BELGIUM: UN expert encourages the country’s balanced approach but urges action on victims of terrorism and prisons

(OHCHR) BRUSSELS (1 June 2018) – The Belgium Government’s commitment to uphold human rights obligations while countering terrorism serves as an example of good national practice, a UN human rights expert says.

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, visited Belgium from 24 -31 May 2018.

“Belgium is a diverse multicultural and multilingual society. Like many countries, Belgium faces the challenges of addressing and countering radicalisation, including its violent manifestations, and has taken active steps to develop strategic policy in this regard,” Ní Aoláin said.

“Commendably, in the aftermath of the horrific events of 22 March 2016 the Belgian Government, with serious deliberation on the exigencies of the situation, determined that no state of emergency was necessary to address the extant security challenges,” referring to three suicide bombings in Brussels which killed 35 people. “Rather, the full scope of the existing law was exercised to its full potential.”

The Special Rapporteur was impressed by the depth and breadth of attention given by federal, regional, community and municipal authorities to the challenges of radicalisation in all its manifestations and the challenges of social polarisation in the aftermath of terrorist violence.

Despite her overall positive assessment, the Special Rapporteur voiced her concern about ongoing gaps in the legal framework applicable to victims of terrorism in Belgium.  She was deeply concerned about the day-to-day experiences of victims of terrorism in healthcare, employment, and administrative settings which raise the specter of secondary violations including direct and indirect discrimination.  She encourages the Government to make victims’ rights a priority in practice.

The Special Rapporteur raised concerns that no systematic de-radicalisation or disengagement programmes were being put in place in Belgian prisons, and raised concerns about isolation regimes and other measures in Belgian prisons as a severe violation of individual rights.

Ní Aoláin noted that a sizeable number of foreign fighters, their spouses and their offspring with Belgian nationality are currently located overseas, in IDP camps or detention pending trial. In a number of these countries, there are significant concerns as to the fairness of trial, the access to meaningful legal representation and the risk of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment including sexual violence while in custody or detention.

She urged the Government to take urgent action in respect of children in Syria and Iraq, particularly the youngest and most vulnerable Belgian nationals who may be at significant and immediate risk.

She recommended that the Government deepen its oversight of counter-terrorism laws and policies through the creation of an independent oversight mechanism with necessary powers and capacities.  She reminded the Government of its prior commitment to establish a National Human Rights Institution and underscored its value to protecting and promoting human rights in the fight against terrorism.

Read the preliminary findings of the visit