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Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to receive a briefing from Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, on UN counter-terrorism efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), followed by consultations.
Resolution 2253 of 17 December 2015 requested the Secretary-General to present a strategic-level report that reflects the gravity of the threat posed to international peace and security by ISIL and its associates and to provide updates to the Council every four months thereafter. The first such report was published on 29 January. In it, the Secretary-General acknowledged that ISIL (also known as Da’esh) represents an unprecedented threat to international peace and security that is able to adapt quickly to the changing environment and to persuade or inspire like-minded terrorist groups around the world to facilitate and commit acts of terrorism. In particular, the report highlights the evolution of the threat in the previous 18 months, including ISIL’s growing sphere of influence, the increasing complexity of recent attacks (in terms of planning, coordination and sophistication) and the steady stream of foreign terrorist fighters joining ISIL and its affiliates.
The Council’s counter-terrorism framework targets the financing of terrorism, through the ISIL/Al-Qaida sanctions regime and the implementation of resolution 1373, which obliges states to criminalise the financing of terrorism. It focuses on cutting off the financial sources of terrorism, particularly regarding ISIL and Al-Qaida, targeting oil and gas smuggling, traffic of cultural relics, ransoms and external donations, among other assets. On 18 January, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) published a global implementation survey of resolution 1373 that identified several gaps in efforts to disrupt funding sources and issued recommendations for member states to enhance their domestic action to counter money-laundering and the financing of terrorism. Despite the Council’s focus on the financing of ISIL, the 29 January report underlines ISIL’s rapid and effective mobilisation of financial resources in the service of recruitment and territorial expansion, characterising ISIL as “the world’s wealthiest terrorist organisation”.
Despite Council action targeting foreign terrorist fighters, the 29 January report notes how their numbers have risen to an unprecedented level (around 30,000 fighters originating from more than 100 member states) as a result of the increasing number of ways potential recruits can access information on how to join ISIL, including through the Internet. Briefing the Council on 4 May, the chair of the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh)/Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen (New Zealand), elaborated on some of the ways in which foreign terrorist fighters avoid scrutiny, such as the use of indirect travel routes to reach their destinations. Van Bohemen also briefed the Council on the shifting centre of gravity of ISIL and the expansion of the geographical scope of its actions, including its increasing influence in places such as Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.
Also briefing the Council was Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta (Egypt), chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), who said its priorities in 2016 include holding two special meetings, one on countering the financing of terrorism and another one on preventing terrorists from exploiting the Internet and social media. As part of the ongoing work of the Committee to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, Aboulatta also highlighted some of the recommendations included in the three reports prepared by CTED in 2015 on the implementation of resolution 2178, including thematic and regional recommendations to address this phenomenon. The recommendations covered issues such as criminalisation of foreign terrorist fighters and international cooperation on border control, intelligence sharing and capacity-building.
Although most of the Council’s counter-terrorism-related work has taken place for some time at the subsidiary level, several formal discussions have been held in the chamber in recent months. In addition to some of the regular briefings mentioned above, open debates were held in April and May at the initiative of China and Egypt, respectively. Briefing the Council on 14 April in a meeting on efforts to strengthen international counter-terrorism cooperation, the Secretary-General stressed that “too often, government counter-terror strategies are so heavy-handed and discriminatory that they end up being counterproductive, generating further alienation among targeted communities and even more terrorists than there were beforehand”.
On 11 May, the Council held an open debate focused on countering the narratives and ideologies of terrorism. At that meeting, it adopted a presidential statement requesting the CTC to present a proposal to the Council by 30 April 2017 for a “comprehensive international framework” to counter the use of narratives by ISIL, Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups that encourage, motivate and recruit members to commit terrorist acts. This proposal is expected to include a counter-narrative campaign and options for coordinating the implementation of the framework and mobilising resources as necessary.
The current discussions on counter-terrorism are also expected to provide momentum on this issue as the General Assembly reviews the UN global counter-terrorism strategy, which is expected to be completed in June.
A key issue for the Council is to ensure overall implementation of the ISIL/Al-Qaida sanctions regime, including through targeting those violating the regime by helping terrorist groups improve their operational capabilities.
Mitigating the humanitarian impact of these measures is a key issue to ensure their effectiveness.
Avoiding the politicisation of counter-terrorism discussions is a key issue to ensure the effectiveness of Council action.
Although no outcome is anticipated following the briefing, the Council could issue a statement that:
- calls on all member states to ensure overall implementation of the ISIL/Al-Qaida sanctions regime, threatening those violating it with secondary sanctions;
- calls on all member states to strengthen their capacities to ensure the implementation of other legal obligations imposed by the Council regarding issues such as the financing of terrorism and the travel and recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters and others;
- encourages further listings by the ISIL/Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee of individuals and entities engaging in activities in support of these terrorist groups or their affiliates; and
- requests the Secretary-General to provide recommendations on how better to address the links between terrorist groups and transnational organised crime.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Despite some divergences over the politicisation of the issue in the Middle East, counter-terrorism continues to have overall unanimous support among Council members, as well as high visibility of Council action. Efforts to continue curbing the capabilities of ISIL and Al-Qaida affiliates seem to be a priority for Council action. Although the idea behind these new regular briefings by Feltman is to place more emphasis on strategic thinking and less on implementation measures, it remains to be seen how useful Council members will find this new reporting track.
The Secretary-General has highlighted the need to engage earlier and address the drivers of violent extremism, but the Council has so far stopped short of welcoming his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, released in January. In the 11 May presidential statement, the Council merely takes note of the Secretary General’s plan, further noting that it will be considered during the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COUNTER-TERRORISM
|Security Council Resolution|
|17 December 2015 S/RES/2253||This was a resolution strengthening the Al Qaida sanctions regime and focusing on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The sanctions regime was also renamed the “1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List” to reflect this focus.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|11 May 2016 S/PRST/2016/6||This was a presidential statement focusing on countering the narratives of terrorism.|
|29 January 2016 S/2016/92||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the threat posed by ISIL to international peace and security and the range of UN efforts in support of member states in countering the threat.|
|Security Council Letters|
|18 January 2016 S/2016/50||This was the global implementation survey of resolution 1624.|
|18 January 2016 S/2016/49||This was the global implementation survey of resolution 1373.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|11 May 2016 S/PV.7690||This was an open debate focusing on countering the narratives and ideologies of terrorism.|
|4 May 2016 S/PV.7686||This was a briefing on the work of the 1540 Committee in a joint briefing with the chairs of the other counter-terrorism-related committees, namely the 1267/1989/2253 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh)/Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee; and the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee.|
|14 April 2016 S/PV.7670||This was an open debate on efforts to strengthen international counter-terrorism cooperation and coordination.|
|9 February 2016 S/PV.7618||This was a briefing by Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, on UN counter-terrorism efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, followed by consultations.|