Committee briefing on measures to prevent the movement of terrorists
The Counter-Terrorism Committee of the Security Council held on 25 April a briefing at United Nations Headquarters on preventing the misuse by terrorists of travel documents and on terrorism prevention activities.
The Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Eliasson, and the Ambassador of Lithuania to the United Nations and Chair of the Committee, Ms. Raimonda Murmokaitė, opened the meeting in New York.
"Terrorists groups and other international criminal organizations are known to exploit weaknesses in the identity management of travellers and security of travel documents," said Ambassador Murmokaitė. She added that the use of forged passports was "a factor necessary to the final attack" in some high-profile terrorist cases.
Since at least 1992, terrorists have resorted to forged or fraudulent travel documents to cross international borders. As Mr. Eliasson pointed out, they are resourceful and constantly on the move.
Drug and human traffickers, migrant smugglers and other criminals also take advantage of this global security gap.
Porous borders make it easy for them to cross from one country to another. So do the limited training and resources of law enforcement and customs officers in many countries.
The Security Council recognizes that robust border control is a cornerstone of successful counter-terrorism strategies. The Council has said that Member States should prevent the movement of terrorists and terrorist groups by ensuring that borders, travel documents, and traveller identification are managed effectively.
According to the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), a minimum of 400 million people boarded international flights in 2013 without having their passports checked against its stolen and lost travel document database, which can be deployed at airports and other border crossings.
While 167 countries contribute to the system that currently holds information on 40 million travel documents, only a few systematically screen international travellers. Nine account for 80 per cent of the annual queries.
Speaking at the Committee briefing, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald Noble said that this happens "at a time when we accept being required to systematically remove clothing, belts and shoes; empty our water bottles; expose our belongings to x-ray; and walk through magnetometers over and over."
Part of the solution is for States to use the variety of tools at their disposal, not only to detect irregular documents but also passengers who should not be traveling internationally. These include wanted fugitives, individuals who pose a criminal threat, and those who are subject to a travel ban imposed by the Security Council.
Such a strategy would help officers guarding borders "make the right decision about whom to allow to continue with their journeys, whom to question, and whom to detain," Mr. Noble said.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) reports that 3.1 billion passengers and 50 million tonnes of cargo were transported by air last year. In 2030, air traffic flow is expected to reach 6 billion passengers.
In his statement at the Committee briefing, ICAO's Secretary-General Raymond Benjamin said: "The global aviation sector has grown and thrived over the course of its history in large part because it is an essentially cooperative system."
While travel through various means is booming, it is still vulnerable to criminal and terrorist activities. Contributing factors include lack of trust and technical means required for effective inter-agency and cross-border cooperation, weak capacity to uniquely identify individuals, and national policies that do not reflect a holistic approach to border security.
When it comes to combating terrorism, Mr. Benjamin said the task of ensuring border integrity is “daunting” for States. An example is that many have “systemic weak points” in identification management. In his view, challenges could be overcome by establishing shared targets and improving global collaboration and cooperation.
ICAO has developed a number of recommendations and guidelines to ensure the security and integrity of travel documents, from their issuance to checks made at borders. For example, States have taken advantage of technological advances to issue machine-readable travel documents and ePassports that comply with ICAO specifications.
The way forward
The Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate (CTED) have encouraged Member States to use consistently the tools INTERPOL and ICAO have made available to strengthen border management and security.
Since 2005, CTED has conducted over 90 country visits on behalf of the Committee. INTERPOL, ICAO, UNODC and other partners have participated in several of these visits, which have resulted in a set of recommendations aimed at closing existing gaps.
CTED will also work with donor States and assistance providers to promote their continued cooperation on the delivery of technical assistance to Member States.