrorism’

'Targeting and traumatising innocent people'

Under Prevent, public authorities such as schools, colleges, universities and health services are ordered to monitor students, patients and clients for potential signs of radicalisation in children as young as four.

Thousands of referrals are made each year and the highest proportion of Prevent referrals comes from within the education sector. One such case was that of a 12-year-old who wishes to remain anonymous. Among several others, she was reported by her school to counter-terrorism police after showing sympathy towards Palestinians.

Prevent, as part of the UK's counter-terrorism strategy, claims to operate in a pre-crime space, well before any intention, planning, or preparation for criminal action has ever been committed. This means that individuals singled out by Prevent have often never even considered committing any crime.

The logic is that "you can stop somebody at age four or five, when they're just displaying certain ideas or beliefs, because in 10- or 20-years’ time, they may go on to be a terrorist, which is quite an extraordinary claim," said Aitlhadj.

Unlike counter-terrorism legislation, there is no independent reviewer with a statutory duty to report on any extensions of the Prevent strategy or problems with its implementation.

The UK government recently came under scrutiny when it appointed William Shawcross, a former chairman of the Charity Commission well-known for his neoconservative views and anti-Muslim rhetoric, to chair an independent review of Prevent.

Two leading experts on Prevent, Aitlhadj and John Holmwood, as an alternative to the government’s review, chaired the largest ever study of Prevent, called "The People's Review of Prevent," and have found that it is not preventing terrorism but instead wrongly targeting and traumatising hundreds of innocent people, some young children.

READ MORE: 7 in 10 Muslims in UK 'face anti-Muslim hate in the workplace'