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23 November 2020

Anticipating Rise in Extremist Activity amid COVID-19, Counter-Terrorism Committees Striving to Continue Work Despite Severe Restrictions, Chairs tell Security Council

Anticipating intensified terrorist activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Security Council counter-terrorism subcommittees are striving to maintain continuity in their work despite severe restrictions, the Chairs of those Council subsidiary bodies said today in their periodic briefing to Council members.

Early in the outbreak the Counter-Terrorism Committee and key expert groups expressed concern, reiterated by other United Nations reports, that terrorists and violent extremist groups would seek to exploit the global disruption caused by the pandemic, Tarek Ladeb (Tunisia) Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee, said as he opened the meeting and spoke of inter-Committee coordination on behalf of the following:

The Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al-Qaida, and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities; the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1373 (2001) concerning counter-terrorism; and the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1540 (2004).

Mr. Ladeb said that to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, the Committees are sustaining their efforts to assist States to implement all respective resolutions, with a priority focus on ensuring their activities continue.  As travel has been severely restricted, however, all expert groups have stepped up regular joint consultation with each other and States using the range of technologies available.  Coordination continues with outside experts as well.  Planning for joint country visits remains constant, with visits planned in hybrid-remote models.

Expert groups also continue to coordinate on the prevention of terrorist financing, he said.  In June, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the Analytic Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team issued a joint report on actions taken by Member States to disrupt such financing, in relation to the implementation of resolution 2462 (2019).  According to the report — based on a survey submitted to the wider membership and for which answers were received from 112 Member States — public-private partnerships and partnerships with civil society actors were among the areas in which more work was seen as necessary.  

Despite the progress achieved through increased joint informal consultations and coordination, however, pandemic-related restrictions have resulted in the postponement of many of the Committees’ core activities, including a number of country visits that had been planned for the CTED to assess Member States’ counter-terrorism strengths, weaknesses and technical assistance needs in implementing resolution 1373 (2001) and other relevant resolutions.

Currently, he said, it is critical to attend to emerging threats sparked by the pandemic, such as innovations due to the global increase in online presence.  At the same time, however, innovation can help counter terrorist and proliferation activity.  The use of Unmanned Aerial Systems, for example, is being explored for that purpose, as the three expert groups have learned from Global Coordination Compact briefings.  The Committees may further explore the implications of this and other emerging issues.  In any case, the terrorist threat will continue to evolve, making continued coordination between all Committees even more crucial in the current environment, he stressed.

Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), Chair of the 1267 Committee, said that terrorist groups are using the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to advance their propaganda and fundraising efforts.  While ISIL/Da’esh currently represents an entrenched rural insurgency unable to threaten urban areas on a sustained basis, the group has increased its operations in the core conflict zones of Iraq and Syria.  Al-Qaida, meanwhile, is consolidating its presence in regions beyond its historical stronghold in Afghanistan.  He added that the relationship between these two terrorist groups remains fraught and idiosyncratic, depending on regional dynamics.

Turning to the effects COVID-19 on the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, he noted that — despite regional and country visits being a key element of the Monitoring Team’s mandate — previously approved trips could not take place due to the pandemic, notably visits to Syria, Iraq and Vienna.  He then detailed the methodologies the Committee adopted to continue its work during COVID-19.  Since the beginning of 2020, the Committee has agreed to add four individuals and five entities to its ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida sanctions list and has also removed three individuals.  Currently, the list comprises 262 individuals and 89 entities.

He further noted that the Committee recently concluded the 2019 annual review of its sanctions list, during which it received a record number of more than 40 responses from Member States.  The Monitoring Team updates list entries based on information provided by Member States and the contribution and cooperation thereof is crucial to both keeping the sanctions list current and ensuring the effective implementation of sanctions measures.  He urged Member States that have not done so to submit the implementation reports mandated under the relevant Security Council resolutions, stressing that the Council can target their response effectively only if they have access to reliable and up-to-date information.

Mr. Ladeb, taking the floor again in his capacity as Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee, affirmed that terrorist groups — including ISIL/Da’esh, Al-Qaida, and their affiliates — continue to pose grave threats to peace and security around the world, in particular in Africa and in South and South-East Asia.  A further major concern, he added, is the increase in terrorist acts committed by lone actors and by individuals and groups embracing what is referred to by several Member States as “extreme right-wing" terrorism or “racially and ethnically motivated terrorism”.  These various groups and individuals have demonstrated their ability to adapt to the current unprecedented situation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic by continuing to exploit new technologies for radicalization, recruitment and fundraising purposes, among other things.

The Committee has therefore worked to ensure business continuity, with the support of its Executive Directorate, including by convening regular informal–informal meetings through closed and open video teleconferences, he said.  The assessment of Member States’ implementation efforts remains central.  Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the Directorate conducted 12 assessment visits on the Committee’s behalf, but it was able to conduct only two assessment visits earlier this year, to Equatorial Guinea and Qatar, respectively, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.  In order to continue engagement with Member States, the Committee is currently considering proposed hybrid modality assessment visits on a temporary basis, through a virtual component and subsequently, as soon as circumstances permit, through a physical on-site component.

Turning to his Committee’s priorities during the period of the COVID-19 restrictions, he called for particular attention to the possible short, medium and long-term impacts of the pandemic on the global terrorism landscape.  In addition, all counter-terrorism must remain high on the international peace and security agenda, with partnerships widened and strengthened.  He pledged that his Committee and its Executive Directorate will continue to assess all factors and to proactively support the efforts of the Council and Member States to address the ever-evolving global terrorist threat.

Mr. Djani, speaking a second time, in his capacity as Chair of the 1540 Committee, said that while its mandate differs from the other Committees, there are important complementary areas and resolution 2325 (2016) reiterates the need to enhance cooperation among those three Committees.  He went on to note that resolution 1540 (2004) was approved to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery to and by non-State actors.  It further obliges States to adopt measures to prohibit non-State actors from manufacturing, acquiring, transporting or using those weapons and requires measures to account for and secure such items.

As a result of delays due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Committee had decided that activities related to the comprehensive review for this year will be postponed until 2021, with the exception of review activities that can be addressed in an online format.  However, despite the pandemic, the Committee continues to undertake activities to promote the full implementation of the resolution and to assist States in strengthening national capacity, he said.

Country Statements

Following those briefings, Security Council members took the floor, thanking the Committees for adapting their methods in order to continue their work despite the challenges of COVID-19.  Speakers also affirmed deep concern about the continuing and evolving threat of terrorism, with many seconding the Committee’s warnings of the possibility that extremists could make use of opportunities provided by the lockdown.  Some also discussed the emerging prominence of right-wing extremist groups.  Speakers urged the Counter-Terrorism Committees to keep strengthening their coordination, continue assisting countries in implementation of their obligations under Council resolutions and to monitor evolving threats.  Many surveyed the range of concerns of the various Committees, respectively, pointing out priorities in each area of expertise.  Several speakers also affirmed the need to strictly respect international human rights law while fighting terrorism.

The representative of the United States, pointing out that thousands of foreign terrorist fighters and their families remain stranded in conflict areas, said that the threat posed by ISIL/Da’esh will continue unless States adhere to their obligations under international law and repatriate their nationals.  Meanwhile, terrorist groups have been exploiting the pandemic to spread misinformation and garner support for their cause, adapting their messaging to threaten legitimate Governments and incite violence.  The fear, anxiety and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have created a fertile ground for racially and ethnically motivated terrorism that promotes the collapse of society in order to restructure political systems to marginalize certain groups.  She called on the international community to counter this threat globally and systematically.  Further, she expressed concern about the increased use of weapons of mass destruction, particularly the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.

The representative of the Dominican Republic, highlighting the challenges and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, called on the international community to work together to renew its effort to continue confronting terrorism’s consistent threat to global peace and security.  The cruelty of groups like ISIL/Da’esh “knows no limits.”  He expressed concern that terrorist groups are exploiting the COVID-19 crisis, serving as further evidence of their ability to adopt new modalities in the face of external events to continue inciting violence around the world.  It is important to address the root causes that foster violence and lead to terrorism – socioeconomic, political and humanitarian conditions which the pandemic has exacerbated exponentially.  Moreover, the resurgent use of chemical weapons and the continuing perfection of nuclear and ballistic weapons and their delivery systems highlights the need to fully implement resolution 1540 (2004).

The representative of Belgium applauded the adaptation and delivery of the work of the Counter-terrorism Committees so that they can perform their critical functions during the pandemic.  He called on all related actors to continue in the same vein.  Affirming that the locked-down global population, particularly youth, are more vulnerable to extremist propaganda, he affirmed the need to intensify efforts to fight radicalization and all forms of intolerance.  In all areas, the integrated United Nations global strategy should be followed to better address the root causes of terrorism and fight impunity.  His country will continue to perform its task to bolster counter-terrorism cooperation within Europe’s borders and beyond, including on the fight to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of non-State actors.  It is important to maintain international human rights law in all such efforts, he added.

The representative of the Russian Federation welcomed the three Committees’ adaptation to challenging conditions.  The hybrid visits are a particularly useful interim measure in order to keep communications with national counter-terrorist actors.  Balance in reviews, meanwhile, must be kept, along with the need for stemming the financing of terrorism.  Despite the monitoring of many thematic areas, the high politicization of combating extremism and collecting evidence in conflict zones remains a problem.  A renewed focus, on the other hand, is needed on returnees who have travelled while carrying out terrorist activities and other matters involved with foreign terrorist fighters.  Stemming the activities of ISIL is also a priority for his country.

He emphasized that monitoring groups should rely only on verified information.  Regarding weapons of mass destruction, he stressed that the coordinated work of all Member States is most crucial in this area.  Therefore, common positions with partners must always be sought.  Provision of technical assistance is the most important area of the 1540 Committee.  Services cannot be imposed on Member States, however.  It is important to universally prevent the spread of chemical and biological weapons in particular.  In that regard, the improved regime that the Russian Federation has proposed for such weapons should be established rather than a continuation of divisive declarations such as those made by the United States representative.

The representative of Estonia welcomed efforts to integrate human rights and gender issues throughout all CTED activities, including through assessment visits and thematic briefings.  Given the differential impact of terrorism on the human rights of women and girls, female participation in developing strategies to counter terrorism is essential, he stressed.  As for the effects of the pandemic on Security Council Committee and Counter-Terrorism Committee meetings, he said it is regrettable that the meetings are still considered informal.  The use of chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria by ISIL underscore inconsistencies in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration and indicate that the regime keeps unaccounted stockpiles which continue to be vulnerable to terrorist seizure.  In that regard, resolution 1540 (2004) remains one of the most critical instruments in ensuring that those threats do not materialize, he said.

China’s representative commended the three Committees for maintaining normal activities during COVID-19.  The socioeconomic fallout caused by the pandemic exacerbates the conditions conducive for terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, he said, underscoring the importance of international cooperation.  On the 1267 Committee, he commended its efforts to carry out regular reviews of sanctions list and improve its working method, which have produced positive results.  Delisting and exemptions must be objective and based on evidence and consensus.  He also expressed hope that the Counter-Terrorism Committee would enhance dialogue with Member States, especially developing countries, to prevent terrorist organizations from gaining strength during the pandemic.  Voicing support for the 1540 Committee, he said his country has adopted export control and biosecurity laws to strengthen its own non-proliferation and export control regime and contributed to training in other Asia-Pacific countries.

France’s representative said that terrorist groups have been more organized to commit deadly attacks, stressing the need for the international community to act in a coordinated manner.  Initiated by her country, the Security Council demonstrated unity in adopting resolution 2462 (2019) aimed at choking terrorist financing.  She called for the holding of a joint meeting with the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the 1267 Committee as soon as health conditions allow.  The Counter-Terrorism Committee needs to continue to carry out evaluations and tailor visits to the current context.  On the 1267 Committee, she said the fight against terrorists must be carried out in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law and commended cooperation among the Committee, Ombudsperson and the Monitoring Team.  On the 1540 Committee, France has a solid unique national legal framework on non-proliferation and will fully participate in next year’s comprehensive review of the Committee.

The representative of Tunisia, speaking in his national capacity, said that, despite the international community’s best efforts, the threat of terrorism changes but not does not disappear.  Groups like ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida and their affiliates have adapted to their military defeat in Iraq and Syria and are currently exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to advance their interests around the world.  He expressed concern regarding the growth of terrorism and violent extremism in conflict zones, which renders these conflicts bloodier and harder to resolve.  The international community must remain “one step ahead” of terrorist groups and keep pace with emerging trends, he stressed, and must maintain vigilance and unity in its collective response to terrorism both during and after the pandemic.

The representative of the United Kingdom pointed out that ISIL/Da’esh continues to pose a threat in Syria, Iraq and beyond, and recovery from their “reign of terror” continues for many.  He stressed that any justice mechanism must respect human rights and the rule of law, ensuring fair trials and respect for due process.  Expressing support for the work of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), he stressed that there must be no impunity for those who use sexual violence and human trafficking to fund and support terrorism, and investigations into crimes of sexual violence must be safe, ethical and effective.  He also expressed concern about increased violence perpetrated by right-wing terrorists.  Prevention remains the cornerstone of the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism strategy, seeking to address the causes of radicalization as people spend more time at home online, susceptible to increased terrorist recruitment efforts.  He further expressed concern regarding human-rights violations perpetrated against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.  Cultural and religious rights have been severely restricted, and credible reports point to forced labour, forced birth control and the detention of up to 1.8 million people without trial.  This is a counterproductive approach to counter-terrorism which will only increase radicalization, he said.

The representative of Indonesia, speaking in his national capacity, encouraged the Committees to strengthen efforts to cooperate and coordinate their activities.  While acknowledging positive developments in achieving the Committees’ mandates, the nature of evolving and transforming threats mean that they must be flexible and creative in finding solutions without compromising their rules and guidelines, he said, calling for ways to find compromise to ensure the continuity of the Committees’ work.

Viet Nam’s representative commended the work of the Committees, including joint visits to Member States, joint open briefings, development of guidelines and outreach to regional organizations.  “Their rich expertise and close cooperation have been instrumental in achieving success in assessing and responding to the threat of terrorism,” he said.  The challenge of foreign terrorist fighters and their family members returning to their home country must be tackled in unity and cohesion, he said, stressing the importance of international and regional cooperation, as “no country is safe until all is safe”.

South Africa’s representative condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, expressing support for the full implementation of Council resolution 1540 (2004) and calling for the further development and enhancement of regional strategic partnerships, including with the African Union, on counter-terrorism and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Calling for a holistic approach to counter terrorism that seeks to engage with and address the root-causes of radicalization to terrorism, not least underdevelopment and poverty, he said that of equal importance is the need to provide the requisite technical and capacity-building assistance to Member States. 

The representative of Germany thanked all the Committees and groups of experts for their excellent work under difficult conditions.  He welcomed extending the focus to right-wing extremism.  All counter-terrorism measures must be pursued within human rights standards, he said, expressing concern about Xinjiang in that regard.  Humanitarian principles must also be complied with and the gender-dimension addressed.  On weapons of mass destruction, he pointed to Syria as an example of the importance of the problem.  He welcomed progress in implementing resolution 1540 (2004), noting cooperation of other organizations towards that end.  Threats stemming from new technology should also be addressed under the resolution and his country has been developing strategies for that purpose.  He affirmed that only a unified, trans-global and trans-sectoral response could be effective against all terrorism.

The representative of Niger said that terrorism clearly remains the top threat to international peace and security, along with the possibility of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of non-State actors.  Strengthening international and national capacity in both areas is therefore urgent, particularly in the Sahel and other African regions.  He called for further strengthening of cooperation between the Committees and their partners and quicker action against radicalization, new technologies and strategies used by terrorist and other emerging threats.  He pledged his country’s continued cooperation with all international bodies concerned with fighting the scourge of terrorism.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Council President for November, spoke in her national capacity, commending the work of the Counter-Terrorism Committee amid the COVID-19 pandemic, also acknowledging the questionnaire completed by 112 Member States, which facilitated the joint report of the CTED and the Monitoring Team on actions taken to disrupt terrorism financing.  Expressing concern about a surge of ISIL/Da’esh activity in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, she recognized the important role played by the 1267 Committee.  While several planned events in the comprehensive review were postponed and cancelled due to COVID-19, her delegation welcomed the virtual outreach and training events the 1540 Committee hosted.

Taking the floor a second time, China’s representative rejected remarks made by his counterpart from the United Kingdom, saying that he attacked China’s measures to prevent terrorism in a show of that country’s double standards.  People in the Xinjiang province enjoy a secure life.  In the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), more than 50 Member States have expressed opposition to “attacks” launched by some delegations against China and have expressed support for his country on the subject.  The purpose of today’s meeting was for Council members to discuss ways to enhance coordination among the three Committees.

For information media. Not an official record.