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Peace Council submission
Submission of the Peace Council on the Terrorism Suppression Bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee.
The major concerns of the Peace Council with regard to the above bill are related to:
(i) The definition of terrorist acts.
(ii) The definition of terrorist or related organisations.
(iii) The right of appeal available to any individual or group who may be defined as a suspected terrorist or terrorist organization, or by association under the proposed amendments.
History shows that whether or not one is defined as a terrorist or terrorist organization, partly or wholly rests on the political viewpoints held by the government in power, as well as opposing political views of a non-governmental organization.
Yesterday's terrorists, may become today's "freedom fighters," and, in many cases, tomorrow's members of parliament,prime minister, or president of state. Examples such as the African National Congress in South Africa, and the Fretelin Liberation Movement in East Timor come to mind. Today, both these organizations enjoy the privilege and responsibility of participating in democratic elections, enjoying the success of having their candidates elected into government.
The Peace Council had communications with the African National Congress in exile for many years. Today, Nelson Mandela enjoys global respectability and honour for his achievements.
What recourse to right of appeal will individuals or organizations have under the proposed legislation, if, they were innocent of terrorist acts, but had raised suspicion that, they were perhaps a terrorist organization?
Groups who express dissent against policy decisions of the government of the day could perhaps be misinterpreted as acts of suspected terrorist activity. It is not sufficient to hold the view that non-governmental organizations should have nothing to fear from the proposed legislation. Government must be seen to following best democratic practice in its activities concerned with national security and human rights.
The Peace council believes that his is a major weakness of the proposed legislation and argues that the term terrorism is the word that causes the most difficulty.
"During the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, groups like those of bin Laden who engaged in murderous attacks often on civilian targets were described by the media as guerrillas or freedom fighters. It is only now that they have directed hostilities at the USA and its Allies that they are 'terrorists'. The results of these double standards have been to render the word virtually meaningless, one tat is useful only for propaganda purposes Or, as that battle-hardened journalist Robert Fisk put it in his book PITY THE NATION more than a decade ago: Terrorism no longer means terrorism. It is not a definition, it is a political contrivance.
'Terrorists are those who use violence against the side that is using the word.' (The Observer, 30 September 2001)
The Peace Council is concerned about how democratic rights of non-governmental organizations may be preserved or protected, in cases where activities could be misinterpreted wrongfully by intelligence agencies, for example. How will bona fide Muslim organizations be protected from victimisation where media misinformation may engender suspicion, and may, perhaps promote hate and intolerance in society?
The Peace Council is not an apologist for acts of terrorism such as the cowardly act of 11 September on the innocent people of New York. The perpetrators of such acts must be apprehended and brought to justice, preferably under international law.
In drafting the proposed legislation, parliament must be clear that the rights and responsibilities of non-governmental organizations are protected in a democracy, which allows freedom of speech and the right to foster dissent and debate on political and social issues of the day.