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Special Meeting in Madrid of the Counter-Terrorism Committee on Foreign Terrorist Fighters

The Security Council’s 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) is expected to hold a special meeting in Madrid on 28 July with member states and international and regional organisations. The meeting is in keeping with the Council’s 19 November 2014 presidential statement, which encouraged the CTC to “hold Special Meetings in 2015 with the participation of Member States and relevant international and regional organizations to discuss ways to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters” and to counter their recruitment. The meeting on 28 July is aimed at discussing the principal gaps in member states’ capacities to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, exploring how to address these gaps and sharing best practices.

According to the Analytical Support and Monitoring Team of the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, there are approximately 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than half the countries in the world involved with listed Al-Qaida affiliates such as Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, among others. Although the phenomenon is not new, these numbers are higher than ever, in particular in Iraq and Syria, with the problem growing in Libya as well.

The CTC’s key mandate is to assess the implementation of resolution 1373 of 28 September 2001, which obligates states to criminalise the financing of terrorism and recruitment for terrorist groups, and resolution 1624 of 14 September 2005, which calls upon member states to prohibit by law the incitement to commit terrorist acts. In relation to this mandate, the CTC and its Executive Directorate (CTED) have been engaged in efforts to tackle the challenge of foreign terrorist fighters.

The Council’s concern with this issue was underscored at the summit-level debate on foreign terrorist fighters on 24 September 2014, with US President Barack Obama chairing. At the debate, it unanimously adopted resolution 2178, which introduced several innovations to the Council’s counter-terrorism framework. The resolution included a definition of foreign terrorist fighters as individuals who travel or attempt to travel to a state other than their states of residence or nationality “for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of terrorist training.” It introduced an international obligation requiring member states to establish criminal offenses sufficient for would-be terrorist fighters to be prosecuted for their intention to travel in order to participate in terrorist acts. This obligation requires member states that have “credible information that provides reasonable grounds to believe” that a certain individual might become a foreign terrorist fighter to prevent the entry or transit of that individual through their territories.

The special meeting in Madrid is expected to build on the CTC’s reporting, as mandated by resolution 2178 and conducted with the support of CTED, on the gaps in member states’ implementation of this resolution. Following a 7 November 2014 preliminary, non-State-specific analysis (S/2014/807), the CTC submitted to the Council the first of three reports expected to cover a total of 78 affected states, assessing how they implement the resolution, the gaps that they might individually or collectively need to address, and the good practices that they already employ (S/2015/338).

Ahead of the 28 July CTC meeting, three technical sessions—led by the CTED and including member states, international and regional organisations, and individual experts—are expected to be held in Madrid on 27 July. The technical sessions will focus on: detection and prevention of incitement, recruitment and facilitation of foreign terrorist fighters; prevention of travel of these individuals; and criminalisation, prosecution, international cooperation, and the rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees.

These are issues that the Council has highlighted in its outcomes and deliberations and that the CTED has addressed in its reporting. For example, in a 29 May presidential statement, the Council emphasised that member states need to improve prevention, interdiction and enforcement efforts through greater international information sharing and timely coordination to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. Furthermore, the statement expressed “great concern that many Member States still have not required airlines operating in their territories to provide to appropriate national authorities advanced passenger information of travelers.” Recognising this challenge, a 26 May CTED report showed that only 51 member states currently utilise advance passenger information systems, at varying levels of effectiveness, and developed some recommendations to improve their use (S/2015/377). Finally, Council members have repeatedly stressed the importance of the rule of law to counter-terrorism efforts, both in terms of translating international legal obligations into domestic law and ensuring that fair process guarantees and respect for international law, including human rights law, are upheld, when fulfilling international counter-terrorism obligations. A CTED report from 18 February raised the difficulties that those prosecuting these fighters face, including finding admissible evidence to support their cases, proving criminal intent and converting intelligence into evidence (S/2015/123).

Summaries of the technical sessions will be attached to the outcome document of the special meeting. It is anticipated that these summaries will provide a set of strategies or guiding principles that could be used by member states to guide their implementation of measures to address the threat of foreign terrorist fighters.

Counter-terrorism is a high visibility issue that appears to generate unanimous support among Council members. Most of the differences among members on counter-terrorism relate to the scope of the Council’s efforts, how to prioritise counter-terrorism tasks, and the threat of political misuse, rather than any disagreement on the importance of the issue.

In the margins of the special meeting, Spain is planning to host a high-level meeting, also on 28 July, convening between 20 and 30 ministers and deputy ministers of foreign, interior and justice affairs from member states of all UN regional groups. The meeting is expected to endorse the conclusions of the special meeting and the technical sessions.

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