Expected Council Action
In August, Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (OCT), and Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), are expected to brief the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s strategic-level report on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh).
Background and Key Recent Developments
Under the terms of resolution 2368 of 20 July 2017, the Secretary-General submits a strategic-level report on ISIL to the Council biannually. The reports are intended to reflect on the gravity of the ISIL threat, as well as the range of UN efforts to support states in countering the threat posed by ISIL. In his February 2019 report, the Secretary-General found that ISIL had continued to transform itself into a covert global network, with a weakened yet enduring presence in Iraq and Syria and with regional affiliates worldwide. For Africa, the report highlighted the threat posed by ISIL in Libya, where police stations in various locations and oil facilities have been targeted. In Afghanistan, ISIL keeps close ties to its core in Iraq and Syria and has created a network of cells in Afghan cities, including Kabul. Globally, the report notes, internationally directed attacks have fallen dramatically from 2015–2016, when ISIL’s external operational activity was at its height. Nevertheless, ISIL remains the international terrorist group most likely to conduct a large-scale, complex attack in the near future. It retains an interest in attacking aviation and in the use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials. Increasing the threat are foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) who are leaving conflict zones and prior returnees who have become active again on release from prison or for other reasons.
Briefing the Council on the report on 11 February, Voronkov emphasised that although ISIL has suffered significant losses, the threat posed by returning and relocating fighters, as well as from individuals inspired by them, remains high. He added that the challenge of ISIL could only be met through a well-coordinated, multilateral response. He then requested, through the Council, the continued support of the wider membership for UN counterterrorism work. Coninsx stressed that with ISIL’s territorial losses, more terrorist suspects and offenders, and their families, are in custody. States, she continued, have alerted CTED to their difficulties in adequately assessing the risk posed by such prisoners and managing them in a manner that prevents their further radicalisation. She also stressed that terrorist groups, including ISIL, continue to demonstrate their intention and ability to exploit new technologies and seek innovative ways to circumvent obstacles to their financial, technical and recruitment capabilities.
In other ISIL-related developments, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said at the opening of the Human Rights Council’s 41st session on 24 June that family members of FTFs should be repatriated to their home countries unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are 29,000 children of foreign fighters in Syria, of whom 20,000 are from Iraq. In total, more than 55,000 suspected ISIL fighters and their families have been detained in Syria and Iraq. Though most are from these two countries, the suspected ISIL fighters come from nearly 50 countries, Bachelet said.
Bachelet also questioned whether trials of FTFs held in Iraq met international standards. In a recent trial, six French ISIL members captured in Syria and handed over to Iraqi authorities were sentenced to death in Iraq in May.
Elsewhere, ISIL claimed responsibility for a 3 June attack in Beni, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which killed or wounded 25 people. Local officials, however, claimed that the attack was perpetrated by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist rebel group, and that 13 civilians were killed. A possible affiliation between the ADF and ISIL has yet to be substantiated.
On 7 June, Egyptian security forces killed eight suspected ISIL fighters who were involved in a deadly attack on a police checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula two days earlier, the country’s interior ministry said.
There have also been developments regarding the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh (UNITAD), established by resolution 2379 of 21 September 2017 to support Iraqi domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable for crimes it committed in Iraq. On 30 June, Council members issued a press statement following their 28-29 June visiting mission to Kuwait and Iraq, in which they underscored their support for UNITAD and its importance as well as the need for UNITAD operations to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. In that statement, they further stressed the importance of UNITAD’s independence and impartiality, adding that UNITAD should “make every effort to share knowledge and technical assistance with Iraq.”
On 15 July, Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, gave a briefing to the Council, based on his second report on the activities of UNITAD and further developments since its publication in mid-May. He addressed the need for evidence collected by his team to lead to fair trials “that will stand the test of time”. He elaborated on UNITAD’s implementation strategy laid out in the second report, which is based on the initial strategic vision outlined in his first report. The strategy entails three preliminary areas for investigation, with monthly benchmarks for progress. The three areas are: attacks committed by ISIL against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district in August 2014, crimes committed by ISIL in Mosul between 2014 and 2016, and the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy (also known as “Camp Speicher”) in June 2014. On staff recruitment, Khan said that his team of 79 represents all geographical groups at the UN and that 55 percent are female. He further reported that UNITAD moved into its official premises in April.
In their statements, a few members mentioned the issue of how and where to prosecute foreign terrorist fighters currently on Iraqi soil. They also noted that the international crimes that UNITAD is mandated to investigate are not incorporated into the domestic legal system of Iraq and are currently prosecuted as terrorist crimes. A few Council members expressed concern about the possibility that evidence shared by the team might be used in criminal proceedings in which capital punishment could be imposed. Other members stressed that Iraq is free to impose capital punishment, as a matter of state sovereignty.
In other counter-terrorism-related developments, the Council held an open debate on 28 March on combatting the financing of terrorism. During the debate, the Council adopted resolution 2462, which reiterated commitments on criminalising terrorism and the financing of terrorism that had been established by resolution 1373 of 2001 and supplemented by subsequent resolutions. The resolution further decided that states shall ensure that their domestic laws establish serious criminal offenses for the wilful provision or collection of funds, directly or indirectly, with the intention that the funds should be used, or in the knowledge that they are to be used, for the benefit of terrorist organisations or individual terrorists for any purpose. States are to ensure that these measures and all others taken to counter terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international refugee law.
On 9 July, the Security Council held an open debate on the linkages between international terrorism and transnational organised crime. As a follow-up, the Council adopted resolution 2482 on these linkages on 19 July. The resolution expresses concern that terrorists can benefit from organised crime as a source of financing or logistical support. The resolution calls on states to consider establishing appropriate laws and mechanisms that allow for the broadest possible international cooperation. It requests the Secretary-General to submit to the Security Council, within 12 months, a joint report by the OCT and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime with inputs from other relevant UN entities, including CTED and the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, on the linkages between organised crime and terrorism.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is to maintain the necessary flexibility and adaptability to address the evolving global threat posed by ISIL. The recent trend to hold joint meetings of related subsidiary organs—the 1267/1989/2253 Al-Qaida/ISIL Sanctions Committee, the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the 1988 Afghanistan and 1970 Libya Sanctions Committees—could be continued and expanded to all committees dealing with situations featuring a terrorist threat.
A key issue for the Council is to ensure overall implementation of the 1267/1989/2253 Al-Qaida/ISIL sanctions regime, as part of states’ wider counterterrorism efforts. At the same time, it is important that states do not hinder humanitarian activities, as highlighted in resolution 2462.
Council members are in general agreement about the importance of receiving strategic analysis on ISIL, which can then feed into other counterterrorism efforts or serve as background for the Council’s counterterrorism agenda, even if no particular course of action is foreseen. In the past, Council members received these reports every four months; several Council members felt that this frequency was excessive, and thus the report has been submitted biannually since the adoption of resolution 2368 in July 2017.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COUNTER-TERRORISM
|Security Council Resolutions|
|19 July 2019S/RES/2482||This was on the nexus between terrorism and international organised crime.|
|28 March 2019S/RES/2462||This was a resolution on combatting the financing of terrorism.|
|21 September 2017S/RES/2379||This resolution established an investigative team tasked with collecting, storing and preserving evidence of ISIL crimes in Iraq.|
|20 July 2017S/RES/2368||This was a resolution renewing and updating the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions regime. Through an annex to the resolution, eight individuals or organisations were added to the sanctions list.|
|1 February 2019S/2019/103||This was the eighth report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL (Da’esh) to international peace and security.|
|Security Council Letters|
|17 May 2019S/2019/407||This was the second report of the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.|
|15 November 2018S/2018/1031||This letter transmitted the first report of the Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh (UNITAD).|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 July 2019S/PV.8573||This was the Council’s second briefing by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.|
|11 February 2019S/PV.8460||This was a briefing on the eighth report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL (Da’esh).|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|30 June 2019SC/13869||This was on the Council’s 28-29 June visiting mission to Kuwait and Iraq.|