February 2021 Monthly Forecast

THEMATIC ISSUES

Counter-Terrorism

Expected Council Action

In February, the Security Council is expected to receive briefings by 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) on the Secretary-General’s 12th strategic-level report on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh).

Key Recent Developments

On 12 January, the Council held a ministerial-level open debate via videoconference (VTC) on the upcoming 20th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1373 on 28 September 2001 and the establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC). Voronkov, Coninsx and Fatima Akilu, the Executive Director of the Neem Foundation, briefed. The Council also adopted a presidential statement on the issue. In his briefing, Voronkov stressed that ISIL remains a threat in Iraq, Syria and the wider region.

In December 2020, CTED published an update to its June 2020 paper “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism, countering terrorism and countering violent extremism”. The paper focuses on the challenges that the pandemic poses to addressing the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism, an increase in recruitment opportunities for such groups, and the situation of ISIL-associated foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and their families. It further discusses the adaptation of violent extremists’ narratives to the pandemic, the challenges posed to prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration (PRR) measures, and repatriation.

A reprioritisation of state spending to fight the pandemic and a strained global economy has led some states to cut back on funding for counter-terrorism operations and for development, humanitarian and peacebuilding initiatives meant to counter violent extremism.

Violent extremists and terrorists continue to exploit trends connected to the pandemic, including an increase in the use of social media and the internet more broadly. Those groups spread misinformation and propaganda for radicalisation purposes with the goal of recruitment. According to CTED, there is some evidence that more children and young people have accessed such content online. In Western Europe, extreme right-wing groups exploit woes related to the pandemic. The paper argues that this trend is of concern, especially in connection with states’ campaigns to vaccinate their populations. CTED also reports that misogynistic content has increased online, risking the intensification of violence against girls and women.

The risk of forcible recruitment by armed groups has increased in West Africa and the Sahel as the pandemic and ongoing violence have resulted in children and youths being out of school.

Violent extremist and terrorist groups in the Eurasian region have exploited economic grievances exacerbated by the pandemic and have offered financial support in an effort to recruit or indoctrinate people.

Regarding the situation of FTFs associated with ISIL and their families in prisons and detention camps, attention by states to their condition and related humanitarian and security challenges has further decreased. The situation in overcrowded camps in Iraq and Syria—the vast majority of the population being young children and women— requires even more urgent attention now, with cases of COVID-19 reported, according to CTED.

The paper notes that implementation of PRR measures has decreased. The repatriation of people associated with FTFs has almost stopped, often in the name of measures to combat the pandemic. During the 12 January open debate, Voronkov called the repatriation of foreign nationals associated with ISIL, the majority being children and women, an urgent challenge.

CTED paper concludes with a call to address the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism, such as inequality and state fragility. The paper cautions against “fueling conditions conducive to terrorism and violent extremism”, including “the increased securitization of pandemic responses”. By way of example, the paper argues that emergency measures implemented to fight COVID-19 that limit the exercise of human rights may increase existing grievances, leading to further radicalisation. CTED therefore emphasises the need for a balanced, comprehensive, gender-sensitive, and human rights-compliant approach to countering violent extremism and terrorism. Voronkov, in his 12 January briefing to the Council, called for “an inclusive approach and a strategic investment in building resilience” in that regard.

On 27 January, the CTC held an open VTC briefing on the protection of “soft” targets against terrorist attacks. On 20 January, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee met in a closed VTC on the 27th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

On 29 January, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Office of the Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict co-hosted an Arria-formula meeting on the repatriation of children from conflict zones. Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Voronkov, Anna Kuznetsova, Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights of Russia, and the Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan, Magzhan Ilyassov, who is also the co-chair of the Global Coalition for the reintegration of child soldiers, briefed.

Council Dynamics

In general, counter-terrorism enjoys the support of all Council members. A recent notable exception was a draft resolution on the prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of FTFs. Initiated by Indonesia in August 2020, it failed to be adopted because of a US veto; the other 14 Council members voted in favour of the text. The US argued that the draft resolution did not reference the repatriation of FTFs and their families. It seems that the US’ decision to veto may have also been connected to wider Council dynamics on the Iran nuclear issue under the Indonesian presidency that month.

Some differences also 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; second, measures to prevent and combat terrorism; third, measures to build states’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system in that regard; and fourth, measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism. The fourth pillar does not enjoy equal support among all Council members. New Council members India and Kenya are expected to take an active interest in counter-terrorism issues.

The US is the penholder on counter-terrorism. Ambassador Tarek Ladeb (Tunisia) chairs the CTC. Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative Trine Heimerback (Norway) chairs the 1267/1989/2253 Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. The 1540 Non-Proliferation Committee is chaired by Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez (Mexico).

UN DOCUMENTS ON COUNTER-TERRORISM

Security Council Presidential Statements
12 January 2021S/PRST/2021/1 This was on the 20th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1373 and the establishment of the CTC.
Security Council Press Statements
22 January 2021SC/14421 This was on the two suicide attacks in central Baghdad on 21 January, resulting in 32 dead and at least 110 injured.
18 January 2021SC/14414 This press statement condemned the attack on 15 January against MINUSMA near Tessalit in Kidal region, which killed one peacekeeper from Egypt, and seriously injured another.
14 January 2021SC/14411 This press statement condemned the attack perpetrated on 13 January 2021 against MINUSMA to the north of the town of Bambara-Maoudé, in Timbuktu region, which resulted in four peacekeepers from Côte d’Ivoire killed and five others injured.