Counter-terrorism, human rights and the rule of law in Africa


This paper considers institutional aspects of counter-terrorist strategies in Africa in the second decade after the 9/11 attacks in 2001: countering threats while building respect for the rule of law and human rights. It considers how recent events – especially North Africa’s so-called Arab Spring, the Mali crisis, militant Islamism in Nigeria, the gains against al-Shabaab in Somalia and the potentially restless East African coast – may shape counter-terrorism approaches. More than a decade after 2001, African authorities generally accept the argument that blunt state responses can worsen the longer-term security outlook. However, this recognition will not necessarily translate into principled criminal justice approaches.

The paper argues that terrorism has largely been treated as an exceptional issue distinct from broader rule of law and development programming. There is scope to focus on generic rule of law issues even if the overall aim is countering radicalisation and terrorism. Better quality laws and their enforcement are key to ensuring such efforts protect civilians without becoming counter-productive in the process.

About the author

Dr Jolyon Ford is a senior analyst at Oxford Analytica, a global analysis and advisory firm. He holds degrees from universities in South Africa, the UK and Australia. Since 2007 he has been a senior research consultant for the International Crime in Africa Programme at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). This paper reflects the author’s views and not those of either the ISS or Oxford Analytica. The author would like to thank the anonymous peer reviewers, and Anton du Plessis for his guidance and insight.

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