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Australian Anti-Terror Laws Criticized

A prominent Pakistani human rights activist says Australia's anti-terror legislation is counterproductive and outside the rule of law. Pakistan lawyer Hina Jilani spoke to Marlene Smith in Vienna at a conference organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Speaking at a two-day conference sponsored by the O.S.C.E., the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Human Rights, Hina Jilani, pointed out problems with anti-terror legislation.

In particular, she says, the recent legislation passed in Australia allows for people to be held without charge.

"We do believe that the imperatives of security are now being met outside the rule of law and outside the norms set by human rights," said Jilani. "This is a dangerous exercise and it's going to be very counterproductive because it is eroding human rights norms which is the framework within which people's rights have to be protected."

Jilani says some governments have been adopting legislation more for convenience than principle since the terrorist attacks on New York City in 2001 and the London subway last year.

However, Special Representative Jilani says British anti-terror legislation has some built in safeguards for human rights unlike in Australia.

"In Australia a lot of laws have been adopted without there being the protection and safeguard of the human rights act and that is one of the major issues there," added Jilani.

Despite the criticism, Jilani says she recognizes the need for the Australian government to protect its citizens from terror attacks. Australian officials say they are confident the new anti-terror laws comply with international law.

Jilani says human rights defenders often operate at great risk to their safety and in many parts of the world they can be targets for assassinations, disappearances, illegal arrest, detention and torture. O.S.C.E. participating states with a bad human rights record include Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.