Border security and arms trafficking

Border security and arms trafficking

Effective border security and timely information-sharing at the national, regional and international level are key to the effective implementation of counter-terrorism measures pursuant to Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) and other relevant Council resolutions. Border security is the first line of defence against the illegal cross-border movement of terrorists (including foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs)), goods and cargo. 

Maintaining secure air, land and maritime borders is a challenge faced by all Member States. In their efforts to protect their air borders, many States struggle to ensure basic aviation-security measures, including the screening of goods and the cross-checking of travellers against national and international watch lists and databases. This requires both financial and human resources, equipment and specialist skills, as well as intra-State and inter-State cooperation. Land borders can be tremendously lengthy and porous and therefore difficult to monitor. Maintaining secure maritime borders and policing sea and coastal areas requires a high level of technical capacity and resources in order to effectively patrol vast marine spaces, which  often  lack physical borders and checkpoints.  

The threat posed by FTFs continues to require Member States and the international community to strengthen border security and prevent FTF travel. Following the Security Council’s adoption of resolutions  2178 (2014) and 2396 (2017), aimed at stemming the flow of FTFs, the Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate (CTED) further strengthened their engagement with, and  analysis of, States’ counter-terrorism capacities, including in relation to border security. Analysis conducted by CTED (S/2014/807; S/2015/683) has revealed major gaps in a number of States’ implementation of the border-security requirements of resolutions 1373 (2001) and 1624 (2005). This in turn presents additional obstacles to the effective implementation of resolutions 2178 (2014) and 2396 (2017). 

Despite this, several States have taken steps to strengthen border security and prevent the travel of FTFs. Those steps include passport confiscation, the introduction of a requirement for transit visas, and more effective use of the databases of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) to conduct screening in order to detect and identify FTFs. Some States, for example, have connected their immigration-screening processes at the frontline to the INTERPOL stolen and lost travel documents (SLTD) database, and more States are populating the INTERPOL list of FTFs. Yet, many States continue to lack access to relevant databases, including INTERPOL databases, and the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida sanctions lists.  

In enhancing border security, the use of advance passenger information (API) is an important tool. The introduction of API is required by Council resolutions 2178 (2014), 2396 (2017) and 2482 (2019). In its simplest form, API is an electronic communications system that collects biographical passenger data and basic flight details from airline carriers and transmits the data to border-security authorities in the destination country prior to the flight’s arrival. This gives border-security authorities additional time to perform sufficient checks of all in-bound passengers against relevant sanctions and watch lists while minimizing delays in the processing of inbound passengers. 

Security Council resolutions 2178 (2014), 2396 (2017) and 2482 (2019) call upon Member States to require that airlines operating in their territories provide API in order to detect the departure from their territories, or attempted entry into or transit through their territories, of individuals designated by the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee.  

Furthermore, in its resolutions 2396 (2017) and 2482 (2019), the Security Council decides that Member States shall develop the capability to collect and process Passenger Name Records (PNR) data and ensure that such data is used by and shared with all competent national authorities. This data can be used to create a “link analysis” capability, which can illuminate hidden connections in order to identify previously unknown risks. 

Even though many States have begun to develop API and PNR capabilities, many continue to struggle with the implementation of these highly technical systems. Very few States have implemented interactive API (iAPI), which facilitates passenger risk assessments in near real-time and alerts border-security agencies and airline carriers to the potential presence of an FTF prior to boarding. There is therefore an urgent need to strengthen the sharing of information by airlines and Governments through the use of API and PNR systems that enable States to detect the arrival or departure of FTFs.  

The ability to compare biometric data collected during the course of border and immigration vetting and investigations against data gathered through broader national and international biometrics tools is critical to properly identifying terrorists, including FTFs. In its resolution 2396 (2017), the Council decides that States shall develop and implement systems to collect biometric data in order to responsibly and properly identify terrorists, including FTFs. The Addendum to the guiding principles on foreign terrorist fighters (2018) (S/2018/1177) notes that States should adopt clear human rights-based frameworks for the use of biometric technology, which include, inter alia, the use of procedural safeguards, effective maintenance of biometric databases, and data-sharing protocols. The UN Compendium of Recommended Practices for the responsible use and sharing of biometrics in counter-terrorism, developed together with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT/UNCCT) and the Biometrics Institute, provides States with further guidance in this area. The Compendium is the first of its kind and aims to assist States in their efforts, not just to implement biometric systems, but also to use and share biometrics in a responsible and proper manner in accordance with resolution 2396 (2017). Further ways to prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups include strengthening control of the issuance of identity papers and travel documents and the introduction of measures to prevent counterfeiting, forgery, or fraudulent use of identity papers and travel documents. However, many States lack clear policies and measures to ensure the security and integrity of the identity and travel-document issuance process. Many have not yet put in place security measures at airports and other border crossings to ensure the effective screening of travellers. 

Coordinated and comprehensive border management (CBM) strategies, which require close coordination among the competent authorities at border locations, have proven to be a highly effective tool for efficiently and effectively managing national borders. CBM strategies provide for coordination of policies, programmes, and delivery among cross-border regulatory agencies with the aim of strengthening the management of trade and travel flows, while also addressing security concerns.  The Security Council Guiding Principles on Foreign Terrorist Fighters calls on States to consider incorporating CBM principles in order to enhance the effectiveness of border security aimed at stemming the flow of FTFs. The above-mentioned 2018 Addendum provides Member States with further guidance on the implementation of API and PNR, watch lists and databases, and on the responsible use and sharing of biometrics.  

Ensuring effective border security is an integral part of any comprehensive and integrated national counter-terrorism strategy and requires collective action by States and relevant international and regional organizations. The Committee and CTED can assist States to identify gaps, needs and challenges, as well as to facilitate the sharing of good practices in this area and facilitate the delivery of technical assistance and financial support to ensure implementation of the relevant Council resolutions and the Committee’s related recommendations. 

It should be recalled that all measures must be taken in accordance with domestic law and international obligations and in full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

Download the CTED factsheet about border management.


Compendium of Border Control Instruments, Standards and Recommended Practices Related to Counter-Terrorism  


Border Management encompasses a complex and dynamic set of activities. In the context of counter-terrorism, effective border management plays an important role in combating the global terrorist threat. Agencies involved in border security and trade facilitation are confronted with the common challenge of facilitating the movement of legitimate people and goods while maintaining controlled and secure borders.  

The Compendium of Border Control Instruments, Standards and Recommended Practices Related to Counter-Terrorism is a comprehensive compilation of international legal instruments, standards, recommended practices and other guidance material, intended to serve as a single point of reference on the various legal and practical matters relating to counter-terrorism aspects of border management. Notably, the Compendium fully recognizes the national sovereignty of Member States when implementing border management initiatives to counteract terrorism.  

Click here to access the database.