What's In Blue

Posted Tue 15 Jun 2021

Arria-formula Meeting on the Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Counter-Terrorism Efforts

Tomorrow (16 June), Security Council members will hold a virtual Arria-formula meeting on “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international efforts to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism”. The meeting is being organised by Tunisia in cooperation with Estonia, France, Ireland, Kenya, Niger, Norway, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the UK, and Viet Nam. The expected briefers are Assistant Secretary-General Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED); Edmund Fitton-Brown, Coordinator of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1267/1989/2253 Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (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. The meeting will start at 3 pm EST and is open to participation by all UN member states and intergovernmental organisations. Civil society organisations may submit written statements.

Tunisia has prepared a concept note for the meeting, which outlines the impact of the pandemic on efforts to prevent and counter terrorist and violent extremism threats. The concept note states that the pandemic’s secondary effects, such as social isolation and political and economic pressures, have exacerbated grievances and increased people’s vulnerability to terrorist recruitment and radicalisation. Lockdowns and other emergency measures to stem the spread of the pandemic have affected human rights and fundamental freedoms with a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations. This, in turn, increases societal grievances and can be exploited by terrorist groups in both conflict and non-conflict countries.

The concept note observes that the pandemic has undermined counter-terrorism measures and heightened terrorist threats, especially in conflict zones where state capacities are the least equipped to deal with the stresses caused by the health crisis. The pandemic has further diverted national and international resources to health responses. Initiatives undertaken by civil society groups for preventing violent extremism have also been disrupted by the pandemic. CTED itself has had to suspend in-person country assessments, and capacity building projects have been delayed. In June 2020, CTED published a policy paper with a similar title to that of tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting: “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism, countering terrorism and countering violent extremism”, identifying many challenges posed by the pandemic.

During the pandemic, there has been a rise in xenophobia, discrimination, hate speech and the spread of propaganda and conspiracy theories, feeding into a growing trend of right-wing terrorism, according to the concept note. Another potential impact that is highlighted is the vaccination divide that is widening the gaps between developing and developed countries, which in the long term may increase tensions and conflict.

Considering these effects, the concept note says that the objective of tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting is to analyse how the terrorist threat has evolved during the pandemic. It also seeks to identify persistent challenges posed by COVID-19 on national and international counter-terrorism and prevention of violent extremism efforts.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Security Council has often discussed how the pandemic is exacerbating frequent conflict drivers, and the Secretary-General has repeatedly flagged the risk of terrorist groups seeking to exploit the crisis. In July 2020, the Council adopted resolution 2532, which demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda, to support the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire to combat COVID-19. The resolution specified that this demand does not apply to military operations against ISIL/Da’esh, Al-Qaida and Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups that have been designated by the Security Council. In February, the Council adopted resolution 2565, demanding the establishment of humanitarian pauses to deliver COVID-19 vaccines in areas of armed conflict, which again reaffirmed that this did not apply to military operations targeting such terrorist groups.

Tunisia was a co-penholder with France on resolution 2532. During its Council term, it has prioritised the fight against terrorism and Ambassador Tarek Ladeb (Tunisia) chairs the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC). In January, Tunisia organised a high-level open debate on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, with a focus on the 20th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1373. Tomorrow’s meeting seeks to build on the January debate, in which the impact of the pandemic on efforts to combat terrorism was discussed, and to contribute to other activities and discussions planned this year for the 20th anniversary of resolution 1373