Expected Council Action
In September, the Council expects to hold a summit meeting on the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters. The US is President of the Council for the month, and US President Barack Obama will chair the meeting with the Secretary-General expected to brief on the effect of this issue on current conflicts and the efforts by the UN to address it. The adoption of a resolution is the likely outcome.
The issue of foreign terrorist fighters has been discussed in the Security Council in light of the recent unprecedented flow of fighters and the growth of facilitation networks fuelling conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria, Yemen, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. According to the concept note circulated by the US ahead of the meeting, foreign terrorist fighters “not only exacerbate existing conflicts, but also often return home possessing new skills and connections, increasing the threat of home-grown terrorist attacks”.
There are already Council resolutions that impose obligations on states to take certain actions to suppress terrorism, such as criminalising the financing of terrorism and the recruitment of members to terrorist groups (resolution 1373 adopted under Chapter VII on 28 September 2001) or calling upon member states to criminalise the incitement to commit terrorist acts (resolution 1624 of 14 September 2005), but it seems the US’s intention is to adapt and develop further this counter-terrorism framework to tackle the particular challenges of foreign terrorist fighters.
The issue of foreign terrorist fighters has been part of the discussions of the 1267 and then the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee for over a decade and has been featured in reports from its Monitoring and Analytical Support Team. Briefing the Council on 27 November 2013 as Committee chair, Ambassador Gary Quinlan (Australia), called attention to the operational contacts between terrorist entities in eastern Libya and Al-Qaida affiliates in the Maghreb, the Sahel, the Middle East and South Asia, as well as the presence of training camps in Libya, to which many foreign fighters travel before heading elsewhere to fight. In a 28 May briefing, Quinlan highlighted how the ever-increasing trend towards recruitment of foreign fighters has given Al-Qaida and its affiliates a more global reach in a number of theatres of operation. The briefing recalled a January report by the Monitoring Team that stated how, in Syria large numbers of Al-Qaida affiliated foreign fighters and Jabhat-al-Nusrah are creating associations based on a common language which “could see new pan-Arab and pan-European networks of extremists emerge” (S/2014/41).
A 14 April report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy said that “the flow of recruits from more than 50 Member States to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and to other Al-Qaida affiliates over the past two years has raised concerns about their intentions should they return to their home countries”. He also stressed that some terrorist groups might also see an opportunity to deploy these foreign fighters against more distant targets and how most states “lack the resources necessary to assess and monitor this threat” (A/68/841). In its review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the General Assembly adopted on 13 June a resolution expressing its concern “at the increasing flow of international recruits to terrorist organisations, including foreign terrorist fighters, and at the threat it poses for all Member States, including countries of origin, transit and destination” (A/RES/68/276). Four days later the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2161 which expressed concern at the flow of international recruits to Al-Qaida and the scale of this phenomenon and reiterated further “the obligation of Member States to prevent the movement of terrorist groups”.
On 15 August, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2170, which specifically condemned the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Al Nusrah Front (ANF) for the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters whose presence is exacerbating conflict and contributing to violent radicalisation. It also expressed the Council’s readiness to list individuals involved in financing or facilitating the travel of foreign terrorist fighters. The resolution also called upon member states to supress this flow, bring foreign terrorist fighters to justice and engage with those at risk of being recruited to discourage travel to Iraq and Syria.
The 19 August beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS was the latest piece of evidence showing that the issue of foreign fighters, while not new, has become acute, raising alarm among Council members. (In a public video released by ISIS, the executioner has a distinct British accent.)
A key issue for the Council is devising an effective global framework to address the growing challenges related to foreign terrorist fighters. A related issue is to come up with an accurate definition of foreign terrorist fighters and to avoid the deliberate misuse of the label “terrorist” to identify non-state actors challenging the authority of the government.
Another key issue is to identify and sanction those sponsoring terrorism, facilitating and financing the recruitment of foreign fighters.
A further related issue is how to combine a coercive approach against terrorism with measures aimed at promoting non-violent expression of political claims and reducing sympathy and support for violent extremism.
Making sure that counter-terrorism activities worldwide are undertaken with due respect of international human rights norms, is an ongoing issue.
The Council could adopt a resolution:
- emphasising the need for states to have the tools and mobilise the resources to prevent their citizens from becoming foreign terrorist fighters;
- underscoring the critical needs both to counter violent extremism through engagement with civil society and building resilience among communities most at risk of recruitment and radicalisation;
- threatening all state and non-state actors that are providing funding, weapons or other kinds of support to terrorist groups—including through the payment of ransoms—with the imposition of sanctions; and
- requesting the Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the Monitoring Team of the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee to assess national and multilateral efforts to counter this threat and provide recommendations to strengthen them.
Council and Wider Dynamics
At the time when Council dynamics have rendered the Council unable to overcome divisions on a number of pressing situations (e.g., Israel/Palestine, Syria and Ukraine), counter-terrorism appears to be one of the issues generating unanimous support among Council members. Although highly visible, recent Council outcomes on counter-terrorism (such as resolution 2133 on kidnap-for-ransom or resolution 2170) have not established new legal obligations on member states as was the case, for example, with resolution 1373.
UN DOCUMENTS ON FOREIGN TERRORIST FIGHTERS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|15 August 2014 S/RES/2170||Condemned the recruitment by ISIS and al-Nusra of foreign fighters and listed six individuals affiliated with those groups under the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida sanctions regime.|
|17 June 2014 S/RES/2161||This resolution renewed the measures targeting Al-Qaida associated individuals and entities and extended the mandates of the Office of the Ombudsperson and the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team assisting the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee for 30 months.|
|27 January 2014 S/RES/2133||This resolution called on states not to pay ransom to terrorist kidnappers.|
|17 December 2013 S/RES/2129||This resolution renewed the mandate of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate for four years.|
|Security Council Letter|
|22 January 2014 S/2014/41||This letter included the report of the Monitoring Team.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 August 2014 S/PV.7242||This was the meeting when resolution 2170 was adopted.|
|28 May 2014 S/PV.7184||This was a semi-annual briefing of the chairs of the counter-terrorism-related committees.|
|General Assembly Document|
|13 June 2014 A/RES/68/276||This was a resolution reviewing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.|