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UN: Terror Attacks Considered Crimes Against Humanity - 2001-09-25

The United Nations top human rights official, Mary Robinson, says the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 constitute crimes against humanity. Ms. Robinson says the international community has the obligation to hunt down the perpetrators.

U.N. human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, says the widespread, deliberate targeting of a civilian population constitutes a crime against humanity under international law.

She says those who carried out the attacks against the United States crossed a line that went beyond acts of terrorism.

"And to us, the line that was crossed brought those acts into what we would characterize as crimes against humanity. And the significance of that is, it immediately rallies the whole global community," Ms. Robinson said. "If these are crimes against humanity, every country would owe a duty to work with the United Nations, to work with the United States to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Ms. Robinson says it is important for nations to work together to prevent such acts of terrorism in the future.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights praises what she calls the meaningful and thoughtful response of President Bush and his administration in working to calm anti-Arab, anti-Islamic sentiments, which erupted after the attacks in New York and Washington.

Ms. Robinson says nothing can justify the scale and deliberate depravity of these attacks.

"Those who perpetrate those crimes can hardly invoke any high motive, much less that they do that in the name of Islam. That would be helpful," she said. "It narrows and therefore removes the broad sense of distrust against anybody from Islamic countries or Islamic States themselves, largely Muslim states."

Ms. Robinson says countries must be careful not to erode civil liberties in their zeal to combat terrorism. She says last week's meeting of European justice and home affairs ministers indicates a harsher climate and attitude toward refugees and asylum seekers may be developing.

"In other words," Ms. Robinson explained, "a potentially further hardening of the fortress Europe mentality, this time in the name of tackling terrorism, but actually in reality making life more difficult for vulnerable populations, members of populations who desperately seek to escape from the harsh realities of their lives."

Ms. Robinson says she has no doubt that some countries plan to tackle terrorism by clamping down on human rights defenders. While it is important to fight the evils of terrorism, she says it is also important to safeguard human rights.