Human Rights, Tech, and National Security

In an era defined by rapid technological advancement, integrating new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) has become central to national security strategies worldwide. While these technologies offer unprecedented capabilities in combating threats, their use raises significant concerns regarding human rights violations and erosion of civil liberties.

This policy brief examines the complex landscape of human rights implications surrounding the deployment of new and emerging technologies in national security efforts. It emphasizes the importance of upholding fundamental rights outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), particularly in the face of evolving security challenges. While acknowledging the necessity of robust security measures, the brief highlights the danger of overreach. It focuses on electronic surveillance, drones, metadata, biometrics, online communications, internet, and social media, including AI-powered technologies, and delves into how these technologies intersect with existing legal frameworks regarding privacy rights, freedom of movement, and due process rights.

Over the last decades, the threat of terrorism has become more diverse, dispersed, and complex. Traditional military and security-centric approaches to dismantling terrorist organizations may diffuse the threat, but they are also inherently reactive and have reinforced cycles of violence. To effectively prevent and mitigate terrorism, the Global Center believes that governments, civil society, and the private sector need to work together to address the conditions of instability and injustice that allow terrorist groups and ideologies to emerge and expand in the first place. In a Security Management article, Executive Director Eelco Kessels outlines the Global Center’s work focusing on women’s roles in preventing violent extremism, countering terrorism financing, improving criminal justice systems, and engaging with youth leaders. It describes the organization’s capacity to lead innovative programs that serve communities and groups most affected by conflict and terrorism.

In 2022, the Global Center is continuing its thematic roundtable series, which promotes interactive, informal discussions on substantive issues and new developments relating to violent extremism, terrorism, and counterterrorism with guest speakers representing the United Nations, national governments, civil society, and the private sector. These roundtables are part of the Global Center’s work on promoting and protecting human rights, safeguarding civic space, and advancing rule-of-law based approaches to countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism. In addition to the events below, the Global Center also hosted a roundtable in March 2022 on the implications of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. More information about this roundtable is available here.

Should you have any questions regarding the roundtable series, please contact Ms. Franziska Praxl-Tabuchi at

14 December 2022: Using Transitional Justice Approaches in Complex Conflict Settings Involving Terrorist Groups: The Iraqi Example
The Global Center, in partnership with the International Peace Institute (IPI), hosted a virtual discussion on using transitional justice approaches in complex conflict settings involving terrorist group, focusing on examples from the Iraqi context. This virtual roundtable brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including UN representatives, member-states, and civil society experts. The key objectives of this roundtable included: 1) exploring a “One-UN” approach to sustaining peace in contexts where armed groups designated as “terrorist” operate; 2) enhancing a community-based and victim-centered approach to justice and reconciliation efforts in Iraq; and 3) informing the development of the Secretary-General’s note on transitional justice. Participants highlighted the way transitional justice approaches could offer new opportunities that would strike a balance between the demand for justice and accountability on the one hand, and reintegration and reconciliation on the other. During the first session, UNITAD presented on the ongoing justice and reconciliation efforts in Iraq highlighting the challenges and gaps of existing prosecutorial mechanisms at the national level and the impacts on a long-term peace. A civil society representative from Iraq shared concrete examples of reintegration processes of Iraqi foreign fighters and their families at the national and local level. The intervention highlighted the lack of involvement of civil society actors, affected communities and victims in the justice and reconciliation efforts. The second session focused on the role of the UN in supporting a community-based, victim-centered, and rights-based approach to justice and reconciliation in Iraq. Interventions highlighted the opportunities that transitional justice could create for improving accountability and access to justice to victims, contrasting examples from Iraq with experiences from Columbia and other regions.

28 June 2022: Applying a Transitional Justice Approach in Terrorism-Related Contexts to Ensure Sustainable Peace
The Global Center, in partnership with IPI, hosted a virtual discussion on applying a transitional justice approach in terrorism-related contexts to ensure sustainable peace. Panelists highlighted challenges, successes, and possible opportunities of transitional justice approaches in counterterrorism efforts through concrete examples and case studies focusing especially on Iraq and Syria and the Lake Chad Basin. The panel took stock of the current discussions at the international, regional, and national level, highlighting the overarching objectives of transitional justice vis-à-vis counterterrorism measures in conflict, post conflict and peaceful settings. Panelists shared their reflections and highlighted avenues to explore as part of broader reconciliation and reintegration efforts to complement judicial approaches to promote community recognition, acceptance and reduce the chances of stigmatization of people formerly associated with terrorist groups.  They also addressed the challenges of using transitional justice tools including concerns around the potential “mission-creep” of counterterrorism into peacebuilding and the prioritization of terrorism-related offenses over other offenses in the transitional justice process. IPI highlighted their recent report on the risks former combatants face during the reintegration process and how designating an armed group as a terrorist organization can impact these risks. The recording of the event can be found here.
Featured Speakers: Ms. Marsin Alshamary (Harvard Kennedy School), Mr. Roger Duthie (International Center for Transitional Justice), Dr. Siobhan O’Neil (United Nations University), Mara Revkin (Duke University), Professor Issa Saibou (University of Maroua)

03 March 2022: Launch of the 2022 Global Terrorism Index
In its first roundtable of 2022, the Global Center co-organized the launch of the 2022 Global Terrorism Index together with the Institute for Economics & Peace, the United States Institute of Peace, and the RESOLVE Network, in collaboration with the Global Research Network of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED). The report’s key findings, including an increase in terrorist attacks and terrorism-related deaths in the Sahel and an increase in politically-motivated terrorism in the West, informed the discussion. Panelists and participants also discussed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism, and the potential impacts of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Please find the recording of the launch here. Recordings from previous Global Terrorism Index events can be found here.
Featured speakers: Mr. Steve Killelea (Institute for Economics and Peace), Ms. Farah Kasim (CTED), Mr. Alastair Reed (United States Institute of Peace and RESOLVE Network)

In recent years, the growth of digital financial services, and more particularly mobile money, has been at the center of financial inclusion initiatives in various countries, notably in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Financial inclusion is featured as a prominent enabler of the Sustainable Development Goals, yet various constraints and barriers prevent eligible adults from accessing digital financial services. Policy and regulatory factors affect the environment in which these services are provided, practical barriers affect an individual’s ability to access and utilize digital financial services, and social and cultural factors affect the customer’s adoption and usage of and trust in digital financial services or its providers. This brief explores the barriers and constraints that hinder digital financial inclusion efforts in jurisdictions that have unbanked populations. It offers recommendations to policymakers and financial sector supervisors on adopting a risk-based approach that overcomes these challenges and enables expanded provision of mobile money and other digital financial services to realize financial inclusion objectives.

Following the first UN High-Level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States in June 2018, the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) organized seven regional high-level conferences to “keep up the momentum on key counter-terrorism issues … strengthen international cooperation … [and] pro¬mote implementation of the [United Nations] Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.” To help bolster civil society engagement as part of that process, UNOCT partnered with the Global Center to organize two one-day, civil society–led workshops preceding the last two regional conferences, in Abu Dhabi on 17 December 2019 and Vienna on 10 February 2020.

This paper summarizes the key outcomes of those discussions. It highlights some of the contributions of civil society to advance implementation of the Strategy in the areas of prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation and reintegration. It identifies challenges and proposes a series of recommendations for states, intergovernmental bodies, and civil society to enhance engagement on counterterrorism and preventing violent extremism by 1) creating an enabling environment for civil society, 2) supporting its financial and organizational capacity, and 3) engaging it in relevant policy formulation and implementation processes at all levels.

As governments consider effective responses to violent extremism, they must also decide how best to deal with those who have committed acts of violent extremism, particularly with regard to their rehabilitation and reintegration. Though it is their mandate, governments cannot undertake the rehabilitation and reintegration challenge alone. Civil society organizations can be well-placed to assist with or lead on various components and should be involved in planning and implementation. This action agenda builds on a 30 month project funded by the U.S. Department of State to explore the role of civil society organizations in rehabilitation and reintegration in three broad regions: the Sahel, the Greater Horn of Africa, and Southeast Asia. The action agenda offers guiding principles, recommendations, and examples to help stakeholders shape rehabilitation and reintegration practices and better incorporate the experiences and knowledge of civil society organizations.

Supreme court justices play an important role in strengthening state capacities to bring terrorists to justice within the framework of human rights and the rule of law. As final arbiters, justices seated at the highest courts of law are the nation’s safeguards of the rule of law and human rights, especially when the executive and legislative branches favor national security over these individual rights.

The report synthesizes the discussions held with supreme court justices over the course of an 18-month program in the Euro-Med region (Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa), implemented in partnership with UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and funded by the European Commission. The program aimed to create a sustainable, nonpolitical forum for supreme court-level and senior judicial officials to discuss, among equals, questions of law arising from terrorism-related cases and to share strategies, frameworks, and good practices for handling these cases over the course of five consultations. The final component of the program brought the First Presidents of the Cassation Courts of Lebanon and Tunisia, as well as other supreme court justices, to discuss their views on how the international community should respond to the threat of terrorism in an open briefing before CTED at the UN headquarters, held in March 2016.

The report is organized around priority issue areas raised by the justices over the course of the program and includes case studies, best practices, and legal commentary on possible resolutions to the common challenges they face in the adjudication of terrorism cases. It further describes a series of international and regional initiatives to support the judiciary, reflecting on the value of interjudicial exchanges in this domain.


Les juges des Cours suprêmes jouent un rôle important dans le renforcement des capacités des états à traduire en justice les terroristes, le tout dans le respect des droits de l’homme et de l’État de droit. En tant qu’arbitres finaux, les magistrats qui siègent dans les Cours suprêmes sont souvent la dernière ligne de défense de l’État de droit et des droits de l’homme, surtout lorsque les branches exécutives et législatives du gouvernement favorisent la sécurité nationale au détriment des droits individuels.

Ce rapport offre une synthèse des discussions tenues par les hauts responsables judiciaires ayant participé dans un programme de 18 mois dans la région Euro-Med (soit l’Europe, le Moyen-Orient, et l’Afrique du Nord), en partenariat avec les experts de la Direction exécutive du Comité contre le terrorisme des Nations Unies (DECT). Ce programme, qui profite du financement de la Commission européenne, a pour objectif de créer un forum durable et apolitique pour les responsables judiciaires des Cours suprêmes et des instances supérieures, afin de débattre des questions juridiques se rapportant aux affaires liées au terrorisme et de partager les stratégies, les méthodes de travail et les bonnes pratiques relatives à la gestion de ces affaires. La dernière composante du programme a réuni les Premiers présidents des Cours de cassation du Liban et de la Tunisie, ainsi que d’autres juges des cours suprêmes, à discuter sur la manière dont la communauté internationale devrait répondre à la menace du terrorisme lors d’une réunion publique d’information pour la DECT au le siège de l’ONU, tenu en mars 2016.

Le présent rapport est structuré autour des questions prioritaires soulevées par les juges au cours du programme, dont celles se rapportant aux meilleures pratiques, aux défis, aux stratégies et aux études de cas que les juges ont trouvé intéressantes ou dignes d’être discutées et partagées à large échelle. Il contextualise les réponses législatives au terrorisme dans les juridictions représentées et commente sur les solutions potentielles aux défis communs, lesquelles se basent sur les normes juridiques et la jurisprudence existantes au niveau régional et international.

Il peut être téléchargé en français en cliquant ici.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) Rabat Memorandum on Good Practices for Effective Counterterrorism Practice in the Criminal Justice Sector elaborates guidance on 15 good practices that promote rule of law–based criminal justice responses to terrorism. The GCTF encourages all countries to consider the memorandum as a source of guidance, and its members and partners have been working bilaterally and multilaterally to promote its implementation in national and regional contexts. This report presents the core findings of a stocktaking project. It highlights trends, challenges, and opportunities for implementing the good practices of the memorandum and for leveraging these practices to more effectively counter terrorism while promoting and protecting human rights.

Although the Global Center report highlights examples of a wide range of good practices being implemented in national jurisdictions, it calls attention to diverse legal and institutional, organizational, and operational challenges that seriously undermine rule of law–based criminal justice across all countries examined. The findings suggest that core criminal justice sector development efforts are essential for strengthening national implementation of rule of law–based criminal justice practices to counter terrorism. The report concludes with a series of cross-cutting recommendations to support the ongoing efforts of the GCTF Criminal Justice Sector and Rule of Law Working Group.

Professional, accountable and responsive criminal justice systems are essential for addressing a range of complex security challenges while safeguarding human rights and upholding the rule of law. To be effective, the entire system, from lawmakers to law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and prison administrators, and other actors involved in delivering and ensuring the accountability of justice and security services, require ongoing training and capacity development. Particularly in transitional, fragile and conflict-affected countries, developing the capacity of institutions that can uphold the rule of law and protect human rights are crucial for enhancing safety and security, strengthening accountability, promoting good governance.

This report, co-authored by the Global Center’s Alistair Millar and Matthew Schwartz, outlines a series of recommendations for the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ) in developing a curricula and program agenda based on the diverse needs of a multi-national and cross-regional constituency of partner countries. Once established, the IIJ will serve as a training center dedicated to strengthening criminal justice institutions, promoting regional legal cooperation, and fostering criminal justice practitioner networks based on a respect for human rights and the rule of law. The core findings and recommendations of this report are derived from a larger European Union-supported study undertaken by an expert team led by Millar under the auspices of CIVI.POL Conseil. Based on extensive desk research, seven country visits, and consolations with more than 200 stakeholders, the study assessed criminal justice-related counterterrorism capacity building and training needs in 18 focus countries across East Africa and the Horn, the Middle East and North Africa, and West Africa the Sahel.

This policy brief explores how basic principles of organizational change can help intelligence and law enforcement agencies weed out human rights abuses and build organizational cultures that promote, rather than undermine, human rights and the rule of law in their efforts to counter terrorism.