Helping Member States to counter terrorism

Combating terrorism is integral to the entire mandate of the United Nations. The UN Charter sets out the purposes of the Organization, which include the maintenance of international peace and security, to take collective measures to prevent threats to peace and suppress aggression and to promote human rights and economic development.

As an assault on the principles of law and order, human rights and the peaceful settlement of disputes, terrorism runs counter to the principles and purposes that define the United Nations. The United Nations has been taking concrete steps to address the threat of terrorism, helping Member States to counter this scourge. The recently adopted Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy further develops and strengthens those steps and brings them into a focused concrete plan of action.

Universal condemnation of terrorism

In a resolution adopted on 9 September 2010, the General Assembly reiterated its strong and unequivocal condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.

The United Nations serves as a unique global forum that provides the highest level of universal legitimacy for Member States to send a unified, clear, principled and immutable message that terrorism is unacceptable no matter who commits it and for whatever reason. Member States through the General Assembly and the Security Council, as well as the Secretary-General and other UN officials have been consistent in condemning all acts of terrorism. The United Nations through its members and officials have been sending a clear message that terrorist acts are unacceptable and can never be justified. The United Nations global counter-terrorism strategy reiterates this condemnation and its operational aspects rest on this principle. Through the consistent and systematic condemnation of terrorist acts, the United Nations aims to continuously undercut whatever appeal terrorism as a tactic my have for any group of people and clearly show that it is not an effective tool to address real or perceived grievances.

Creating the global legal foundations

One of the more powerful achievements of the United Nations system has been the establishment of a regime of international treaties and conventions. It is these international treaties that provide the legal framework for the suppression of terrorist acts and the pursuit of perpetrators of terrorism, and set out ways to limit illicit access to the tools terrorists need. UN anti-terrorism treaties that predate 11 September 2001 range from the UN International Civil Aviation Organization 1963 Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, drafted in 1999. Since 11 September 2001, Member States agreed on a new convention dealing with the threat of terrorists using nuclear materials. Most importantly, adherence to the existing 13 international treaties has increased dramatically since 2001. The United Nations is strongly promoting ratification and implementation of the existing conventions. Not only does the United Nations monitor implementation of the treaties by Member States but UN programmes such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provide practical legal assistance for countries on how best to implement the provisions of the treaties into national legislation.

Addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism

There is wide agreement among countries that the fight against terrorism must include an approach that also looks at its long-term components. This agreement is reflected in the global counter-terrorism strategy which addresses the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. Its near universal membership and its global mandate make the United Nations a tool for Member States through which to address the complex, longer term aspects of terrorism. The United Nations places its counter-terrorism actions within its broader work framed by its overall efforts to promote peace, security, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law. The multitude of offices, programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations system works to address conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism including but not limited to prolonged unresolved conflicts, dehumanization of victims of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, lack of the rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalization and lack of good governance.

Preventing terrorist acts


Since 2002 the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA) has helped States to improve nuclear security inter alia through providing training to over 10,000 individuals, securing over 5,700 radioactive sources in nearly 40 States, upgrading the physical protection at over 100 sites in more than 30 States and providing 56 States with approximately 4,000 instruments for radiation detection activities.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inventoried and inspected chemical agents in different countries. So far, more than 60 percent of the 71,194 metric tones of the declared stockpile of chemical agents have been destroyed. More than 45 %, of the 8.67 million chemical munitions and containers have also been obliterated.

Through action taken by the General Assembly and the Security Council, Member States are not only creating and strengthening the legal foundations of the fight against terrorism but also taking practical measures of cooperation to restrict terrorists in their actions by denying them the financial means for their actions, denying them their freedom to move about to commit their acts and denying them the weapons to use in committing terrorist acts. The International Convention for Suppression of Terrorist Financing requests all countries ratifying the convention to deny all financial possibilities to potential terrorists. Security Council resolution 1373 makes it mandatory for all states to eliminate the financing of terrorism, while resolution 1267 along with subsequent related resolutions freeze all the financial assets of Al Qaida and Taliban associates. Both those resolutions call for strict travel bans against potential terrorists. Subsequent Security Council resolutions also place Al Qaida and Taliban members under a strict arms embargo. The recently concluded International Convention for the Suppression of Nuclear Terrorism aims to prevent potential terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons while resolution 1540 of the Security Council creates a mandatory set of measures for countries to implement in order to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Curbing Terrorist Financing


The Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee has imposed an asset freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo with respect to approximately 250 individuals and 90 entities associated with the Al-Qaida organization.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has organized specialized briefing and training for approximately 12,000 national criminal justice officials from 2003 to June 2011.

The international conventions and relevant Security Council resolutions create a restrictive environment not only for terrorists but also for states that may intend to support terrorism. All states must prevent terrorist groups from operating on their territory or using it as a training centre to prepare or launch an attack on another country. The Security Council has the means to impose strict punitive measures on states who disregard this obligation. In the past, Sudan, Libya and Afghanistan were targeted by sanctions for harboring and/or assisting terrorist groups.

Developing state capacity to counter terrorism


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has assisted 168 countries in becoming parties to and implementing the universal instruments related to the prevention and suppression of international terrorism, and provided advice on counter-terrorism legislation to 81 countries as of June 2011.

The World Health Organization developed a global laboratory network to respond to outbreaks and biological threats.

The Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate (CTED) has made 213 referrals for technical assistance since June 2008; donors agreed to follow up on 92; and there were 42 successful deliveries. CTITF, CTED and UNODC/TPB have also formed partnerships with three Member States within the context of the Integrated Assistance for Countering Terrorism (I-ACT) initiative, to facilitate the provision of technical assistance to Member States in an integrated fashion.

While the major international conventions and Security Council resolutions create obligations for states, UN offices and agencies provide assistance for states to be better able to fulfill those obligations individually as well as collectively. This work aims at providing practical help to build state capacity to prevent terrorism. The Security Council's counter-terrorism bodies along with the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have been assisting countries in drafting appropriate national counter-terrorism legislation. The United Nations Development Programme assists Member States through its network of over 166 country offices with practical advice on strengthening the rule of law and promoting good governance.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations assists countries emerging from conflicts with training of their national police force. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization promotes religious and cultural tolerance through its educational assistance work to Member States. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank provides practical assistance to counter money laundering and terrorism-financing. The International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization work with state authorities to strengthen transport security for both people and goods. The work of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization include strengthening state capacity to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological materials and ensuring preparedness for an attack with such materials.

Defending human rights

The actions of the United Nations, whether they aim at denying terrorists the means to carry out an attack, deter states in assisting terrorists, or developing the capacities of states to combat terrorism, never are at the expense of human rights. In fact the United Nations has placed the protection of human rights - of the victims of terrorism - at the centre of its counter-terrorism work. Defending the human rights of all while countering terrorism is at the heart of the global counter-terrorism strategy. Member States of the Organization have given practical evidence of their commitment to defending human rights in the context of combating terrorism by establishing the post of a special human rights investigator whose job is precisely to ensure that human rights are not curtailed as countries take steps to counter terrorism.