Counter-Terrorism: Today’s High-level Briefing and Adoption of Presidential Statement
This morning (15 December), the Security Council convened for a high-level briefing on “Global counter-terrorism approach–-principles and the way forward”. India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, chaired the meeting, which was one of the signature events of India’s presidency. The briefers were Under-Secretary-General and head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) Vladimir Voronkov; Acting Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) Weixiong Chen; and Anjali Vijay Kulthe, a survivor of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Council adopted a presidential statement on counter-terrorism (S/PRST/2022/7), which was initiated by India. Among other matters, the presidential statement underlines that acts of terrorism can seriously impair the enjoyment of human rights and threaten the social and economic development of member states; reaffirms that member states must ensure that counter-terrorism measures comply with their obligations under international law; underscores the importance of whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches to countering terrorism; and recognises the importance of cooperation with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society.
The presidential statement also contains text regarding terrorist groups’ increasing use of the internet, other information and communications technologies, and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and recognises the need for strengthening cooperation in countering the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes. It expresses deep concern that the threat of terrorism has increased and become more diffuse and calls on the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) to consider developing, with CTED’s support, a set of non-binding guiding principles as provided in the “Delhi declaration on countering the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes”. The Delhi declaration was adopted during the CTC’s special meeting in India, which took place on 28 and 29 October, and conveys an intention to develop a “set of non-binding guiding principles … with a view to assisting member states to counter the threat posed by the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes”.
The presidential statement includes language on several other issues, including foreign terrorist fighters, the linkages between terrorism and organised crime, the movement of terrorist groups across borders, and the financing of terrorism. It also calls on member states “to summon the requisite political will to denounce all acts of terrorism”.
It appears that the negotiations on the presidential statement were difficult. India circulated the first draft of the text to Council members on 29 November and convened two rounds of virtual negotiations. The text was revised five times and underwent four silence procedures. It seems that the first silence procedure was broken by several Council members. The second silence procedure was apparently broken by Gabon and Ireland, while the third was broken by Gabon. After each silence break, multiple Council members provided additional comments on the text. Council members eventually agreed on the fifth revised draft, which passed silence procedure yesterday evening (14 December).
It seems that Council members were divided over several issues during the negotiations, including climate change, gender, human rights, engagement with civil society, and the effects of measures designed to counter the financing of terrorism on humanitarian activities.
Language concerning climate change appears to have been particularly contentious. It seems that some Council members, including Gabon and Ireland, proposed incorporating text referring to the link between climate change, security, and terrorism in the presidential statement. This proposal was opposed by other members, including Brazil and Russia. Some of these members apparently suggested that the Council is not an appropriate forum for discussing or managing climate change issues. Brazil, for example, seems to have argued that climate change should be addressed through the mechanisms established by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), rather than the Council.
Although some members proposed specific language on the links between climate change, security, and terrorism, this language was not included in the various drafts circulated by India. The absence of climate language appears to have led Gabon and Ireland to break silence during the second silence procedure. It seems that other members, including Norway, expressed support for the position taken by Gabon and Ireland. Gabon also broke silence during the third silence procedure because the draft did not include language on climate change. This position was apparently supported by other members, including Ghana and Ireland.
Gabon and India subsequently engaged in bilateral negotiations over this issue. As a compromise, it appears that India agreed to drop its opposition to a draft presidential statement on UN-AU cooperation that Gabon proposed during its presidency in October. It seems that India had opposed language on climate change contained in that draft presidential statement, thereby preventing agreement on the text. In return, Gabon apparently agreed to withdraw its request for climate language in India’s draft counter-terrorism presidential statement. It appears that India placed the fifth revised draft of its presidential statement under silence without including climate language after this compromise was struck.
Another contentious issue was language relating to gender. It appears that some members—including Albania, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, and the US—supported the inclusion of language on gender. Norway apparently proposed including text that was based on the gender language in resolution 2617 of 30 December 2021, which renewed CTED’s mandate until 31 December 2025. This language was not acceptable to some members, who apparently argued that it went beyond resolution 2617 by imposing obligations on member states regarding gender and counter-terrorism. It seems that Norway subsequently suggested revised language on gender, which underscored the importance of integrating gender as a cross-cutting issue throughout counter-terrorism activities. This language was also unacceptable for some members and was not included in the presidential statement.
Text concerning human rights was also a topic of debate. It seems that some Council members, including some European members, contended that the presidential statement should include stronger language on human rights. It appears that some text was added to address these concerns, such as language which notes that failing to comply with international human rights law, the UN Charter, and other international obligations is “one of the factors contributing to increased radicalisation to violence and fosters a sense of impunity”.
Text regarding the potential effect of measures intended to counter the financing of terrorism on humanitarian activities was also a point of contention during the negotiations. It seems that some members, including Albania, Brazil, Ireland, and Norway, argued that the relevant paragraph should refer to resolution 2664 of 9 December, which established a standing humanitarian carve-out to the asset freeze measures in UN sanctions regimes. (For more information, see our 9 December What’s in Blue story.) It appears that this suggestion was resisted by India, who abstained on resolution 2664, however it was ultimately included in the presidential statement.
It appears that differences between Council members also emerged in relation to language regarding “whole-of-society approaches” to counter-terrorism and engagement with civil society. China apparently argued that the text underscoring the importance of whole-of-society approaches should be deleted and also expressed concerns over language recognising the importance of cooperation with civil society. Despite these concerns, the relevant language was included in the presidential statement.
The inclusion of language referring to all forms of terrorism was another issue for Council members. It seems that some members contended that the text should denounce all types of terrorism, which led to the addition of language condemning all terrorist acts, including those committed on the basis of xenophobia, racism, and other forms of intolerance, or in the name of religion or belief.
Council members also differed regarding the text which calls on members states “to summon the political will to denounce all acts of terrorism”. It appears that earlier iterations of this language called on member states to denounce “double standards”. While this text was supported by China, India, and Russia, it was not acceptable to some members, including several European members, who apparently argued that the term “double standards” is too vague for inclusion in a Council product. The same paragraph also included language noting that listing and delisting proposals under Council sanctions regimes should be objective and evidence-based, however this language was not retained in the presidential statement, apparently at China’s behest.