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War on terror is war on human rights

Ziaullah Khan

In the wake of 9/11 terror attack on World Trade Centre US attacked Afghanistan in a quest to stamp out Al-Qaeda bases and neutralize Taliban in Afghanistan, and with this started the war against terrorism. The war was later also extended to Iraq in 2003 against Saddam Hussain government on the stupendous pretext that he retained weapons of mass destruction. The war also bruised all those states which supported this project, unfortunately the worst effected turned out to be Pakistan.

After the greatest casualties of human lives in Second World War many states had felt the need to frame a regime of rights in which human rights are protected. Towards this end many states had started struggle in which U.S President Harry Truman was one of the greatest supporters of human rights. The rights were adopted by the general assembly of the U.N on 10th December, 1948, in form of universal declaration of human rights. U.S earned name as a leader in framing of these rights. But after 9/11 the circumstances changed, U.S lost the earned name and is these days considered a leader of violators of human rights.

U.S and U.K invaded Afghanistan when Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden and to dismantle Al-Qaida’s sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

U.S and its allies like NATO have started the war on terror to protect their citizens and allied countries from future terrorist attacks like 9/11 and to secure human rights at world level. But the war has not only overrided international law but international humanitarian law also. In case of international humanitarian law the war violated many human rights in the form of illegal detention, unfair trial, cold blooded crime, self-determination, and right to protection of property etc. The war on terror was unlawful and void ab initio. United Nations did not allow U.S to conduct the war on terror especially in case of Iraq.

Those who describe the U.S. illegal aggression as a “mistake”, “incompetence” or a “blunder” is to mislead and convince the world that the destruction of Iraq and the mass murder of Iraqi civilians were not intentional. It is like saying: Hitler was a nice guy; he just made few unintentional mistakes

War against Iraq was launched on the basis of new concept of “preemptive strikes” espoused by President Bush administration. Bush administration legalize the war on basis of concept of self-defense. International law does not recognize and approve this new doctrine of pre-emption. International law permits resort to war in two circumstances only, when authorized by the United Nations Security Council in response to a declared threat to international peace and security and when there is an actual attack or an immediate threat of an actual attack but then only until such time as the Security Council takes charge of the situation.

U.S invaded Iraq to supports fundamentalism in Iraq because fundamentalism protected their interests and nurturing instability in the region. Saddam was against fundamentalism and favored unity instead of disunity among citizens on base of religion. Those who describe the U.S. illegal aggression as a “mistake”, “incompetence” or a “blunder” is to mislead and convince the world that the destruction of Iraq and the mass murder of Iraqi civilians were not intentional. It is like saying: Hitler was a nice guy; he just made few unintentional mistakes.

The attack on Iraq by U.S also left a precedent for other states. Any state can make such precedent a base for attack against other state. Pakistan and India are two rival neighbor and atomic power countries posing mutual threat. Then why Pakistan or India cannot claim the same right or resort a preemptive war?

In response to U.S pressure some governments have adopted such laws which were in contrast to human rights. Through its policies and actions U.S encouraged its allied or not-so-allied countries to legislate laws which were not only against the international law but also against municipal laws of such states.

One of the awful result of the war is illegal and arbitrary detention. It violates the article 9 of universal declaration of human rights (UDHR). Many people are detained in Cuba and Guantanamo Bay prisons without any clear proof of their involvement in terrorist activities. Even many reports published by international human rights organizations show that many people are detained on basis of just suspicions.

Other most condemnable violations, ironically, justified by the war by US, is the massive invasion of privacy by the intelligence agencies. The US categorically defends this violation as a necessary step to access personal details in order to build profiles of terror suspects by data mining. Governments across the world are already collecting and sharing much of the information related to personal domain of an individual through bilateral and multilateral agreements covering passenger name records, visa applications and border surveillance systems, to name few.

War on terror is also violating the article 7 of UDHR: right to fair trial, public hearing and impartial tribunal. Detainees are not allowed to choose a lawyer of their own volition to represent them in court or to enforce their fundamental rights. Even human rights watch say they do not take the prisoners before court of justice.

The war has also destroyed government installation like schools, hospitals, government buildings, markets, and public buildings. There was no single educational institution in Afghanistan from 2001-2004 which is the blatant violation of human rights of article 26.

Prisoners of war are also subjected to torture, cruelty, degrading treatment, and inhuman punishment in Cuba and Abu Ghraib prisons in Iraq. Jail authority would unleash dogs on prisoners and kept them in small hutches which is the violation of human rights. Sometime even they keep the prisoners buck-naked in same cage or room to degrade them.

At last but not the least, the war has also encroached many fundamental rights like freedom of expression, movement, assembly, right to life, security of person, exile, nationality, rest and leisure, standard of living and so on and so far, which are protected by UDHR.

Time does not allow us to decide Jus ad bellum (“right to war”) but to discuss Jus ad Bello (conduct of war). It regulates the conduct of parties when they get engage in an armed conflict. International humanitarian law perform two functions, one to protect all those who do not take part in war and to regulate means and methods of war. So U.S and its allies have already violated the Jus ad bellum. But they have to protect Jus ad Bello in form of civilian causalities and protect and compensate all those human rights in the war on terror which are guaranteed by UDHR.

Writer: Zia Ullah Khan

The writer is law student at Islamia College University, Peshawar. he can be reached at



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