UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr Maina Kiai, has echoed much of what CAGE has been saying about PREVENT, saying that government policies are “resulting in a closing of space for civil society” and that measures “have been subtle and gradual. But they are as unmistakable as they are alarming.”


“PREVENT could end up promoting extremism”

Mr Kiai made his comments in the wake of a meeting held with representatives from British civil society, which CAGE attended on Monday, and after reviewing evidence related to PREVENT and other policies.

“Feedback from civil society on the impact of the Prevent strategy was overwhelmingly negative,” he said. “It appears that Prevent is having the opposite of its intended effect: by dividing, stigmatizing and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it.”


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“Extremism” is vaguely defined and will target the innocent


The UN special rapporteur criticised the government’s use of the vaguely defined term “non-violent extremist” in its anticipated Counter-Extremism Bill.

“It is difficult to define the term “non-violent extremist” without treading into the territory of policing thought and opinion,” he said. He also warned that “innocent individuals will be targeted”. “Many more will fear that they may be targeted – whether because of their skin color, religion or political persuasion – and be fearful of exercising their rights.”

He continued: “the definition of “domestic extremism” was too broad and that peaceful protesters feared that they could be easily grouped in this category alongside real and violent extremists. I do not believe enough has been done to alleviate this concern.”


Read more: UN report on CVE issues a warning to the world, but shies away from the more challenging questions


Existing legal framework is robust enough to tackle terrorism


As successive governments have brought in ever more terrorism legislation, the special rapporteur believes that the already existing framework is sufficient. “It is the duty of the Government – and indeed all States – to do all it can to prevent, limit and mitigate potential terrorist attacks that could arise from extremism,” he said. “But I believe that the existing legal framework is robust enough to deal with any issues of extremism and related intolerance that could give rise to terrorism.”

Charities and organisations have a right to access Banking facilities


“All agencies concerned [should] do more to ensure that charities and other groups are not subjected to de-risking or de-banking,” he said.

CAGE has been operating without a bank account for over two years because of such “de-risking” measures. In addition, pressures by government regulators have forced charities not to fund or associate with CAGE. Mr Kiai said these actions have “serious consequences not just on the rights of association of charities, but also on the rights of their beneficiaries.”

His statements come in the context of the government wishing to impose a new clause to all new grants it provides, which will prohibit the charities from lobbying the government, effectively silencing them.

The Snoopers’ Charter could have a grave impact on rights


Mr Kiai also expressed concern around the Investigatory Powers Bill, which, he said, “if not exercised with restraint, could have a grave impact on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.

UK setting a dangerous precedent for nations to “repress civil society”


The UN special rapporteur’s highly critical statement also alluded to the dangers of such policies and measures being replicated in other countries around the world: “These measures are likely to have serious ramifications if adopted by less democratic states whose intention is to repress civil society,” he said.

“It is imperative that the same standards that the UK calls for internationally on civil society space are implemented domestically.”


Related: Reactions to our high court victory: A win for civil society


(CC image courtesy of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on flickr)

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)