Collective responses to counter-terrorism and organized crime are needed now more than ever before, as the COVID-19 pandemic poses new challenges to vulnerable States, United Nations officials told the Security Council in a videoconference meeting* on 6 August.
Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that, during the pandemic, national authorities may see organized criminal groups and terrorists seeking to capitalize on and exploit new vulnerabilities. Transit patterns are shifting in view of travel restrictions and lockdown measures, adding further challenges for border security. Presenting findings of the Secretary-General’s latest report on actions taken by Member States and United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact entities to address linkages between terrorism and organized crime (document S/2020/754), she highlighted key points, including measures taken by more than 50 Member States and United Nations agencies and recommendations for action going forward. Member States had emphasized a range of adopted measures, including ratifying relevant legal instruments, fighting money-laundering, terrorist financing and corruption by strengthening financial intelligence units and strengthening border security and international coordination by collecting and analysing passenger data.
Outlining recommendations in the report, she said Member States indicated that more efforts were needed in cross-border cooperation, including through regional platforms, bilateral information‑sharing agreements and the exchange of law enforcement liaison officers. Several areas were identified for intensified action to fully respond to resolution 2482 (2019) and to further develop and disseminate the good practices reported by Member States, including such steps as strengthening land, air and sea border security through data collection tools, control systems and enhanced coordination. The report also focused on the importance of measures targeting specific links between terrorism and organized crime, for example, between drug trafficking and terrorism financing, while highlighting the need for more research to better understand the nature of these linkages and the vulnerabilities of different sectors to exploitation. As part of the Global Compact, UNODC remains committed to leveraging its experience and expertise on organized crime and terrorism, she said.
Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, provided an overview of the first Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week on the theme “strategic and practical challenges of countering terrorism in a global pandemic environment”. Noting that more than 1,000 people participated, including representatives of 134 Member States, 88 civil society and private sector organizations, 47 international and regional organizations and 40 United Nations entities, he said discussions demonstrated a shared understanding and concern among Member States that terrorists are generating funds from illicit trafficking in drugs, goods, natural resources and antiquities, alongside kidnapping for ransom, extortion and other heinous crimes. Speakers highlighted a significant rise in cybercrime in recent months, with a 350 per cent increase in phishing websites in the first quarter of 2020, with attacks primarily on hospital and health-care systems, hindering their vital work in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers also noted the importance of ensuring that efforts to address the nexus between terrorism and organized crime are proportionate to the threat and fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. These views will feed into a postponed second, in-person counter-terrorism week in 2021, which will coincide with the seventh biennial review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
The world has yet to fully understand the impact and consequences of the pandemic on global peace and security, and more specifically on organized crime and terrorism, he continued. Terrorists are exploiting the significant disruption and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to spread fear, hate and division and radicalize and recruit new followers. The increase in Internet usage and cybercrime during the pandemic further compounds the problem. The Secretary-General’s report includes several examples of how the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact entities are providing capacity-building support and technical assistance to Member States. Highlighting some of his office’s joint efforts with partners, he said initiatives include assisting Member States in such areas as counter-financing of terrorism, helping to develop a project with partners to enhance criminal justice responses to stop trafficking of small arms and light weapons, and leading the United Nations Countering Terrorist Travel Programme, with 36 nations now formally participating. His office also helps Member States to manage violent extremist prisoners, a crucial element in addressing the nexus between terrorism and organized crime, and supporting efforts to prevent these groups from gaining access to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials and dual use equipment, including through the “darknet”. While resolution 2482 (2019) emphasizes the need for cooperation for a global response, more work needs to be done to study how these linkages evolve. Member States are rightly focused on tackling the health emergency and human crisis caused by COVID-19, which has the potential to act as a catalyst in the spread of terrorism and violent extremism by exacerbating inequalities, undermining social cohesion and fuelling local conflicts. “We must continue our fight against terrorist groups and criminal networks to deny them the opportunity to exploit the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “Collective action and international cooperation are needed now more than ever.”
In the ensuing discussion, members commended ongoing cooperation to combat the intertwined threat of terrorism and organized crime, with some offering suggestions about national and regional experiences. Many agreed that the terrorism and organized crime links vary among region, but are manifold and evolving, particularly regarding the COVID-19 crisis.
Belgium’s delegate said these links have transcended the pandemic, adapting to new related restrictions by going online, among other things. Although many Member States have already adopted responses to address these linkages, both terrorism and organized crime continue to dangerously undermine the rule of law and human rights. These endeavours must respect international humanitarian law, human rights and the rule of law, which is ever more relevant in the framework of the COVID-19 pandemic, and require an intense cooperation and coordination at the international, regional and national levels alongside a global, whole-of-society approach. Recalling that Belgium, as well as many other Council members, has been harshly hit by terrorist attacks and violent extremism, she said her delegation and its partners remain committed to both efficiently addressing the linkages and cutting off sources of terrorism financing.
Niger’s delegate said Africa is among areas vulnerable to the twin threats, pointing to obvious links in the Sahel region, with terrorist groups who impose informal taxation on goods that cross their territories and use criminal networks to finance activities through kidnapping for ransom, trafficking, illegal migration and the exploitation of artisanal mines, and in the Horn of Africa, where Al-Shabaab finances itself through human and drug trafficking, cattle rustling and piracy. These groups prey on areas with weak State presence, replacing legitimate authorities and providing basic social services to needy local populations, who feel marginalized by the central Government. In such areas, COVID-19 restrictions have exacerbated an already dire situation. The upheavals in Libya and Mali, between 2011 and 2012, have accentuated the region’s fragility and strengthened the establishment of criminal networks, with local economies now controlled by terrorists and smugglers. In response, Niger has strengthened its legislative and institutional framework and set up several structures, including the Central Service for Combating Terrorism and Cross-Border Crime. At the subregional level, Niger is party to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Action Plan to Combat Illicit Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime and Drug Abuse in West Africa. However, the global nature of these threats requires greater cooperation among States, with the United Nations playing its important role. The Governments of affected African States must be supported in their efforts to secure their borders, he said, appealing to Member States, the United Nations and partners to intensify and diversify efforts, and calling for the effective implementation of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
Selma Ennaifer, Secretary for State of Tunisia, agreed that the nexus between terrorist and criminal groups is an opportunistic one. The phenomena share several similarities, especially their ability to exploit local grievances and thrive on political instability, armed conflict, corruption, poor economic conditions and social unrest. Both also resort to barbaric force and can have repercussions on international peace and security, necessitating comprehensive, unified responses. In that regard, she called for systems of rapid information‑sharing, robust capacity-building and enhanced cooperation among all relevant actors. For example, effective communication with the private sector can result in more accurate mechanisms for preventing terrorism financing. She advocated for more efforts to address the underlying drivers of terrorism and organized crime — including through bolstered sustainable development, the peaceful settlement of conflict, reduced inequality, protected human rights and good governance — and underlined the need for all counter‑terrorism efforts to be in full compliance with international law.
France’s representative said her delegation has mobilized efforts “on all fronts”, from preventing radicalization to combating the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes, for which it launched with New Zealand the Christchurch Appeal, bringing together some 50 countries and organizations with major companies. Top priorities remain the fight against financing terrorism by drying up funding sources, she said, underlining the need to adapt legal and operational frameworks, in line with resolution 2482 (2019), to improve the transparency of financial flows, strengthen information sharing and develop cooperation with the private sector. International cooperation, between States and within the United Nations, is more necessary than ever before, she said, commending UNODC and the Office of Counter-Terrorism for their cooperation and INTERPOL for promoting information exchanges and enhancing trust between operational partners. Recalling that the fight against terrorism and organized crime must be conducted in full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and international humanitarian law, she said combatting impunity remains a priority. In this regard, cooperation between intelligence services and judicial authorities is essential to neutralize the threat and deliver justice.
China’s representative, describing terrorism and organized crime as “mutually colluding” global security threats, called on the international community to take concerted action to combat them. Underlining the need to uphold the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations in all counter‑terrorism efforts, he said Member States bear the primary responsibility in that arena. Their sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be fully respected. Calling for tangible measures to counter the links between terrorist groups and organized crime — including the trafficking of arms, persons, drugs, artefacts, cultural property, natural resources and wildlife — he also requested enhanced synergy at international and regional levels; closer coordination among relevant United Nations agencies; support for Member States’ domestic capacities; renewed efforts to end terrorism financing; and strengthened multilateralism amid the COVID‑19 pandemic. Double standards and politicization must be avoided, he stressed, pledging China’s continued support to its partners — especially developing countries and African nations — on matters related to counter-terrorism and organized crime.
The representative of the United States said whole-of-Government and whole‑of-society approaches are vital to address the complex nature of the crimes involving terrorist and organized crime groups, with strong border security, regional cooperation and intelligence‑sharing. Resolution 2396 (2017) remains an important tool, she said, urging Member States to request, as needed, technical assistance or capacity-building in collecting and analysing advance passenger information. Existing treaties and international counter-terrorism instruments and protocols also provide a useful framework to facilitate law enforcement cooperation. For its part, the United States has used the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as a legal basis more than 650 times since 2005 to provide or request mutual legal assistance, extradition and other forms of international legal cooperation with at least 99 countries. It is also important to engage local communities and civil society to address the underlying conditions conducive to the spread of violent extremism or transnational organized crime. Commending strides taken since the adoption of resolution 2482 (2019), she said her delegation recommends that the United Nations strengthen its cooperation with international platforms like the Global Counter‑Terrorism Forum and regional and subregional organizations.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said that an effective fight against terrorism and crime requires an understanding of poverty, socioeconomic and political exclusion, underdevelopment, irresponsible arms sales and persistent conflict. “Counter‑terrorist interventions should not be shaped by which side of the border atrocities are committed or by the utility of particular groups to narrow and cynical short-term political objectives,” she stressed, condemning all forms of terrorism — whether or not they are State-sponsored. As a small island developing State with limited resources, porous borders and a large maritime territory, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines prioritizes regional and international coordination and works to address transnational crime through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and other alliances. Noting that transnational crime is on the rise, she urged States to improve the flow of criminal intelligence and information-sharing and called for a renewed focus on sustainable development in fragile contexts.
The representative of the Dominican Republic welcomed progress in the strengthening of national mechanisms for the prevention, control, prosecution and investigation of terrorism-related crimes, noting that his country has passed strong laws against organized crime and crimes related to terrorist financing. It has also ratified the Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Budapest Convention. Emphasizing the importance of ensuring a secure cyberspace — where human life has increasingly moved during the COVID-19 pandemic — he underlined the need to remain vigilant against terrorist groups who conduct radicalization and financing activities online. States must work with UNODC and other relevant actors to strengthen and develop national and international mechanisms to keep up with the rapid pace of organized crime, and activities related to terrorism, in cyberspace.
Nguyen Minh Vu, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, said the Council should and could play a more active role. Given the current landscape, it is time to address challenges from these twin threats from both technical and strategic perspectives in the short and long term. Offering several suggestions, he recalled that Member States — with the exclusive legal right to the use of force within their jurisdiction — have the primary responsibility for countering terrorism and organized crime. Such measures must conform with the Charter of the United Nations, international law and respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the countries concerned. More broadly, stakeholders must develop, mainstream and substantially invest in a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of terrorism and organized crimes in Member States, including extreme poverty, inequality, unemployment and social marginalization. Regional and international cooperation must be enhanced, particularly in preventing financing for terrorism and the recruitment flows. The international community can further support countries, especially developing ones, in exchanging information and sharing experience and best practices. For its part, Viet Nam worked to improve the legal, economic and financial framework to better reduce the risk of terrorist financing, combat organized crime and fulfil obligations under Security Council resolutions and the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime. At the regional level, Viet Nam and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries have taken steps, including the 2019-2021 Work Plan of the Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime.
South Africa’s delegate said the Secretary-General’s latest report makes clear that, while the nature of the threat posed by these issues varies considerably throughout the world, significant progress has been made. The steady development of a body of international law, with support from specialized United Nations agencies has contributed to shoring up the global response. South Africa has integrated the provisions of relevant international instruments into its national legislation, supported by national strategies and mechanisms, including its National Counter-Terrorism Strategy. South Africa is also an active member of the Financial Action Task Force and complies with all review processes in an ongoing effort to improve domestic systems. The transnational nature of these often multilayered threats can only effectively be countered by equally robust international countermeasures allowing real-time information‑sharing. In further developing such systems, it becomes clear that they can only ever be as strong as their weakest point. As such, continued support for Member States with capacity constraints and unique challenges, such as large, porous borders, is vital, and efforts must address the root causes and drivers of both terrorism and organized crime. South Africa will continue to support the evolving global response, with the United Nations leading the way.
Estonia’s representative recalled, that six years ago, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh) unleashed a massacre against Yazidi men and women in Iraq, providing an atrocious, vivid example of how terrorism does not only pose a threat to international peace and security, but also significantly affects the lives of millions of ordinary people worldwide. Very often, this spread of extremist violence relies on weapons and finances, delivered through organized crime networks. As such, countering terrorism requires a better understanding of the intricate link between transnational crime and terrorist activities. Estonia recognizes the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate’s work in providing Member States and the Council with updates on the development of this complex link. These contributions permit countries to coordinate comprehensive national, regional and international efforts to stop the fueling of violent extremism. As such, Estonia has benefitted from United Nations insights in developing a plan and priorities for the next decade. At the regional level, he highlighted the role played by European Union agencies in combating all forms of international organized crime and terrorism, welcoming their increased cooperation with the United Nations.
Retno L.P. Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia and Council President for August, speaking in her national capacity, said the fight against COVID-19 must not be allowed to hinder the fight against terrorism. The effects of the phenomenon are becoming more severe during the pandemic, as it further intertwines with organized crime. “A stronger terror and crime nexus, in any form, can lead to devastating global impacts,” she stressed, warning that it will also pose greater challenges to tackling the coronavirus. Against that backdrop, she called for stepped‑up, cross-silo efforts to address the terror-crime nexus, as mandated by resolution 2482 (2019). Policies must be adjusted, with more synergy as the pandemic continues to limit resources. She advocated for changes to prison protocols, which would help prevent the spread of terrorism, and for bolstering domestic legislation to better address the crime-terror nexus. Indonesia’s own stand-alone terrorist financing laws allow for the punishment of financiers separately from acts of terror. Meanwhile, the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation is among several institutions helping to build the capacity of law enforcement officials from around the world, she said.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Germany, Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.
* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.