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UN expert encourages Belgium’s balanced approach but urges action on victims of terrorism and prisons


BRUSSELS (1 June 2018) - The Belgium Government’s commitment to uphold human rights obligations while countering terrorism serves as an example of good national practice, a UN human rights expert says.

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, visited Belgium from 24 -31 May 2018.

“Belgium is a diverse multicultural and multilingual society. Like many countries, Belgium faces the challenges of addressing and countering radicalisation, including its violent manifestations, and has taken active steps to develop strategic policy in this regard,” Ní Aoláin said.

“Commendably, in the aftermath of the horrific events of 22 March 2016 the Belgian Government, with serious deliberation on the exigencies of the situation, determined that no state of emergency was necessary to address the extant security challenges,” referring to three suicide bombings in Brussels which killed 35 people. “Rather, the full scope of the existing law was exercised to its full potential.”

The Special Rapporteur was impressed by the depth and breadth of attention given by federal, regional, community and municipal authorities to the challenges of radicalisation in all its manifestations and the challenges of social polarisation in the aftermath of terrorist violence.

Despite her overall positive assessment, the Special Rapporteur voiced her concern about ongoing gaps in the legal framework applicable to victims of terrorism in Belgium.  She was deeply concerned about the day-to-day experiences of victims of terrorism in healthcare, employment, and administrative settings which raise the specter of secondary violations including direct and indirect discrimination.  She encourages the Government to make victims’ rights a priority in practice.

The Special Rapporteur raised concerns that no systematic de-radicalisation or disengagement programmes were being put in place in Belgian prisons, and raised concerns about isolation regimes and other measures in Belgian prisons as a severe violation of individual rights.

Ní Aoláin noted that a sizeable number of foreign fighters, their spouses and their offspring with Belgian nationality are currently located overseas, in IDP camps or detention pending trial. In a number of these countries, there are significant concerns as to the fairness of trial, the access to meaningful legal representation and the risk of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment including sexual violence while in custody or detention.  

She urged the Government to take urgent action in respect of children in Syria and Iraq, particularly the youngest and most vulnerable Belgian nationals who may be at significant and immediate risk.

She recommended that the Government deepen its oversight of counter-terrorism laws and policies through the creation of an independent oversight mechanism with necessary powers and capacities.  She reminded the Government of its prior commitment to establish a National Human Rights Institution and underscored its value to protecting and promoting human rights in the fight against terrorism.


Ms Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin (Ireland), the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, took up her functions on 1 August 2017. She is a University Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota; holder of the Robina Chair in Law, Public Policy, and Society; and faculty director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is concurrently a Professor of Law at the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and is co-founder and associate director of the Institute.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page - Belgium

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This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightshttp://www.standup4humanrights.org.