Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council is expected to hold two meetings on counter-terrorism issues. Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), and Assistant Secretary-General Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), are expected to brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s 11th strategic–level report on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh). Then, during a high-level open debate, Voronkov and the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Under-Secretary-General Ghada Waly, are expected to brief the Council on a joint report by the UNOCT and UNODC on the linkages between terrorism and organised crime. If the measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are still in place, the meetings are likely to be held as open videoconferences.
Key Recent Developments
The number of attacks perpetrated by ISIL in its former strongholds in Iraq and Syria have increased significantly in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, according to the 26th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team (the Monitoring Team). No attempts to travel by individuals listed under the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida sanctions regime were reported and no exemptions to the travel ban were requested by member states. A continuing problem states encounter are false positive hits while screening individuals for travel, showing the need to improve the sanctions list. The Monitoring Team therefore urged states to provide updated information about listed individuals as soon as it is available. Regarding the financing of ISIL’s operations in Iraq and Syria, the Monitoring Team reports that the group uses donations, kidnap for ransom, extortion of businesses and individuals and commercial activity. States consider ISIL to have financial reserves of about $100 million in total. In Iraq, the group has managed to exploit political instability as well as security gaps as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to relaunch an intensive rural insurgency and was able to conduct sporadic attacks in large cities, including Baghdad. Libya remains an essential link for ISIL operations across Africa, which continue to threaten Libya’s own security and stability as well as that of surrounding states.
In June, CTED published a paper titled “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism, countering terrorism and countering violent extremism”. The paper noted that terrorist groups are exploiting the pandemic to further their propaganda and narratives. One example is the repurposing of anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, racist and anti–immigrant tropes to increase hatred towards specific groups. Such narratives are often paired with existing or new conspiracy theories about the pandemic, mostly by extreme right-wing groups. Failures by states, real or perceived, to address the pandemic are being used to promote anti-state violence. On the other hand, the paper pointed out that measures to combat the pandemic have led to a decrease in operational opportunities for terrorist groups because of travel restrictions, increased vigilance on state borders, and less crowded spaces. As states prioritise resources for the fight against COVID-19, counter-terrorism operations and measures directed at the prevention of violent extremism have begun to be adversely affected. Armed forces, for example, are being redeployed to support public health efforts. Already limited, efforts by states to repatriate children from the Al-Hol camp in Syria, which holds about 65,000 people displaced from territories previously held by ISIL, of which 94 percent are women and children, seem to have stalled, despite the high risk of a spread of COVID-19 in the camp. Reintegration programmes have also been put on hold, increasing the risks for incarcerated individuals to be exposed to the virus as infection rates in prisons are disproportionally higher. The 26th report of the Monitoring Team concludes that there are no indications that ISIL is trying to systematically weaponise the virus but still found evidence that it is a potential threat and should be followed.
On 11 March, the Council held a debate titled “Countering terrorism and extremism in Africa” under the agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”, a signature event of China’s Council presidency. Under-Secretary–General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo; Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the UN Development Programme Bureau for Policy and Programme Support Abdoulaye Mar Dieye; and Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed, the AU Permanent Observer, briefed. The EU, Japan and 15 African member states made statements as well. A presidential statement was adopted during the meeting.
On 9 July 2019, the Council held an open debate on the linkages between international terrorism and organised crime. Briefers were Under-Secretary-General Yuri Fedotov, then–Executive Director of UNODC; Coninsx; and Tamara Makarenko, an international consultant for the UN Interregional Crime and Research Institute. Resolution 2428 on the issue was adopted on 19 July and required the Secretary-General to submit within 12 months a joint report by the UNOCT and UNODC on linkages between terrorism and organised crime, whether transnational or domestic. This report—along with a concept note by Indonesia, the Council president in August, expected to be circulated ahead of the open debate–will constitute the basis for the open debate.
Women, Peace and Security
Resolution 2396, addressing foreign terrorist fighters, emphasised that women “associated with foreign terrorist fighters returning or relocating to and from conflict may have served in many different roles, including as supporters, facilitators, or perpetrators of terrorist acts”. According to a July CTED analytical brief on “The prosecution of ISIL-associated women”, not all states implement that understanding and many do not investigate female returnees, considering them only as victims. Resolution 2396 argues that gender-sensitive prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies are required. Evidence collection against women faces even more hurdles as the online documentation of the involvement of women in violent acts is less pronounced, due to ISIL’s ideas about gender roles. “Membership in a terrorist organisation” is the criminal offence most often used to prosecute female returnees. In some convictions, there is no consideration of whether or not the woman’s “association” was by choice or coercion. The CTED brief also looks at sentencing of women in contrast to that of men, concluding that there is a two-way gender bias: in some cases women were not taken seriously as perpetrators and received lesser sentences, in other cases they received much harsher sentences as their role in terrorism was perceived as a transgression of gender roles.
In general, counter-terrorism enjoys the support of all Council members. Some differences exist regarding the four pillars of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The pillars are, first, addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism; secondly, measures to prevent and combat terrorism; thirdly, measures to build states’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the UN system in that regard; and fourthly, measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism. During the negotiations in March on the presidential statement on countering terrorism and extremism in Africa, some members felt that the initial draft lacked adequate representation of the fourth pillar. While negotiating resolution 2532 on COVID-19, penholders France and Tunisia had to address concerns by Russia and the US that a Council endorsement of the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire call should include an exemption for counter-terrorism operations. The resolution consequently specified that a ceasefire and humanitarian pause do not apply to military operations against ISIL, Al-Qaida and Al-Nusra Front, and other terrorist groups that have been designated by the Council.
The US is the penholder on counter-terrorism. Ambassador Kais Kabtani (Tunisia) chairs the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia) chairs both the 1267/1989/2253 Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee and the 1540 Non-Proliferation Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COUNTER-TERRORISM
|Security Council Resolutions|
|1 July 2020S/RES/2532||This resolution demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on the Council’s agenda and called upon all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a 90-day humanitarian pause.|
|19 July 2019S/RES/2482||This was on the nexus between terrorism and international organised crime.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|11 March 2020S/PRST/2020/5||This presidential statement was adopted during a debate entitled “Countering terrorism and extremism in Africa” under the agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”, a signature event of China’s Council presidency.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|23 July 2020S/2020/717||This was a letter from the chair of the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, transmitting the 26th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.|
|Security Council Letters|
|3 June 2020S/2020/493||This was a joint report by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the Analytical Support and Monitoring Team on the financing of terrorism.|
|27 March 2020S/2020/243||This was from the chair of the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee, containing its programme of work for 2020.|
|20 March 2020S/2020/220||This was a letter from the chairs of the two committees (1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee and the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee) announcing that the meeting would be postponed “on an exceptional basis in the light of the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 […] in order to reduce unnecessary exposure to health risks”.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|11 March 2020S/PV.8743||This was a debate entitled “Countering terrorism and extremism in Africa” under the agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”, a signature event of China’s Council presidency.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|27 July 2020SC/14262||This was on the 22 July killing of five humanitarian aid workers in Nigeria.|
|1 July 2020SC/14239||This was on a 29 June terrorist attack in Karachi, Pakistan, resulting in several deaths.|
|16 June 2020SC/14216||This press statement condemned terrorist attacks on 9 and 10 June in Felo, on 13 June in Monguno, and on 13 June in Nganzai in Borno State, Nigeria.|
|13 May 2020SC/14185||This was a press statement in which Council members strongly condemned two terrorist attacks which took place in Afghanistan on 12 May 2020- on a Kabul hospital in which assailants attacked a maternity ward and on a funeral in Nangarhar.|
|1 April 2020SC/14155||This press statement condemned the 23 March terrorist attack in Boma, Chad, which resulted in at least 98 killed and 47 wounded, and the attack on military vehicles near Goneri in Yobe State, Nigeria, the same day, which resulted in at least 47 killed.|
|26 March 2020SC/14147||This was a press statement in which Council members condemned a terrorist attack that took place at a Sikh-Hindu temple in Kabul on 25 March 2020.|