Press Conference by Head of Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate

1 December 2010

Press Conference by Head of Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate

1 December 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Head of Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate

Prosecutors from some 20 countries affected by terrorism were meeting at Headquarters from 1 to 3 December to exchange information and best practices on how to bring terrorists to justice, the head of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) told correspondents today at Headquarters.

Mike Smith, Executive Director of CTED, said that the prosecution of terrorists raised particular challenges, as terrorist acts were often planned in one country, prepared in another country and executed in a third.  In order to present evidence, international cooperation was critical.  One of the three-day workshop’s objectives was for the prosecutors to communicate with each other, share experiences and possibly put together lessons learned and good practices which could then be disseminated.  Another objective was to demonstrate that it was possible for justice systems to prosecute terrorists according to the rule of law.

He said the Executive Directorate was created in 2004 to support Security Council resolution 1373 (2001), one of the principal texts dealing with terrorism, passed shortly after “9/11”, which required countries to take steps to work collectively to deal with the challenge of terrorism.  The CTED carried out a dialogue with all 192 Member States on what measures they had taken to criminalize terrorism, bring terrorists to justice, prevent financial support to terrorists, and prevent them from getting safe haven and crossing borders.

Although the dialogue was mainly carried out with national missions to the United Nations, he said CTED had visited some 56 countries, together with such partners as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization, to advise on vulnerabilities and to try to find technical assistance providers to address such vulnerabilities.  At the regional level, the Directorate brought together anti-terrorism specialists to brainstorm on specific issues such as border control.

Answering a correspondent’s question about the case of Ahmed Ghailani, tried in Federal Court in New York, he said — without commenting on specifics — that case was a good indicator of the challenges that could be encountered.  One issue in that regard was presenting evidence gathered through intelligence without revealing confidential sources.  Bringing a case could be especially problematic if the terrorist act had not been carried out but had been prevented, based on such intelligence.  Different countries had gotten around that problem in different ways, he added.

Several correspondents asked about the appropriateness of applying national anti-terrorism laws against some organizations or individuals, such as WikiLeaks or political opponents in the western Balkans or the northern Caucasus.

Addressing those questions, Mr. Smith said the Directorate worked for the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee.  The dialogue the Directorate carried out with Member States was confidential.  He could therefore not comment on specific cases.  Still, he could say that in its interactions, the Directorate could suggest ways to address particular challenges, based on good practices and the rule of law, as well as in a “human rights” sensitive way.  Such an approach was the only way to defeat terrorism in the long term.  Not respecting the rule of law and human rights would result in alienating communities from which terrorists were recruited, perpetuating the problem and even contributing to recruitment.

Continuing, he said that the fact that there was not a universal definition of terrorism presented a challenge.  Governments could be tempted to define terrorism in their national laws in such a way that it would paint their political enemies in a “terrorist corner”.  There were now 18 Conventions dealing with specific terrorist acts, however.  If taken together, they gave a “fair idea” of what terrorism was.  In its dialogue with Member States, the Directorate would look at national legislation and if it found the definition too wide, it would bring that to the attention of the country.

Asked what direction CTED would take if its mandate was extended by the Security Council [according to resolution 1805 (2008), the mandate expires on 31 December 2010], he said the bulk of international cooperation regarding counter-terrorism activities took place at the bilateral level.  The United Nations, specifically the Directorate, could be a facilitator of technical assistance to countries.  The Directorate could also be helpful in bringing together professionals, rather than politicians, from countries of a specific region.  Another challenge in many countries was the coordination among national agencies such as police, customs and diplomats.  The Directorate would focus more on those issues.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.