Does the European Union do enough to guarantee the rights of suspects of terrorism?

In December2017, a study was published about Policies and laws of the EU and the member states related to people suspected of crimes linked to terrorism, which had been commissioned by the Department of Policies of the European Parliament for citizens’ rights and constitutional affairs.

The study presents a review of the legal framework and EU policies and 10[1] member states (selected because they had suffered terrorism or due to particularities within its anti-terrorist legislation) and it stresses the lack of homogeneity in two key questions. The first is that the Directive 2017/541 offers a definition of “terrorism” which is broad enough for the member states to apply discretion when interpreting it. Accordingly, it recommends that member states continue to exchange points of view about this definition and how it is interpreted in practice.

The second, and the main aspect, is that for most member states the concept of “suspect” encompasses a wide variety of suspects and a wide range of recognised rights. Therefore, in accordance with the procedural phase the person under investigation is in, he / she would be protected, at least, by the individual rights that each person has before being a suspect and, at least, by the rights guaranteed for persons for whom a trial has begun (passing through intermediate stages, such as the rights that correspond to “persons of interest” or recognised as persons who have been the subject of an administrative measure).

The study recommends that member states regulate in a clearer way the different categories of suspect, along with the legal framework and the rights that correspond to each case. It also considers that the EU should update the set of rights of persons under suspicion and include that the concept of “suspect” must be understood in broad terms, so that anyone who begins to be investigated is now guaranteed a range of rights.


The study has also detected deficiencies, like the fact that in the European environment there is little information apart from the annual Europol report on the situation and terrorism-related trends in the European Union. The authors propose that the EU foment an initiative similar to the Global Terrorism Database, led by the Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, with headquarters in the USA.

As far information exchanges are concerned, it stresses that there are too many levels that overlap. Therefore, both within the states and in the European Union there are several organisms with concurrent competences in terms of information about terrorism. Furthermore, the role of bilateral agreements between countries and the large number of informal relationships that also generate exchanges of information must not be forgotten. As a consequence of these problems, there is little public information available about informal information exchange practices and the efficiency of these mechanisms.

As a solution, they recommend more transparency and that data related to information exchange should be gathered and published to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of such instruments. If this objective is met, with more transparency and more information available, new lines of investigation will be opened in relation with the protection of persons under suspicion or the mechanisms of investigation exchanges.

[1] Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK and Sweden.

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