Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council is expected to receive briefings from 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 13th strategic-level report on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh). India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, is expected to chair the meeting.
Key Recent Developments
In June, CTED published a second update to its June 2020 report titled “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism, countering terrorism and countering violent extremism”. The first update was published in December 2020. The second update documents information gathered by CTED during its ongoing dialogue with international and regional organisations and member states, including information obtained during hybrid assessment visits that CTED is currently conducting on behalf of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC). It is also informed by data collected during a survey of CTED’s partners that sought their views regarding the potential long-term impacts of the pandemic.
The updated CTED report focuses on the challenges that the pandemic poses to addressing the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism, an increase in recruitment opportunities for terrorist groups, and the situation of ISIL-associated foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and their families. It also considers the ways in which terrorist groups have exploited the pandemic; the difficulties the pandemic has created for implementation of prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration (PRR) measures; and trends that are affecting specific member states and regions.
CTED’s report notes that pandemic-related economic hardships—such as rising unemployment, growing poverty and inequality, and increasing food insecurity—are potential drivers of an increased terrorist threat. It also argues that the difficulties encountered by states in addressing economic challenges, together with social frustration regarding COVID-19 restrictions, could lead to increased governance-related competition between states and terrorist groups. The report explains that several terrorist groups are already exploiting the pandemic both to cultivate their authority and legitimacy and expand their recruitment and radicalisation tactics by providing charity, food, monetary resources, and other related forms of support.
CTED also considers the impact that the pandemic has had on education. The pandemic has restricted access to education for children in many states, placing them at increased risk of being recruited by terrorist groups. According to CTED, lack of access to education can weaken young people’s ability to resist the discourse of violent extremists.
Regarding the situation of FTFs associated with ISIL and their families, CTED’s report states that the pandemic has exacerbated already difficult conditions in the detention camps in Iraq and Syria that house women and children affiliated with ISIL. The populations living in these camps face an increased risk of health complications arising from the pandemic and are also considered more susceptible to radicalisation. In his previous report on the threat posed by ISIL, the Secretary-General referred to cases of radicalisation and fundraising in the al-Hawl camp in north-eastern Syria. Regarding the implementation of PRR measures, the CTED report notes that continued COVID-19 restrictions might prevent civil society organisations or local stakeholders from supporting or engaging with individuals who are due to be reintegrated, and that this could delay the progress of these programmes and lead to a decreased likelihood of positive outcomes.
CTED’s report concludes by noting that although there is limited evidence of a clear correlation between the pandemic and the nature or intensity of terrorist violence, the pandemic is “likely to have increased the underlying drivers and structural factors that are often conducive to terrorism”. It argues that it is essential for counter-terrorism to remain a top priority for the international community, as many states facing significant resource challenges are reliant on bilateral or multilateral support for their counter-terrorism measures.
On 30 June, the General Assembly adopted a resolution approving the seventh review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The review, which takes place every two years, was originally scheduled for 2020 but was delayed because of the pandemic. The negotiations concerning this review are traditionally contentious, and the repatriation of ISIL-affiliated individuals and families from detention camps in Syria and Iraq and references to violent far-right groups and right-wing terrorism were particularly polarising issues during the negotiations. Although the resolution was adopted unanimously, the compromises that were reached reflect divisions among member states.
The 28th report of the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, which was published on 21 July, states that there was broad continuity in the nature and source of the threats posed by ISIL during the first half of 2021, together with heightened threats in some regions. In this regard, the report notes that “[t]he most striking development of the period under review was the emergence of Africa as the region most affected by terrorism”. In West and East Africa, for example, ISIL affiliates gained supporters and increased the amount of territory under direct threat from attack, while also increasing their fundraising and weapons capabilities. The report also notes that ISIL has evolved into an entrenched insurgency in Iraq and Syria, where it exploits weaknesses in local security to find safe havens and target forces engaged in counter-ISIL operations. The Monitoring Team expressed particular concern about the situation in camps for internally displaced persons in Syria and argued that delays in the processing, rehabilitation and reintegration of residents increases the risk that they will be radicalised. In Central, South and South-East Asia, ISIL affiliates continue to be active despite key leadership losses and sustained pressure from security forces. According to the report, ISIL has between $25 million and $50 million in available funds, which represents a decline from the hundreds of millions it once had access to.
Council members held a virtual Arria-formula meeting on “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international efforts to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism” on 16 June. The meeting was organised by Tunisia in cooperation with Estonia, France, Ireland, Kenya, Niger, Norway, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the UK, and Viet Nam. The briefers were Coninsx; Edmund Fitton-Brown, Coordinator of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee and of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee; and Eelco Kessels, Executive Director of the Global Center on Cooperative Security.
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 should not be adopted because it did not refer to the repatriation of FTFs and their families.
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; 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 UN 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. Some members favour a counter-terrorism approach that is founded in human rights, prevention and the involvement of civil society, while other members focus more closely on security and law enforcement.
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 ISIL (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.|
|29 January 2021S/2021/98||This was the Secretary-General’s 12th biannual strategic-level report on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|21 July 2021S/2021/655||This contained the 28th report of the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|30 June 2021A/RES/75/291||This approved the seventh review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.|