The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Complex: Bureaucracy, Political Influence, Civil Liberties

© UN Photo / Rick Bajornas

(New York) In a new report released today, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) describes how the effectiveness of the United Nations (UN) and its member states in the fight against terrorism is hampered by two major phenomena. First, a tentacular bureaucratic structure in which entities’ mandates sometimes overlap rather than complement each other which ultimately undermines its overall effectiveness and key cooperation between states. Secondly, the current leadership of the main counter-terrorism bodies is in the hands of member-states, whose human rights records are highly questionable. Those same states use their powerful position in the architecture to advance specific political agendas at home and abroad, often devastating for civil liberties. These consequences can be far-reaching and have been found to fuel more hate and feed into the terrorists’ narratives. FIDH will be presenting the report to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday 27 September.

As the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly opens and the new Under Secretary-General in charge of counter-terrorism assumes his position, FIDH publishes a new report analyzing how the UN has been organized over the last fifteen years to combat the scourge of terrorism. The report denounces the potentially harmful and often counter-productive consequences of the measures adopted and the programs developed on the local populations they are meant to partner with and protect.

Since the attacks on September 11, 2001, the threat posed by terrorist actors has evolved with the rise of ISIL (Da’esh) and the spread of Al-Qaeda affiliate groups across the globe with evolving tactics to carry out attacks. The international community has had to continuously change its strategy to prevent and manage conflicts. From a human rights perspective, it is vital that this strategy is effective in order to protect the human rights of all and is done so in accordance with international law.

The UN’s ability to counter terrorism is a test for its future relevance as the threats posed by the rise of non-state terrorist groups have challenged the UN’s raison d’être to maintain international peace and security. The fight against terrorism has become a key priority of the international community and has garnered unprecedented levels of cooperation amongst member states. This is demonstrated by an institutional and bureaucratic inflation, with the adoption by the Security Council and the General Assembly of dozens of UN resolutions, strategies and frameworks to guide the fight against terrorism. This has resulted in a hydra-headed complex of UN bodies and entities tasked with counter-terrorism related issues, which is in fact not helping it fulfill its purpose.

At the same time, it is striking that a small number of states, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies have taken over UN counter-terrorism entities by financing them or holding key leadership positions.

In the name of fighting “terrorism,” a number of countries have set up draconian domestic laws, which have resulted in repressing civil society, persecuting political opponents and human rights activists, and committing serious crimes against the civilian populations. That may, in return, fuel more “violent extremism” and generate more terrorist acts.

For one, Egypt’s current leadership in the UN counter-terrorism structure cannot be divorced from the fact that as part of its national counter-terrorism efforts it has imprisoned thousands of human rights defenders, journalists, and dissenting voices, in horrific detention conditions which are no longer a secret to the world. Along with the lasting state of emergency, Egypt’s efforts have done little to effectively counter the threat of terrorist acts, but have allowed counter-terrorism legislation to be a legal cover to silence dissent and smother independent civil society.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia continues to hold major influence over the UN counter-terrorism architecture and be a lauded counter-terrorism partner by many member-states. Despite the human rights violations committed on its soil, as well as its international agenda, from the indiscriminate bombing in Yemen, the sanctions against Qatar to the role, some argue, that the Kingdom has materially and ideologically propagated the expansion of the jihadi ideology.

Finally, the report includes recommendations for streamlining the UN counter-terrorism complex and for centralizing human rights in order to prevent efforts to combat terrorism and extremism that are misappropriated to justify the persecution of human rights defenders, the repression of civil society and the commission of serious crimes against civilians.

Press Contact : Audrey Couprie / acouprie@fidh.org / +33 6 48 05 91 57 / +1 917 238 5192 (in New York)

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