7 October 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 2nd Meeting (PM)

Speakers Grapple with Terrorism’s Amorphous Nature, Lack of Clear Definition, as Sixth Committee Continues Debate on Global Threat

As the Sixth Committee (Legal) continued its debate on measures to eliminate international terrorism, speakers grappled with the amorphous nature of the global threat, highlighting how — absent a comprehensive international convention — defining and then taking appropriate measures to combat the phenomenon, which continues to defy categorization, remained challenging.  (For background, see Press Release GA/L/3614.)

The representative of the United States stressed that Governments must not use counter‑terrorism measures as a pretext for stifling human rights or fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of religion.  In this regard, she called attention to China’s recent actions in Xinjiang.

In turn, China’s representative emphasized that his Government’s preventative and de‑radicalization measures in the region have resulted in a lack of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang over the past three years.  He urged against the use of double‑standards and interference in the affairs of other countries under the guise of combatting terrorism.

The representative of Georgia highlighted additional complexity in the international community’s collective efforts to combat terrorism while describing the existence of so‑called grey zones — areas beyond the control of a central government that facilitates illicit activity.  Several such zones were present in the Russian‑occupied regions of his country, he pointed out, adding that they were not subject to national or international control and monitoring.

Turkey’s representative underscored that efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism have been frustrated further still by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  The crisis had not deterred terrorist and criminal groups from seeking new ways to continue their activities, including in the online space.  He also stressed that fighting one terrorist organization while relying upon support from another undermines efforts to counter terrorism.

The representative of Sierra Leone, along with several other delegations, voiced his support for the development and conclusion of a comprehensive convention to address the intricacy of the matter.  Towards that goal, all Member States were urged to reach consensus.

El Salvador’s representative, joining that call for a comprehensive convention, expressed regret over the lack of a binding international legal agreement on fighting the menace.  This instrument, however, must account for national legislative and judicial practices, she said, noting the link between terrorism and organized crime in her country.

The representative of Switzerland urged that any measures taken to counter terrorism must address the disconnect between the goals of fighting terrorism and those of international humanitarian law.  The failure to implement one in light of the other has resulted in a lack of protection for entire populations living in areas controlled by listed armed groups.  Calling for discussions regarding humanitarian exemptions in sanctions regimes, she observed:  “The law of war is not about how you treat your friends, but how you treat your enemies.”

The Sixth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 8 October, to continue its discussion on measures to eliminate international terrorism.

Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism

The representative of Australia, also speaking for Canada and New Zealand, said that many key drivers of terrorism have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Taking note of the Secretary‑General’s report, he highlighted the importance of gender concerns and the women, peace and security agenda and the tactical use of sexual violence by violent extremists.  A whole of society and human rights‑oriented framework is critical and all approaches to terrorism should be trauma informed and responsive to the needs of communities.  Noting the toll taken by the pandemic on lives and livelihoods, he stressed that it is crucial to deny terrorists access to resources and recalled the “No Money for Terror” Conference hosted by his country.

The representative of Ethiopia, associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the African Group, highlighted the lost lives, along with the sustained damage in hotels, markets and civilian spots from acts of terrorism in her country.  The Government has been establishing domestic laws while ratifying international agreements and implementing relevant United Nations resolutions.  Ethiopia is also playing an instrumental role in the east African region and is discharging its responsibilities in the African Union.

The representative of Yemen said that terrorism in all its forms puts a spoke in the wheel of sustainable development.  Despite the current crisis in her country, the Government has enacted a number of legislations that incriminate participation in terrorist acts.  Yemen has also endorsed treaties relating to counter‑terrorism, she said, highlighting judicial proceedings in which a number of accused persons have been tried and sentenced.  However, the stability of the country is also under threat from the armed Houthi militias.

The representative of Mongolia highlighted his country’s efforts to ensure regional security through cooperation, noting intergovernmental agreements to combat terrorism his country has signed with Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation.  Mongolia has also conducted a national risk assessment on terrorism, money laundering and terrorist financing, enabling the proper prioritization and allocation of resources.  This assessment also enhances public‑private partnerships between financial institutions and law enforcement agencies by facilitating the sharing of information, he added.

The representative of Bangladesh, associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), called the adoption of the Global Counter‑Terrorism Strategy in 2006 and Secretary‑General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism as watershed achievements.  Because of COVID‑19, movement restrictions have increased the use of irregular transaction channels.  In addition, online education is creating opportunities for youth to fall prey to online criminal activities, including violent extremism.  The pandemic might also create diversion of resources and Governments’ attention from counter‑terrorism drives, she cautioned.

The representative of the United States said that the Security Council fell short of its responsibilities in August by not including repatriation in a draft resolution addressing the prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of terrorists and their accompanying family members.  With thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in custody in Syria and Iraq, a concerted international effort including repatriation is essential for both humanitarian reasons and to prevent the terrorist radicalization of another generation.  Further, Governments must not use counter‑terrorism as a pretext for stifling freedom of religion or other human rights and fundamental freedoms, as recently witnessed in Xinjiang, she said.

The representative of El Salvador, while noting her regret over the lack of a binding international legal agreement on fighting terrorism, stressed that such an instrument must take into account the legislative and judicial practices implemented around the world.  In her country, terrorism acts are interlinked with organized crime, she said, adding that the Government is prioritizing a territorial control plan which protects people from organized crime and recovers property and public space.

The representative of Switzerland highlighted the tension between counter‑terrorism measures, international humanitarian law and humanitarian activities, as they do not share the same goals other than the protection of the civilian population.  This has resulted in a lack of assistance and protection for entire populations who are living in areas controlled by listed armed groups.  Noting the potential solution of humanitarian exemptions in sanctions regimes, she called for open and inclusive international discussions regarding what such exemptions would look like and how they would be implemented on a national level. “The law of war is not about how you treat your friends, but how you treat your enemies,” she observed.

The representative of Brazil said the repudiation of terrorism is enshrined in her country’s constitution and is a guiding principle of its foreign policy.  The current patchwork of sectoral conventions prohibiting specified acts related to terrorism lacks the unity and coherence that a comprehensive convention can provide.  Delegations must overcome the stalemate in the negotiating processes.  Convening a high‑level conference under the auspices of the United Nations could provide the momentum needed to build the necessary bridges.  Last year’s High‑Level Conference on Counter‑Terrorism generated political attention, she noted, adding that the next conference of this kind should be seized as an opportunity to conclude the convention.

The representative of Sierra Leone, associating himself with the African Group, the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, highlighted the importance of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in addressing terrorism in the West African subregion.  Recalling the ECOWAS session on Mali in July 2020 and the spread of violence from that country to Niger and Burkina Faso, he voiced his support for a strong mandate for United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  He further supported the development of a comprehensive convention on international terrorism, calling for all Member States to reach a consensus agreement on the issue.

The representative of Malaysia voiced support for convening a high‑level conference on counter‑terrorism under the auspices of the United Nations as an important way to move ahead on this matter.  Its convening should not hinge on the completion of the convention on terrorism.  While the measures imposed to control the pandemic, such as border controls, have a negative impact on the operational activities of terrorists, it also exposes the public to the dangers of online radicalisation.  Noting the need to win hearts and minds in the psychological war against terrorism, he said that his country will join New Zealand and Australia in the “Christchurch Call for Action”.

The representative of China voiced his rejection of double‑standards and interference in the affairs of other countries under the guise of combating terrorism.  Noting that terrorists are using the COVID‑19 pandemic to further carry out their activities, he called for assistance for developing countries to improve their counter‑terrorism capacities.  Responding to the statement made by the representative of the United States regarding Xinjiang‑related issues, he emphasized that those accusations were completely baseless. Xinjiang has suffered from terrorism and extremism.  The Government took a series of preventative and de‑radicalization measures that have resulted in no terrorist attacks in Xinjiang in the past three years.  He urged the United States to stop fabricating lies and interfering in China’s internal affairs under the guise of Xinjiang-related issues.

The representative of Israel highlighted her country’s National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing, which works to coordinate and design counter‑terrorism policy on the domestic level, with a focus on unearthing financial infrastructure and networks that support terrorism.  Commending contributions made by many Member States on the domestic front, including the recent adoption of important designations of terrorist organizations, she stressed the importance of focusing on victims of terrorism.  Underscoring the need for a comprehensive convention on international terrorism that would adopt a zero‑tolerance approach to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, she said that no cause or grievance could or should ever justify or excuse terrorism.

The representative of Egypt, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, the African Group and the OIC, said that the country issued its first national report on counter‑terrorism efforts earlier this year.  The Government’s law enforcement apparatus is now able to respond to the threats imposed by terrorist organizations in parallel with fighting radical discourse and eliminating poverty.  Highlighting efforts at the legislative level, he pointed to several recent laws that address countering money laundering, terrorist entities and individuals, and countering electronic crimes.  Further, Egyptian religious institutions are sparing no effort in countering terrorism and monitoring radical ideas, he said, adding that the country recently managed to thwart a number of terrorist acts in northern Sinai.

The representative of Turkey said that COVID‑19 may have affected terrorist and criminal groups but has not deter them from seeking new ways to continue their activities, including via online platforms.  Cautioning against a selective approach to combat the threat, he said that fighting against one terrorist organization while relying upon support from others leads to serious flaws in countering terrorism efforts.  Expressing regret that members of terrorist organizations are still allowed to exploit the right to asylum in certain countries to circumvent justice, he said the principle of "extradite or prosecute" should universally be implemented.  Also noting that Turkey has been at the forefront of countering terrorist organizations with a broad spectrum of ideologies, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al‑Qaida, and PKK/YPG [Kurdish Workers’ Party], he said its security operations have curtailed such groups’ ability to plan and perpetrate acts of violence.

The representative of Georgia, aligning himself with the European Union, said that, while Georgia is listed as a country with a low impact of terrorism, the Government continues to advance counter‑terrorism measures.  This includes preventing the movement of foreign terrorist fighters by strengthening border and customs security.  He also highlighted the phenomenon of so‑called grey zones — areas that are beyond the control of a central government and that provide fertile grounds for illicit activities.  Several such zones are present in the Russian occupied regions of Georgia as they are outside of national and international control and monitoring.

Right of Reply

The representative of India, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, condemned “the incessant rant” of Pakistan’s representative and said he should not whip out numbers whose veracity is unconfirmed.  Calling Pakistan a nation steeped in medievalism, he said that country systematically cleansed its minorities through abuse of blasphemy laws and forced conversions. Furthermore, the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir is an indelible part of India, he stressed.

Responding, the representative of Pakistan, emphasizing that India’s attempts to mislead the international community is regrettable, but not surprising. Obfuscation is an all‑too familiar ploy from that country.  India has not only used terrorism as a policy against Pakistan, but against its own Muslim population.  Mr. Modi [Prime Minister of India] is responsible for the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, he said, adding that India is financing terrorist organizations to impede the China‑Pakistan economic corridor.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Cameroon, Qatar, Peru, Guatemala, Oman, Sudan, Ecuador, South Africa, Morocco, Djibouti, Japan and Cuba.

For information media. Not an official record.