What's In Blue

Posted Mon 27 Mar 2023

Counter-Terrorism: High-level Debate

Tomorrow (28 March), the Security Council will convene for a high-level debate on “Countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism conducive to terrorism by strengthening cooperation between the UN and regional organisations and mechanisms” under the agenda item “Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”. The debate is one of the signature events of Mozambique’s presidency and will be chaired by Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Chairperson of the AU Azali Assoumani, and Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat are expected to brief.

Mozambique has prepared a concept note for the meeting, which states that the debate aims to explore and strengthen opportunities for engagements under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter in support of counter-terrorism initiatives on the African continent. According to the concept note, the debate will provide an opportunity for the Council to reflect on and improve the cooperation framework between the UN, the AU, and sub-regional organisations in the context of countering terrorism.

Several specific challenges in this area are identified in the concept note, including:

  1. recourse to regional solutions resulting from security pacts, as well as bilateral mechanisms;
  2. the scarcity of financial and material resources for surveillance and other military uses; and
  3. coordination of priorities among the different actors, taking into account the changing nature of terrorist acts in different geographical contexts.

In addition, the concept note outlines four questions for Council members to consider:

  1. What experiences and practices, at the UN, regional, and bilateral levels, can be promoted and institutionalised for countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism, within the framework of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter?
  2. How can opportunities for international cooperation to counter the spread of terrorism in the African continent be maximised, including cutting its funding sources?
  3. What development initiatives should be promoted, in developing countries, with emphasis on Africa, to promote community resilience, as an integral step of the global strategy to prevent violent extremism, considering the instrumentalisation of poverty as a mechanism of mobilisation and recruitment?
  4. How can member states readjust the global counter-terrorism strategy, considering the reality and nature of terrorism in Africa, during the eighth review scheduled for June 2023?

Some Council members are likely to express support for African counter-terrorism initiatives in their statements tomorrow. Several regional and sub-regional counter-terrorism initiatives are currently active on the continent, including the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S), the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS/AMISOM), the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), the Accra Initiative, and the Nouakchott Process.

The FC-G5S was established in 2017 by the member states that initially comprised the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—to carry out counter-terrorism operations and implement measures to combat transnational crime in the territory of its member states. On 15 May 2022, Mali withdrew from all G5 Sahel institutions, including the FC-G5S.

ATMIS provides support to ongoing military operations in Somalia against Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group with links to Al-Qaeda, and assists in stabilising liberated areas and safeguarding critical infrastructure.

The MNJTF fights the terrorist group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin region. It includes contributions from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.

The Accra Initiative was created in 2017 in response to the spread of terrorism to the coastal states of West Africa. In November 2022, its member states (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, and Togo) decided to establish a 10,000-troop entity, also called the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF/AI).

The Nouakchott Process is designed to strengthen regional security cooperation and information-sharing in the fight against terrorism. It is also tasked with making the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) operational in the Sahelo-Saharan region.

The provision of more adequate, sustainable, and predictable financing for African counter-terrorism operations, such as the FC-G5S, is also expected to be discussed tomorrow. This issue has proven divisive for Council members over the years, particularly in relation to the possible use of assessed contributions to fund such operations. France and the African members of the Council have, for example, argued in favour of using assessed contributions to fund the FC-G5S. Other members have opposed this proposal, citing concerns regarding the force’s record of human rights violations. The US, the UN’s largest funder, has opposed UN funding for AU-led peace support operations in the past. There may be a window of opportunity for progress on this issue, however, due to the Biden administration’s interest in strengthening US relations with Africa.

The Secretary-General has also expressed support for the use of UN assessed contributions to fund counter-terrorism initiatives in Africa. On 18 February, at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, the Secretary-General said that the UN “wholeheartedly support[s] the creation of a new generation of robust peace-enforcement missions and counter-terrorist operations, led by the [AU] with a Security Council mandate under Chapter VII and with guaranteed, predictable funding, including through assessed contributions”.

Members are also expected to refer to initiatives with a specific focus on terrorism established jointly by the UN and the AU, such as the UN-AU technical working group on preventing violent extremism and countering terrorism, which aims to increase counter-terrorism coordination between the two organisations. In September 2022, Guterres announced that the UN, together with the AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the G5-Sahel, had created the Independent High-Level Panel on Security Governance and Development in the Sahel. The panel will provide recommendations for responding to the challenges facing the region, including terrorism and violent extremism. Its findings were originally due to be presented during the AU Summit in February. It appears that they will now be delivered by the middle of the year.

Council members might express concern regarding the spread of terrorism in Africa during tomorrow’s meeting. The latest report of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1267/1989/2253 Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee, which was published on 13 February, noted that “Africa has emerged in recent years as the continent where the harm done by terrorism is developing most rapidly and extensively”.

The need to address the root causes of terrorism in Africa is another likely topic of discussion. On 7 February, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) published a report titled “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Pathways to Recruitment and Disengagement”. The report, which was based on personal testimonies from nearly 2,200 respondents, made several findings regarding the factors that can lead an individual to violent extremism. It notes, for example, that “government action, accompanied by human rights abuses, continues to trigger, fuel and accelerate recruitment towards violent extremism”. In their statements tomorrow, some Council members may highlight the importance of a whole-of-society approach to counter-terrorism that respects human rights, aligns with international law, and addresses the root causes of violence and extremism.

Mozambique has a particular interest in this issue because it is currently battling an insurgency by ISIL affiliate Ahl al-Sunna Wal-Jama’a (ASWJ) in its northern Cabo Delgado Province. On 15 July 2021, Mozambique approved the deployment to Cabo Delgado of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), a 2,000-troop force comprising units from eight SADC member states. Rwanda, which is not a member of the SADC, has also sent soldiers to fight against ASWJ. According to the latest report of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1267/1989/2253 Sanctions Committee, the deployment of regional forces in Cabo Delgado “has had a significant impact on ASWJ, disrupting its leadership, command structures and bases”.

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