Marking the twentieth anniversary of the landmark anti-terrorism resolution adopted in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Security Council today renewed its determination to further strengthen the unified and coordinated international response against those heinous acts.
Acting under a temporary silence procedure induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tunisia, Council President for January, issued a presidential statement (document S/PRST/2021/1), in which the 15-member organ reaffirmed that terrorism in all forms and manifestations continues to constitute one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.
Reiterating the obligations of Member States to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism, the Council highlighted the need to enhance cooperation among its various relevant committees and develop effective partnerships among the United Nations, regional and subregional organizations in countering terrorism.
Recognizing the significant challenges many Member States face in countering terrorism and violent extremism, the Council underscored the importance of a whole‑of-government and whole-of-society approach, as well as cooperation with all relevant stakeholders, particularly civil society, encouraging the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and youth in this process. It expressed solidarity with countries that have suffered terrorist attacks and its support for the survivors and victims of terrorist violence, including sexual and gender-based violence.
Further, the Council expressed its concern over the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes, stressing the need for Member States to act cooperatively when taking national measures to prevent terrorists from exploiting technology and communications for their acts.
The Council also reaffirmed that Member States must ensure that any counter‑terrorism measures comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, noting that failure to do so contributes to increased radicalization to violence and fosters a sense of impunity. Also expressed was the Council’s concern that foreign terrorist fighters increase the intensity, duration and intractability of conflicts and may pose a serious threat to their States of origin, transit and destination.
Underscoring the importance of strong coordination and cooperation between the Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate (CTED) and the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, the Council further underlined those entities’ invaluable aid to Member States through technical assistance and identifying capacity gaps to implement resolution 1373 (2001) and relevant subsequent texts.
In the ensuing videoconference meeting, briefers and delegates assessed the implementation of resolution 1373 (2001) on counter-terrorism, which set out various measures for Member States and established the Counter-Terrorism Committee, a subsidiary body of the Security Council.
Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, said that, since the Council bolstered the fight against the threat posed by terrorism to international peace and security by rapidly adopting resolution 1373 (2001) and thus establishing the Counter-Terrorism Committee in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the threat of terrorism has persisted, evolved and spread, causing unspeakable human suffering and loss. Al-Qaida has proven resilient despite the loss of numerous leaders; it pioneered a dangerous transnational model of regional franchises exploiting local fragilities and conflicts. Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was able to harness social media to mobilize and recruit followers worldwide, creating a foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon of an unprecedented scale.
“In the face of these threats, this Council has provided critical impetus and guidance for Member States to demonstrate unity of purpose and action, stepping up national efforts and international cooperation,” he said. This has led to important successes, helping Member States to bring terrorists to justice and to disrupt more attacks. ISIL’s territorial aspirations in Iraq and Syria were defeated, although it remains a threat in the region. Terrorists have sought to exploit disruptions arising from COVID-19, he warned, attempting to benefit from the setbacks to the development and human rights agendas, riding on the wavetops of polarization and hate speech amplified by the pandemic. The threat has become even more difficult to prevent, with low-cost, low-tech attacks against soft targets by so-called lone wolves. “Terrorists are adapting quickly, keen to exploit cyberspace and new technologies, linkages with organized crime, as well as regulatory, human and technical gaps in national capacities,” he said, noting that their tactics are appealing to new groups across the ideological spectrum, including racially, ethnically and politically motivated violent extremist groups.
As a multilateral way forward to effectively prevent and defeat terrorism, he outlined key measures needed, including: international solidarity through practical collaboration and impactful capacity-building; law enforcement and criminal justice responses, as mandated by the Council, to detect, deter and bring terrorists to justice; a renewed commitment to address the underlying conditions and drivers of terrorism that enable it to sustain and spread; a strategic investment in building resilience to terrorism; and engaging more with youth, civil society, the private sector and the scientific community in the fight against the scourge. Public-private partnerships are vital in this regard.
Since 2001, the Council has built upon resolution 1373 (2001) to develop a comprehensive set of measures and guidance for Member States to prevent and counter terrorism, taking on new issues and strengthening attention to international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, he said. Concurrently, supporting Member States’ efforts to implement these requirements has grown as a matter of priority for the United Nations system, guided also by the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy since 2006. “Today, we are more coherent and coordinated than ever in providing this support, thanks to the reform of the counter-terrorism architecture initiated by the Secretary-General in 2017,” he said, citing flagship programmes on countering terrorist travel and financing, and on prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of former combatants.
Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, called the adoption of resolution 1373 (2001) “a seminal moment” when the international community acknowledged the severity of the threat posed by transnational terrorism. Over the subsequent two decades, the United Nations has been at the centre of multilateral efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
“We must continue to remember and honour all victims and survivors of terrorism; promote their rights and needs; and provide them with avenues for healing through justice and support,” she said. In adopting resolution 1373 (2001), the Council established the Counter‑Terrorism Committee to monitor, promote and facilitate States’ implementation of its provisions. Noting that the Committee Executive Directorate was established by resolution 1535 (2004), she said it is charged with assessing States’ implementation of counter-terrorism measures, facilitating the delivery of technical assistance and analysing trends. Its mandate — expanded by more than 20 other Council resolutions — is underpinned by a human-rights‑compliant and gender-sensitive framework.
She described the evolution of the terrorist threat over the last two decades, citing the “dramatic” rise of ISIL/Da’esh, its defeat as a territory‑holding entity and its destructive legacy, which has seen the emergence of affiliates in South Asia, South-East Asia, the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin and in Southern and Eastern Africa. Countering use of the Internet by terrorist groups for recruitment, financing and planning purposes will likewise remain a priority.
Touching on lessons learned, she said the introduction by some States of overly broad domestic counter-terrorism legislation has led to overreach by authorities, human rights violations and suppression of dissent. “We must ensure that future counter-terrorism policies respect the rule of law and are both human‑rights-compliant and gender‑sensitive,” she said, urging States to instead engage all sections of society — including religious, community and women leaders, educators, youth and social workers — in the development of counter-terrorism strategies. They should ensure implementation of national plans and seek to address underlying grievances. She went on to advocate for a “One UN” approach to assist States in developing and implementing effective counter-terrorism measures, while also addressing conditions conducive to terrorism and violent extremism.
Fatima Akilu, Executive Director, Neem Foundation, said her involvement in counter‑terrorism and countering violent extremism — first as part of Government and now as part of civil society — gives her a unique vantage point to survey the landscape. When she established the Neem Foundation in 2016, her team designed and implemented a reintegration programme for people leaving Boko Haram, a trauma‑based programme to address the psychological impact of the insurgency, early warning mechanisms to spot signs of radicalization and a reintegration programme for defectors.
To truly combat terrorism, however, Member States and civil society must cooperate, she said, noting that, while the United Nations recognizes the importance of partnering with civil society, this approach is not always applied by Member States. “When Member States and civil society come together, we have the very best chance of combating terrorism in the long term,” she underscored. Outlining examples, she said the Neem Foundation is working with the Multinational Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin and the Lake Chad Basin Commission to devise a strategic action plan to counter Boko Haram. She also touched on the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission partnership — through the Regional Strategy for the Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience of the Boko Haram Affected Areas — to screen, prosecute, rehabilitate and reintegrate terrorist suspects. The Lake Chad Basin Commission also partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in setting up the first regional platform for civil society groups to work with Governments in devising rehabilitation and reintegration plans.
She went on to stress that women and girls have been disproportionately affected by insurgency and conflict. They are often subjected to gender-based violence at the hands of insurgents and community members alike — sometimes even caregivers. For many women in rural or poor urban communities, where there is often an absence of governance, the only services they receive are from civil society groups. Governments can work with these organizations to identify victims and ensure access to services are expanded for them. “As a current member of civil society, I believe that we are a critical source of expertise, capacity‑building, local knowledge” she said, adding: “We are in a unique position to advise Governments, while providing an evidence base for their policies.” If invited, civil society groups can help build State capacity to prevent terrorism in the areas of negotiation, rehabilitation, reintegration, services for women and girls, as well as adherence to human right norms.
After the briefings, Council members took the floor. Othman Jerandi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia and Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, noting that his delegation chose to hold today’s debate in order to take stock of lessons learned since the creation of the United Nations counter-terrorism regime under resolution 1373 (2001), which has become a reference point for multilateral action and cooperation. For its part, Tunisia has brought domestic legislation in line with Council resolutions and international norms and strengthened its regional cooperation, including through the trans-Sahara coalition to fight terrorism. With support from CTED, Tunis created a national counter-terrorism strategy in 2016. Terrorists, however, remain a threat worldwide, exploiting the social and economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and using new means of communication, such as social networks, to expand their influence. Human and financial resources should be increased to address terrorism as a matter of priority, even during the pandemic. The global community must adopt a preventive approach, building a culture of dialogue, resolving conflict through peaceful means, achieving gender equality, strengthening rule of law and protecting human rights. Linking terrorism to certain ethnic groups, races and religions must be avoided. Governments cannot defeat terrorism alone, he said, stressing the importance of partnerships, including with civil society and the private sector. He added that, as Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee, Tunisia will spare no efforts in the international fight against terrorism.
Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence of Ireland, recalling that his country was a Council member when the Counter-Terrorism Committee was formed, said the resolution establishing the Committee has indeed paid dividends in combating the scourge. As a current Council member, Ireland is determined to bring new momentum to supporting the victims of terrorism and holding perpetrators accountable. Citing his country’s own lived experience of conflict, he said that building peace is not easy, or quick, but it is possible. “We must pull together to provide a stronger framework for multilateral cooperation, a forum for dialogue, support and engagement. Regional and international cooperation remain vital,” he said. Strengthening prevention is also a core priority for Dublin. Noting that poverty and discrimination both contribute to and are exacerbated by terrorism, he urged the Committee to complete its work in assessing the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on terrorism, including in areas where it has increased the threat of terrorism, and to support affected countries in identifying terrorism. Counter-terrorism measures must comply with international law, and involve women, young people and civil society. Ensuring that such measures — including sanctions — do not have an unintended negative impact on those whom most need international support will remain a guiding objective for Ireland during its Council tenure, he said.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Minister for External Affairs of India, proposed an action plan that relies on Member States fulfilling their obligations enshrined in international counter‑terrorism instruments and conventions. “We must not countenance double standards in this battle,” he said, stressing that terrorists are terrorists — “there are no good and bad ones”. Accordingly, the Council must reform the working methods of its sanctions and counter-terrorism committees, he said, describing transparency, accountability and effectiveness as “the need of the day”. The practice of placing blocks and holds on listing requests “without any rhyme or reason” must end. The Council should be on guard against new terminologies and misleading priorities that can dilute its focus. Enlisting and delisting individuals and entities under United Nations sanctions regimes must be done objectively, while links between terrorism and transnational organized crime must be recognized and addressed vigorously. He also urged the Financial Action Task Force to continue to identify and remedy weaknesses in anti-money‑laundering and counter-terror financing frameworks, similarly stressing that funding for United Nations counter-terrorism bodies from the Organization’s regular budget requires immediate attention.
Raychelle Omamo, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Kenya, said the Jihadist terrorist threat in Africa is acute, with ISIL/Da’esh regrouping and seeking safe haven in conflict zones, and Al-Qaida affiliates part of an extensive transnational network. The existential threat of terrorism in Africa is rapidly evolving and conflates the ongoing challenges of poverty, climate change, youth unemployment, women’s vulnerability and the COVID-19 pandemic. The 16 December 2019 indictment of an Al-Shabaab operative in a New York court for conspiring to hijack an aircraft is a potent reminder of the global threat posed by Al-Qaida affiliates. Describing implementation of resolution 1373 (2001) as a minimum requirement for good standing within the international community, she urged delegates “to honestly acknowledge that global consensus against terrorism is not as strong today as it was during the issuing of resolution 1373 (2001).” This places Africa at a great risk, she said, emphasizing that efforts are increasingly held hostage to geopolitics — and terrorists, particularly those affiliated with Al-Qaida or ISIL/Da’esh are encouraged by “our flagging unity”. She called for using the anniversary to “close ranks for the sake of our citizens, our economies and global peace”, starting with tough, united measures that reflect the spirit of resolution 1372 (2001). She affirmed Kenya’s resolve to do its utmost in such efforts.
Monica Mæland, Minister for Justice and Public Security of Norway, said the Counter-Terrorism Committee can best move forward by working closely with the Office of Counter-Terrorism and helping countries through technical and infrastructural assistance to fully comply with Council resolutions. As a nation that has suffered from terrorist attacks, Norway focuses on prevention and a whole-of-society approach, with women, young people, civil society, local communities and Governments all playing important roles. Deeply concerned about the growing misuse of counter-terrorism measures to silence human rights defenders, political opponents and religious or ethnic minorities, she said such measures must not prevent legitimate, principled humanitarian action. Potential future trends must also be considered. In that regard, CTED reports and country assessments are essential, she said, citing a recent UNDP policy brief outlining scenarios where climate change consequences have aggravated the root causes of violent extremism and the growing links among terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence in the Sahel. Online threats can advance conspiracy theories and radicalization, she said, noting with concern that online forums were involved in terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011 and in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. The external financing that sustains terrorist networks must be severed, and the links between organized crime and terrorism disrupted, she said, adding that Norway supports the work of the Financial Action Task Force.
Jüri Luik, Minister for Defence of Estonia, highlighted the United Nations increased cooperation with the European Union, Europol and Eurojust, citing the counter-terrorism partnership in Sudan and joint projects aimed at preventing acts of nuclear terrorism. For counter-terrorism to be successful, States must ensure that all measures comply with international law, he said, condemning attempts to misuse the counter-terrorism agenda as a pretext for human rights violations. Terrorism’s root causes must be addressed, including by improving the socioeconomic situation and by ensuring access to public services reduces the space for violent extremist groups to act, especially during the pandemic-related economic decline. For its part, Estonia supports Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey through information and communications technology and skills trainings, as well as psychological support. Disrupting the immediate threat of direct attacks, breaking up networks and being technologically ahead of their capabilities is also vital. Accountability and denying impunity to perpetrators of crimes against civilians is key both for preventing and countering terrorism, as well as restoring trust and creating conditions for sustainable peace. “As we look ahead towards the next 20 years, we should turn our collective efforts towards these principles instead of dealing with the consequences,” he said.
James Cleverly, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, noted that, since establishing the Counter-Terrorism Committee, the United Nations work on combating terrorism has strengthened. Subsequent resolutions created toolkits to fight terrorism, including through legal cooperation, countering of terrorist financing, aviation security, the inclusion of gender dimensions and civil society engagement. Noting that CTED has helped States implement resolution 1373 (2001), he said the Security Council is not acting alone, pointing out that the fight against ISIL brought together 83 partners. Terrorist threats, however, have evolved and remain. Therefore, the work of the Council remains vital. It must continue to learn and adapt to emerging threats, including those posed by extreme right-wing groups and the longer-term impact of COVID-19. He reaffirmed States’ obligations to protect and promote human rights, and to act within the boundary of international law. He urged China to comply with international obligations, noting that up to 1 million people of a minority community in China are detained in Xinjiang. He went on to stress the need for inclusion, partnership and the whole-of-society approach, and the importance of coherence within the United Nations system, including in capacity-building. As terrorist threats evolve, so must the resolve of the Council and the international community.
Keisal Peters, Minister of State in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, declared: “To successfully mitigate the threat of terrorism, we must look far beyond the domain of military strategy.” Instead, she advocated for long-term development solutions that enhance States’ capacities to address poverty, social inequality, political exclusion and radicalization. Emphasizing that all countries have a duty to take sensible actions to combat terrorism and violent extremism, she warned against irresponsible arms sales, persistent conflicts fuelled by geopolitical rivalries and other counterproductive actions. Countries must also avoid the selective condemnation of terrorist acts, which only undermines collective efforts to tackle the problem. Echoing calls to ensure that all counter-terrorism measures comply with international legal obligations — especially human rights, refugee and humanitarian laws — she also underlined the need to combat the financing of terrorism and bolster international, regional and subregional cooperation on counter-terrorism matters.
The representative of the United States, noting that his country penned resolution 1373 (2001), described it as a successful endeavour, as it drove all Member States to actively criminalize terrorism and build a national road map to bolster counter-terrorism capabilities. Weaknesses in bureaucracies and security practices were brought to light and States then used them to strengthen infrastructures. “We learned we needed new tools to fight terrorism,” he said, adding: “We committed to address this transnational threat together” through whole-of-society approaches. Today, these investments have paid off and CTED has been instrumental in providing a path for Governments to implement related resolutions. The Counter-Terrorism Committee must continue to play an important role in protecting CTED’s independent reporting process, ensuring that the Council’s credibility is not eroded by political censorship. Stressing that efforts must adjust to the evolving terrorist threat, he said tens of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters and their families have not been repatriated. The United States, by contrast, has repatriated 12 adults and 16 children, he said, describing these efforts as the most reasonable solution to prevent people from returning to the battlefield. He went on to emphasize that the United States takes threats from ethically motivated terrorist attacks very seriously, noting that the Department of State designated for the first time a white supremacist group as a global terrorist. Governments, including those represented in the Council, must not use counter-terrorism as pretext for stifling freedom religion or belief.
The representative of Mexico, noting that the Council’s decisions have built a body of counter-terrorism legislation, said nonetheless that forging ahead with a legislative process for behaviour not yet defined on an international level brings multiple challenges. Outlining some of them, he said it is vital that the fight against terrorism be conducted through legal channels, in line with international law. Human rights must not be undermined, with efforts aligned with article 1 of the Geneva Conventions. The fight against terrorism depends on the success of preventive strategies that tackle root causes, requiring efforts to rebuild social fabrics in ways that stem radicalism, and especially far-right terrorism. Better oversight is needed of the transfer of small arms and light weapons, he said, calling broadly for a holistic strategy that harnesses women’s potential for social change. Pressing the international community to make better use of existing instruments to tackle terrorism, he expressed concern about the frequent use of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter in these efforts.
The representative of France, emphasizing that the fight against terrorism cannot succeed without the support of civil society, welcomed Ms. Fatima’s participation as a briefer. France continues to support various projects undertaken by civil society organizations, including those to protect children, he said. Recognizing the increased use of the Internet and social media by terrorists, he encouraged States to join the France-New Zealand initiative to create a shared framework for regulating content online. He went on to say that tackling the financing of terrorism must go further to respond to the growing use of cryptocurrencies. Furthermore, the United Nations must play a leading role in coordinating counter-terrorism efforts, in Africa, for example. He underlined the need for States to abide by international human rights law in the fight against terrorism, saying he looks forward to reviewing the United Nations counter‑terrorism strategy in June.
The representative of the Russian Federation welcomed the presidential statement as “balanced”, recalling that resolution 1373 (2001) led to subsequent decisions that steadily strengthened counter-terrorism measures, including those against financing and propaganda. “Without question, the creation of the Counter‑Terrorism Committee and CTED was a turning point,” he said. Noting that his country supports cooperation between the Office of Counter-Terrorism and CTED, he said it contributes financially to strengthening border security, combating foreign terrorist fighters, countering the use of the Internet by terrorists and blocking illegal weapons supplies. Foreign terrorist fighters returning to their home countries create new hotbeds of instability, he said, pointing out that ISIL, Al-Qaida and their affiliates inspire attacks in countries considered safe. Complicating the situation is the fact that perpetrators of terrorist attacks may be located on another continent, he added. Emphasizing that use of the human rights pretext to refuse cooperation with foreign partners is not acceptable, he said the Security Council pays too much attention to the human rights aspects of counter-terrorism, to the detriment of ensuring security.
The representative of Niger outlined measures his country has taken to tackle terrorism, notably by welcoming CTED during a recent visit. Niger has benefitted from support in building the capacity of law enforcement, border management, legal investigation into terrorist acts, and in addressing the nexus between transnational organized crime and terrorism. Noting that Niger has ratified 14 counter-terrorism instruments and domesticated them into national legislation, he went on to cite the establishment of monitoring institutions, a central counter-terrorism service, a bureau to address terrorist financing, a commission to fight trafficking of migrants and a national commission for human rights. Soon, Niger will have a national strategy for preventing extremism, which will align with CTED’s recommendations in 2018. “States must unreservedly cooperate in the fight against terrorism in line with their obligations under the United Nations Charter,” he said, calling for greater solidarity to support those States most affected by terrorism, efforts to stem financing for these groups and to address such causes as corruption, extreme poverty, youth unemployment and money-laundering.
The representative of Viet Nam said United Nations entities have played an instrumental role in advancing international cooperation and building national capacity to combat terrorism. ISIL/Da’esh suffered major defeat in its last controlled territory. However, the threat of terrorism has also evolved and become more complicated, with groups manoeuvring to expand their networks and deploying new strategies. “The risk of weapons of mass destructions falling into the hands of terrorists remains high,” she warned, also voicing concern about the abuse of new technologies and recruitment tactics — especially during COVID-19. Underlining the importance of international and regional cooperation, she advocated for more information-sharing, as well as continued country visits by the Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate, and urged States to cooperate with those bodies. Meanwhile, more efforts are needed to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered by neutral, impartial, independent agencies in accordance with relevant rules of international law.
The representative of China said the international community must remain vigilant and take a holistic approach to jointly fight terrorism. “Unity is our most powerful weapon in defeating terrorism,” he said, calling for building consensus and sending a unified message to terrorists through coordinated actions. The Counter-Terrorism Committee, CTED and others must work in concert to consolidate the legal framework at national, regional and international levels. He pressed States to abide by a unified standard and reject selectivity, noting that there are no good or bad terrorists. For designated organizations and individuals, all countries have a duty to enforce sanctions. He expressed concern that one Council member has politicized counter-terrorism efforts, which has hampered cooperation and is the main obstacle to implementing resolution 1372 (2001). There must be greater focus on identifying terrorist trends and pursuing new and flexible tools that produce results. He also called for measures that ensure the Internet does not become a safe haven for terrorists, a holistic approach to tackling root causes and a greater sense of urgency in addressing youth education and employment.