United Nations holds Third Biennial Review of Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy

From 28-29 June 2012, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly gathered in New York for the third biennial Review of the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy. The original document dates back to the 8th of September 2006, and is reviewed every two years. The Strategy is composed of four pillars: addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism; preventing and combating terrorism; building states’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the UN system in this regard; and ensuring respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism.

During the third Review, Member States stressed that tolerance and dialogue among civilizations and the enhancement of interfaith and intercultural understanding are among the most important elements in promoting cooperation and success in counter-terrorism. Recognition of the need to focus more on new information and communication technologies used by terrorists, as well as the need to continue measures aimed at preventing and suppressing the financing of terrorism, were among the other points stressed.

However, the principal gain of this Review was the focus on victims of terrorism, recognising their plight and the role that they could play, including in countering the appeal of terrorism. The GA emphasised the need to promote international solidarity in support of such victims and to ensure that they were treated with dignity and respect. It also recognised the work of UN bodies and other organisations aimed at the support, recognition and protection of the rights of victims and urged those entities to step up their efforts to provide, upon request, technical assistance for building the capacity of Member States to develop and implement programmes of assistance and support for victims of terrorism.

Member States were unable to reach consensus on the appointment of a central UN Counter Terrorism Coordinator, as proposed by the UN Secretary-General to enhance efficiency and coordination and avoid overlap. There is still disagreement on a number of facets relating to this post, including the actual level of the position (Assistant Secretary-General or an Under Secretary-General) and the impact it will have on the role of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) and on the careful balance struck between the Security Council and the General Assembly in recent years on counter-terrorism issues. Many Member States emphasised the need to act quickly and decisively on this, as the lack of a central coordinator may harm the position and striking power of the UN within the counter-terrorism field, as well as increase the likelihood that there is overlap between various UN activities on this front.

Side-Meetings, Seminars and Workshops
In the days prior to the actual Review, an impressive number of side-events took place, serving as a major opportunity for different actors from governments, multilateral organisations, UN bodies and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to exchange ideas in conferences, working groups and bilateral meetings. ICCT staff hosted and participated in a number of conferences, workshops and smaller events throughout the week.

On Tuesday 26 June, the Civil Society Network for Human Security hosted a conference on ‘Addressing Violent Extremism: Creating Spaces for Civil Society Engagement’. The Network is a recently established initiative set up by the Dutch development organisation Cordaid and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, with intensive involvement of ICCT Research Fellow Dr. Bibi van Ginkel. This event brought different non-governmental actors together from all corners of the world, analysing the negative impact and undesired side effects of counter-terrorism policies. The need for and value of increased engagement of these CSOs became all too obvious during the event, with many CSO representatives highlighting the various ways in which they can contribute to the implementation of the UN Global Strategy and ensure comprehensive and sustainable approaches to countering violent extremism. Disappointingly, the third Review lacked more concrete wording on the role of civil society in preventing and countering violent extremism, and the need for governments to engage more with CSOs in the implementation of the Global Strategy.

On Wednesday 27 June, the President of the General Assembly, in partnership with the UN CTITF and ICCT-partner the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), organised a ‘Seminar on Dialogue, Understanding and Countering the Appeal of Terrorism’. This side event on UN premises gathered a large audience of Member States, and was divided into two sections. Following a keynote speech by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the morning session dealt with ‘Countering the Appeal of Terrorism and Disengagement and Rehabilitation Initiatives’. After CTED Executive Director Mike Smith’s remarks on UN’s efforts to counter violent extremism – with a specific reference to ICCT’s involvement in CTED’s UNSC Resolution 1624 Regional Implementation Workshop in Rabat – the focus moved to regional experiences and finally to the UNICRI/ICCT initiative on the Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders, with presentations by ICCT Director Peter Knoope and UNICRI Senior Advisor Dr. Douglas Stone.

Following a lunch session on the work of the counter-terrorism activities of the EU, the Seminar turned its focus to ‘Dialogue and Understanding’, with among the panellists Ben Emmerson (UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism), Richard Barrett (Coordinator of the UN al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Team) and ICCT Associate Fellow Max Boon. Max was the last speaker of this session, speaking from his personal experience as a victim of the Jakarta Marriott terrorist bomb attack, bringing the importance of victims voices in countering violent extremism and the ICCT Victims’ Voices Project in Indonesia to the attention of the Member States. Max concluded by calling upon all Member States and international organisations to actively recognise and embrace the potential of involving victims in the fight against terrorism as strong and credible messengers of a narrative that counters violent extremist ideology.