Scoping Study on Independent Civil Society–UN Counterterrorism Engagement

In 2023, the Global Center on Cooperative Security and Rights & Security International consulted with nearly 200 peacebuilding and P/CVE implementers, human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, journalists, researchers, community leaders, and scholar-practitioners from around the world, assisted by an advisory committee of 15 diverse civil society representatives. ​

We found an overwhelming consensus that the UN is failing to meaningfully engage with, promote, and protect civil society in the context of the world body’s counterterrorism efforts, and that there is common desire to see the UN correct this course.

Our research process was designed to mirror the engagement practices recommended in the report, grounded in transparency, accountability, and reciprocity – with multiple avenues for civil society partners to engage, participate in decision-making, and impact the project results:

• Advisory Committee: A geographically- and gender- diverse advisory committee of 15 civil society representatives selected from a pool of 121 applicants supported the project team in making decisions around the design and implementation of consultations and aided in our analysis.

• Landscape Assessments: For each in-person regional consultation we also secured local experts to produce landscape assessments of civil society and counterterrorism issues in the region, and translated into local languages as needed, to inform our research and discussions.

• Consultations: Following each of our 10 consultations, we developed and translated as needed detailed reports capturing the discussions and solicited feedback from participants to ensure its accurately reflected the proceedings.

• Online survey: As our consultations were not accessible to many civil society groups, the project team developed a mutli-lingual global survey to elicit the experiences of individuals and organizations that were unable or unwilling to participate in the in-person and virtual discussions.

Harouna Abdoulaye, COPAVE
Beth Alexion, Saferworld; CSO Coalition on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism
Ali Altiok, United Network of Young Peacebuilders
Miguel de la Vega, Unidosc
Hussein Khaled, Haki Africa
Mira Kusumarini, Empatiku Foundation
Sarah Le Mesurier, International Commission of Jurists
Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, University of Minnesota Law School

Victoria Ohaeri, Spaces for Change
Cholpon Orozobekova, Bulan Institute
Inès Osman, MENA Rights Group
Mahi Ramakrishnan, Beyond Borders Malaysia
Arjun Sethi, Georgetown University Law Center
Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery, Charity & Security Network
Marco Velasquez Ruiz, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Bogota

Findings

Existing entry points for engagement with the UN’s counterterrorism architecture are extremely limited, and inaccessible to most CSOs – particularly those most impacted by conflict and abusive counterterrorism measures.

Civil society groups clearly see benefits that could accrue from more meaningful engagement with the UN on counterterrorism and P/CVE efforts.

Substantial barriers and risks are impeding meaningful engagement with civil society, and their willingness to engage in the Global South.

These preconditions cannot be overcome by any UN entity overnight, and progress demands buy-in and trust from civil society, as well as substantial political support and investments by Member States.

Steps toward more meaningful CSO-UN engagement in the short term can foster incremental progress toward addressing these preconditions and increase engagement significantly over time. 

The report offers a framework and recommendations for the UN and its Member States to meaningfully engage civil society while incrementally addressing the preconditions for engagement.

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Final Report

Independent Civil Society–UN Counterterrorism Engagement: A Scoping Report

Author: Matthew Schwartz, Sarah St. Vincent, Tufyal Choudhury, Damarie Kalonzo, and Franziska Praxl-Tabuchi

Date: May 2024

 

Read the Report

Landscape Assessment Reports

The Scoping Study was informed by a series of regionally focused research products prepared by local civil society experts. These reports were later finalized and prepared for publication with the generous support of the Government of Canada.

Exploring Eastern Africa’s Landscape: A Scoping Study on an Independent Civil Society-UN Counter-Terrorism Engagement Mechanism
Author: Karanja Muraya (Africa Center for Engendered Security), African Journal of Empirical Research 4, no 2 (2023)
Date: Dec 2023

Landscape Assessment Civil Society and Counterterrorism Mechanisms in Europe
Author: Magda El Haitem (El Haitem Law)
Date: May 2024

Iniciativas para prevenir el uso indebido de las organizaciones sin fines de lucro en América Latina
Author: Gabriela Pellón (Independent Consultant) and Miguel de la Vega (Unidosc)
Date: January 2024

Redefining civil society’s role in the UN counter-terrorism architecture
Landscape assessment: Middle East and North Africa

Author: MENA Rights Group
Date: May 2024

UN & Multilateral Efforts and Civil Society Engagement on Counterterrorism and Preventing and/or Countering Violent Extremism in South-East Asia: A Landscape Assessment
Author: Marc Batac (Independent Consultant) and Tuan Nguyen-M (Build Program Manager, Initiatives for International Dialogue)
Date: May 2024

Mécanisme d’engagement indépendant entre la société civile et les Nations Unis en matière de lutte contre le terrorisme: Rapport d’état des lieux Afrique de l’Ouest
Author: Abdoulaye Diallo (Independent Consultant) and Mouhamadou Lamine Bara Lo (Independent Consultant)
Date: January 2024

In support of wider civil society efforts to demand more meaningful influence on and engagement with UN counterterrorism efforts, this report presents the results of a year-long scoping study undertaken by the Global Center and Rights & Security International with the support of a committee of 15 civil society advisors. Based the input of more than 170 civil society representatives from more than 50 countries around the world, the findings and recommendations presented in this report explain the hesitation of many groups worldwide to engage with the United Nations on counterterrorism-related issues, the range of barriers they face, and their aspirations for the UN role in promoting and protecting civil society and civic space. The report highlights key preconditions for greater civil society engagement with UN entities regarding these topics and offers a framework to strengthen the  UN’s engagement with civil society embodying specific attributes of meaningful engagement across a range of mutually reinforcing modalities of engagement. The report concludes with several practical entry points for addressing the preconditions for engagement, including specific recommendations to the UN and its Member States.

A launch page the provides details about the scoping report process can be found here.

In an era defined by rapid technological advancement, integrating new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) has become central to national security strategies worldwide. While these technologies offer unprecedented capabilities in combating threats, their use raises significant concerns regarding human rights violations and erosion of civil liberties.

This policy brief examines the complex landscape of human rights implications surrounding the deployment of new and emerging technologies in national security efforts. It emphasizes the importance of upholding fundamental rights outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), particularly in the face of evolving security challenges. While acknowledging the necessity of robust security measures, the brief highlights the danger of overreach. It focuses on electronic surveillance, drones, metadata, biometrics, online communications, internet, and social media, including AI-powered technologies, and delves into how these technologies intersect with existing legal frameworks regarding privacy rights, freedom of movement, and due process rights.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) was launched in New York in September 2011 as the first global platform dedicated to nonmilitary counterterrorism cooperation. It emerged at a time when the general perception was that the United Nations was too rigid, political, and bureaucratic to respond effectively to terrorism threats considered urgent, imminent, and dynamic. Since its launch, the GCTF has steadfastly indicated a desire to collaborate with the United Nations, but the purpose and nature of that relationship has been amorphous.

This brief examines collaboration between the United Nations and GCTF and reflects on the objectives, modalities, and effectiveness of that collaboration in today’s counterterrorism landscape. It offers recommendations to optimize existing practices but raises larger questions about the value, structure, and scope of that relationship in the longer term that will need to be answered.

Over the last decades, the threat of terrorism has become more diverse, dispersed, and complex. Traditional military and security-centric approaches to dismantling terrorist organizations may diffuse the threat, but they are also inherently reactive and have reinforced cycles of violence. To effectively prevent and mitigate terrorism, the Global Center believes that governments, civil society, and the private sector need to work together to address the conditions of instability and injustice that allow terrorist groups and ideologies to emerge and expand in the first place. In a Security Management article, Executive Director Eelco Kessels outlines the Global Center’s work focusing on women’s roles in preventing violent extremism, countering terrorism financing, improving criminal justice systems, and engaging with youth leaders. It describes the organization’s capacity to lead innovative programs that serve communities and groups most affected by conflict and terrorism.

Dear Friends,

In 2023, the world grappled with a number of crises that demand action. It shows that our commitment to advancing a just and secure world has never been more important.   

Violence plagues the Middle East and Ukraine, while several coups intensified instability on the African continent. Divisions among global leaders are exposed by failures to make meaningful progress on the climate crisis, food security, and the governance of artificial intelligence. Human rights are under attack globally, at a time of increasing polarization, hate speech, and disinformation. 

I am reaching out today with a humble request to make a tax-deductible donation to the Global Center on Cooperative Security before the end of this year. No gift is too small to make a difference.

The Global Center promotes a human rights-based approach to security partnering with those most affected by terrorism and violent extremism worldwide. In 2023, among other achievements, we were able to:

  • Strengthen the capacity of public and private entities in Jordan, Albania, and North Macedonia to prevent terrorism financing.

But we cannot do our work without your support that will enable us to strengthen peace and security where it is most needed.

On behalf of the Global Center, I would like to thank you for your contribution and wish you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and a peaceful 2024.

With gratitude,
Eelco Kessels
Executive Director

During the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly, the Global Center organized and participated in numerous events on the margins of the High-Level Week. The Global Center organized a closed briefing on its work on realizing more inclusive and consistent civil society engagement with the United Nations on counterterrorism issues, which included findings from an ongoing scoping project the Global Center is conducting in partnership with Rights and Security International. The Global Center also participated in several Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) meetings during High-Level week which covered topics including border security management, women’s role in peacebuilding, and the right to fair trial in counterterrorism cases. It offered an opportunity to highlight the Global Center’s work in these domains, including the implementation of the Gender and Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Toolkit through the development of a training curriculum for policymakers and practitioners.

The Global Center joined the Strong Cities Network’s Fourth Global Summit, which brought much-needed local perspectives to UN and GCTF discussions. The Global Center is pleased to have collaborated with the Strong Cities Network on its outreach and engagement, most recently in Southeast Asia.

Global Center staff also joined a number of events on a wide range of topics related to violent extremism and terrorism, including the relationship between climate change and violent extremism, and the role of artificial intelligence and other technologies in counterterrorism.

Between 2020-2023, the Global Center, National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Kenya Prison Service (KPS), and Kenyan Legal Resources Foundation developed, validated, then delivered a Countering Violent Extremism in Prisons (CVE-P) Awareness Raising Course to over 30,000 KPS staff and new recruits at over 130 prisons. Through the training of 80 trainers from prisons across Kenya and a coordinated rollout among all key KPS officials, the program built a system-wide baseline among KPS staff on understanding and awareness of violent extremism in prisons.

 

Some key program accomplishments include:

  • A system-wide awareness of violent extremism in prisons: As of July 2023, the training program reached over 30,000 KPS officers across all stations in Kenya, as well as at KPS Headquarters and the training college, on the prevention, identification, and mitigation of violent extremism in prisons. Approximately 99% of all Kenyan prison officers have received the course.
  • Partnership-driven: The CVE-P Awareness-Raising Course has been co-developed by the Global Center, KPS, and NCTC, with support from the Kenyan Legal Resources Foundation. Throughout its pilot and rollout, it consistently integrated feedback from trainers and prison staff to ensure the training is relevant, localized, and nationally owned. According to the Commissioner General of Prisons, the course was the biggest and most successful training program for the KPS to date. 
  • Creation of national training team: Through a comprehensive identification, training, evaluation, and certification process, the program established a team of 80 Kenyan trainers posted at prison stations in all regions of Kenya. This training team is capable of delivering the course at the Training College and in their stations on an ongoing basis. The training team is also an asset of the KPS that can be called upon in CVE matters and when additional or refresher training is needed. 
  • Improved coordination between KPS Headquarters and stations: In addition to raising service-wide awareness, the program generated secondary outcomes that improved the functioning of the KPS. Through the comprehensive coordination processes undertaken, the program directly improved information flow between prisoners and prison staff and between prison stations and headquarters, with officers and station heads sharing more information on issues and concerns about violent extremism.

As part of a series of policy briefs collaboratively produced by the Global Center and the Royal United Services Institute, Emily Winterbotham addresses the impact of gendered narratives in the conflict in Ukraine.

Gendered norms and identities shape everyone’s involvement in violence, including men, women, and nonbinary people. How groups, whether nonstate actors or states party to a conflict, construct norms, which includes expectations of femininity and masculinity, is crucial to understanding violence. This brief analyzes the ways in which gendered narratives have been employed during the war in Ukraine. It reflects on the traditional use of gendered narratives in the field of security and draws on the author’s research on the role of gender in the field of terrorism.

Annabelle Bonnefont and Franziska Praxl-Tabuchi share their thoughts regarding civil society engagement on counterterrorism and preventing and countering violent extremism issues within the context of the UN General Assembly’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Even though civil society has been impacted by the UN counterterrorism architecture, opportunities for a broad range of civil society actors to meaningfully engage with UN counterterrorism programming and policy-making remain limited at best. The authors layout recommendations and a path forward for member states and the United Nations to include diverse civil society in UN counterterrorism efforts.