Eleventh SG report highlights impacts of COVID-19 on ISIL activities

24 August 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic is having wide-ranging and evolving implications across all areas of work of the United Nations – including international peace and security -according to the Secretary-General’s eleventh report on the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). With Government attention focused on the pandemic, the report raises concerns that terrorist groups might see an opportunity to step up their activities. The report concludes that “while it is too early for a definitive assessment of the implications of the pandemic on the terrorism landscape and counter-terrorism efforts, States have to remain vigilant and sustain the focus and resources required to address the persistent threat posed by ISIL.” The report (S/2020/774) was prepared by the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, in close collaboration with the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, other United Nations entities and international organizations.

In her briefing to the Security Council on the report, Assistant Secretary-General Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of CTED, highlighted the challenges posed by COVID-19, especially in the camps housing thousands of ISIL-affiliated women and children in north-eastern Syria. “The COVID-19 pandemic risks exacerbating an already untenable humanitarian, human rights and security situation. Indefinite detention is legally unjustifiable and has significant security and moral implications” she stated.

For detained children, who remain the most vulnerable group, every additional day in detention can cause irreparable psychosocial damage. Noting some progress in repatriation measures, Ms. Coninsx urged Member States to institutionalize comprehensive, tailored, and gender-sensitive PRR strategies, in the backdrop of the pandemic. In July 2020, CTED published an Analytical Brief on the prosecution of ISIL-associated women, highlighting the gender-specific challenges encountered by States in the investigation, prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of women returnees.

Highlighting CTED’s efforts in working with Member States and UN agencies to bring ISIL perpetrators to justice, Ms. Coninsx noted that some Member States have made progress “in prosecuting ISIL returnees for terrorism-related offences – sometimes cumulatively with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide,” which might help provide justice to the victims of ISIL. The Interfaith Statement on the Victims of ISIL, adopted in March 2020 by the leadership of religious authorities in Iraq, further aims to secure justice and accountability and uphold victims’ rights.

Ms. Coninsx warned that “pandemic-related restrictions might exacerbate social tensions,” especially in places of endemic conflicts. ISIL-affiliated terrorist groups have used this opportunity to spread their toxic propaganda online. She suggested that States must ensure that “policies adopted to curtail the spread of terrorist narratives and misinformation are human-rights complaint and gender-sensitive.” Ms. Coninsx stressed the importance of a whole-of-society approach with enhanced consultations with relevant stakeholders, including civil society, to address this challenge. In July 2020, CTED organized a virtual consultation with 15 civil society organizations on countering terrorism financing and its impacts on human rights.

Highlighting the importance of multilateralism, international cooperation, and information sharing, Ms. Coninsx stated how CTED has innovated its working methods and maintained business continuity during the pandemic. Measures include desk-based stocktaking of States’ activities, updating country visit framework and the annual list of briefings, and conducting, in cooperation with relevant partners, virtual deep-dive missions. CTED also published an analysis on the impacts of COVID-19 on terrorism and a joint report on countering terrorist financing and organized a workshop on the use of biometric technologies.

Although the pandemic has created new challenges to counter-terrorism efforts, Ms. Coninsx stated that it has also presented an opportunity to question the status quo. She concluded that “we should continue to use this opportunity to review and strengthen our counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism approaches. Our determination to ensure justice, equality and human dignity must continue to be the cornerstone of our multilateral counter-terrorism efforts.”

2020-08-26T12:36:00+00:00 Monday, 24 August 2020|International, regional, and subregional cooperation|