West African countries reaffirm commitment to freeze terrorist assets

English-speaking countries of West Africa, meeting with international experts at a regional workshop in Accra, reaffirmed their commitment to freeze terrorist assets in accordance with international law.

"The asset-freezing measures in resolution 1373 are an important national security tool for States", said Ms. Joanna Adamson, Australia's High Commissioner.

"They are both a measure against the threat of international terrorism against national interests; as well as an opportunity to contribute to broader regional and international efforts to prevent terrorist acts", she added.

The workshop, organized by CTED and the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) and supported by Australia, focused on the asset-freezing provisions of Security Council resolution 1373 (2001), which requires all Member States to freeze, without delay, the funds and other financial assets or economic resources of persons or entities who commit, or attempt to commit, terrorist acts.

Representatives of Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone joined experts from Australia, South Africa the United Kingdom and the United States to share national practices in building operational mechanisms that are consistent with the relevant international standards and human rights obligations. Representatives of the private sector (including banks and land/commerce registries) provided their perspectives on the challenges they faced in implementing Government regulations.

Asset-freezing measures are designed to prevent assets from moving, to disrupt terrorism financing, and to deprive terrorist groups or individual from accessing funds. Participants stressed the importance of knowing how assets are moved and, if they are being moved outside the formal financial sector, which alternative remittance systems are being used. Freezing without delay in accordance with resolution 1373 (2001) will enable Governments to build an operational framework capable of responding to targeted financial sanctions issued by the Security Council.

The participating countries shared their experiences in developing asset-freezing mechanisms, as well as the practical challenges encountered in meeting their obligations under the resolution, including inadequate understanding of the requirements, the difficulty of tracing assets in the context of the region's largely cash-based economies, and the lack of adequate institutional frameworks.

However, only two of the participating countries have developed comprehensive legal frameworks on asset-freezing. A typology study on terrorism financing in West Africa, recently published by GIABA and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), notes the vulnerability of certain economic sectors to terrorism financing.

"A study conducted by GIABA in 2011 to rate the compliance level of Member States [of the region] with resolution 1373 (2001) indicated either partial compliance or non-compliance", noted the Honorable James Agalda, Ghana's Deputy Minister of the Interior.

Participants also stressed the importance of international cooperation in combating terrorism financing.

"The operative words in ensuring effectiveness (which could not and should not be taken for granted) are cooperation, collaboration and coordination", said Mr. Samuel Essel, Head of Ghana's financial intelligence unit (FIU).

Countries of the region have taken some important steps to enhance their cooperation.

The Deputy Director of GIABA, Mr. Brian Sapati, recalled the adoption of the ECOWAS Counter-Terrorism Strategy and Implementation Plan, as well as the Political Declaration on a Common Position against Terrorism, adopted by the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS in February 2013.

"The Strategy and Implementation Plan, in particular, provide a framework for the fight against terrorism in West Africa", he said.

CTED launched the global initiative on the freezing of terrorist assets in October 2012. The Accra event was the sixth regional workshop in the series and the second to be organized jointly with GIABA, following a workshop for francophone West African States and Guinea Bissau, held in Senegal in December 2012.

GIABA will follow-up on the workshop to help countries of the region to comply with their obligations.

This page was last updated on: 11-April-2014 2:38 PM EST