What's In Blue

Posted Tue 10 May 2016

Countering the narratives of terrorism: open debate and presidential statement

Tomorrow (11 May), the Security Council will hold an open debate focusing on countering the narratives and ideologies of terrorism. The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson; the Secretary-General of Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy, Mohi El-Din Afifi; and the Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft, Steven A. Crown, are expected to brief the Council. At the meeting—which will be chaired by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry—the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement that was negotiated over three sessions and passed through silence this morning.

Draft Presidential Statement

The draft presidential statement requests the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), working along with other UN actors and member states, to present a proposal to the Security Council by 30 April 2017 for a “comprehensive international framework”, to counter the use of narratives by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups that encourage, motivate, and recruit members to commit terrorist acts. This proposal is expected to include a counter-narrative campaign, as well as options for coordinating the implementation of the framework and mobilising resources as necessary. According to the draft statement, the proposal should emphasise the primary role of member states with regard to activities relevant to the framework. The draft welcomes member states’ ongoing efforts to enhance coordination and cooperation with the private sector, civil society, and religious, educational and cultural institutions, and includes a reference to the role that victims of terrorism, among other legitimate voices, can play in countering radicalisation to violence.

Different perspectives on countering violent extremism were reflected in the negotiations on the draft. Even though all Council members agree on the magnitude of the problem and the need to address it, tensions exist among members regarding how to strike a balance between preventing violent extremism and respecting state sovereignty, and between developing counter-terrorism strategies and upholding human rights.

As a result of concerns expressed by at least one permanent member that countering violent extremism could be used as a pretext to criminalise political dissent, the draft under silence does not include any reference to ideology and instead focuses on the idea of terrorist narratives.

The tension between counter-terrorism efforts and human rights was demonstrated in discussions on how to couch language related to the exploitation of information and communications technologies, including the Internet and social media. One permanent member pushed for references to national laws that would have qualified adherence to international law with regard to countering terrorist narratives. However, in the end these references were dropped. In the past, some Council members have expressed concerns that language similar to that advocated but subsequently omitted from the current draft could be used to justify freedom of expression violations.

At least one permanent Council member opposed focusing on the prevention of violent extremism in the draft, claiming that the emphasis on prevention was encroachment on the role of the General Assembly. In this context, the draft takes note of the Secretary General’s plan of action to prevent violent extremism, further noting that it will be considered during the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016

The Debate

Egypt has circulated a concept note (S/2016/416) in preparation for the debate. The note highlights the importance of countering the narratives and ideologies of terrorist groups which are inspiring people from across the globe to leave their homes and join their ranks. It describes how terrorist groups use their narratives and ideologies—based on distorted interpretations of religion—to justify their acts of violence, to recruit supporters and fighters, to mobilise resources, and to target global audiences through propaganda in social media.

The note outlines two key objectives for the debate. One is to consider the elements of a successful comprehensive international strategy for countering the narratives and ideologies of terrorist groups, with a special emphasis on ISIL. A second is to consider the ideal mechanism to coordinate, follow-up and mobilise the necessary action and resources.

A variety of questions have been posed by Egypt in the concept note that may help to guide the discussion. Among other things, these include how to coordinate efforts among the UN and other fora to counter and refute terrorist narratives and ideologies; how to enhance cooperation and coordination among security and intelligence officials in different countries to counter terrorist narratives and ideologies; and what would be the elements of a practical UN mechanism to follow-up on implementation of a potential comprehensive international strategy.

The open debate builds on ongoing efforts in the UN system to formulate coherent international responses to terrorism. The global implementation survey of resolution 1624, which was conducted by the CTC’s Executive Directorate (CTED), was released on 18 January. The survey provides recommendations to member states to implement resolution 1624 and prohibit by law the incitement to commit terrorist acts.

Both CTC and CTED have addressed the use of information and communications technology for terrorist purposes. In December 2015, the CTC held a special meeting on preventing terrorists from exploiting the Internet and social media to recruit terrorists and incite terrorist acts while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. Participants included member states, international and regional organisations, private sector leaders, and representatives of civil society. This year, the CTC is planning to hold another special meeting on this topic.

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