Myth-making and Reality: A Critical Examination of Human Rights-Compliant Counterterrorism in the Philippines and Indonesia




Lamchek, Jayson

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This thesis explores the relationship between counterterrorism and human rights. Its primary contention is that the promotion of the ideal of human rights-compliant counterterrorism has undermined rather than strengthened human rights. Drawing on fieldwork-based case studies in the Philippines and Indonesia, the thesis demonstrates that greater recognition for the role of human rights in achieving security has not prompted a positive transformation of counterterrorism practices. Instead, proponents of counterterrorist action have been able to frame their action as a necessary, human rights-sensitive, and rational response to unnecessary, human rights-insensitive and irrational political violence. The challenge therefore is how to devise strategies to resist human rights abuses in the name of counterterrorism that do not entangle human rights in the perpetuation and legitimation of the counterterrorism agenda. The thesis proceeds in eight chapters besides the Introduction. Chapter 1 sets the stage for analysis, introducing the normative discourse of human rights-compliant counterterrorism at the international level, and proposing a theoretical framework for analysing this discourse that draws from the insights of Critical Terrorism Studies and critical approaches to international law and human rights. Utilising this theoretical framework, I examine the extent to which counterterrorism practices undermined rather than advanced human rights in two case studies: the Philippines and Indonesia. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 develop the Philippine case study. Chapter 2 presents the local counterterrorism discourse during the government’s alignment with the United States’ “War on Terror”, showing that the government characterised complex armed struggles as “terrorism” with devastating consequences for human rights. Chapter 3 analyses the responses of local human rights advocates to this counterterrorism discourse, describing how their resistance strategies cannot be reduced to a clamour for human rights-compliant counterterrorism. Chapter 4 shows how official policies have incorporated human rights-friendly rhetoric; and why despite this, they are failing to transform the practices of security forces that lead to extrajudicial killings and other serious abuses. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 develop the Indonesian case study. Chapter 5 reviews the local counterterrorism discourse developed during the Suharto regime, showing that the threat of Islamic “terrorism” was likely fostered by it, benefiting the regime at the expense of human rights. Chapter 6 shows how, after the Bali bombing of 2002, Indonesia’s approach to counterterrorism has incorporated human rights, much more than in the Philippines, and how local human rights advocates have accordingly adjusted their perception of the Islamic “terrorist” threat and the acceptability of counterterrorism. Chapter 7 analyses how Densus 88, the main counterterrorism actor, enjoys impunity for extrajudicial killings, demonstrating that the legal framework has failed to restrain serious abuses and in fact inoculated the counterterrorism agenda from further scrutiny. Chapter 8, the concluding chapter, brings together the main findings of the thesis and emphasises the need for more critical human rights scholarship and advocacy that are disentangled from the counterterrorism agenda.



human rights, counterterrorism in the Philippines, counterterrorism in Indonesia, countering terrorism while respecting human rights, United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Critical Terrorism Studies (CTS), Thirld World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL), extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, extrajudicial killings in Indonesia, critical approaches to human rights




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