Human Rights, Tech, and National Security

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.

In August 2023, it was estimated that more than 5 million people were internally displaced in Ukraine and more than 6.1 million people have become refugees since the start of the conflict. In addition to the implications on the civilian populations of Ukraine and its bordering countries, the Russian invasion has far-reaching implications for international politics and the global financial system, as well as for multilateral peace and security, including counterterrorism efforts.  

Building on a March 2022 roundtable event on the impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Global Center, in partnership with the Royal United Services Institute, produced a series of policy briefs examining some of the wider dynamics of this conflict. The policy brief series reflects on topics beyond the immediate geostrategic impacts of the invasion, including on gendered stereotypes and narratives employed in the conflict and responses to it, foreign fighters traveling to the region, and reactions of the global far-right to the war in the Ukraine.

 
 

For any inquiries regarding this policy brief series, please contact Ms. Franziska Praxl-Tabuchi at fpraxl@globalcenter.org.

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.

The United Nations organized the Third Counter-Terrorism Week and High-level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States at its headquarters in New York under the theme of  “Addressing Terrorism through Reinvigorated Multilateralism and Institutional Cooperation.” The Counter-Terrorism Week and High-Level conference coincided with the adoption of the eighth review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy on 22 June.

Throughout the week, the Global Center emphasized the importance of inclusive, human rights-based counterterrorism efforts and the need to engage civil society at all stages of counterterrorism policy and program design and delivery in a safe, sustained, and meaningful manner. The recently released Blue Sky VI report provides an independent analysis of the UN’s counterterrorism efforts, progress made since the seventh Strategy review in 2021, and recommendations to inform necessary improvements. Following the conclusion of the eight review process, Global Center Executive Director Eelco Kessels and Chief of Strategy Melissa Lefas provided further reflections in an Just Security article.

At the High-Level Conference:

Eelco Kessels was a panelist during session 1 on “Multistakeholder Engagement in Countering Terrorism while Ensuring Compliance with Human Rights and the Rule of Law.” In his remarks, Mr. Kessels highlighted the need to create an enabling environment for civil society to engage in counterterrorism efforts as a prerequisite for effective multistakeholder engagement. Their participation must occur at all stages of counterterrorism policy and program processes: from diagnosing the problem; to designing, developing, and implementing policy measures and community-centric programming; and evaluating the impact of policy and practice on communities affected by terrorism and counterterrorism alike, to understand both its positive and negative impacts.

Jihane Ben Yahia, Senior Legal Analyst with the Global Center, delivered an intervention during the conference’s fourth session on “Strengthening Capacity Building Programmes – Making Them Fit for Purpose to Meet Resilience Gaps.” Building on the organization’s 19 years of experience, she emphasized that the common goal in all counterterrorism capacity development should be to build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 16 and in furtherance of human rights and human security.

Over the course of the week, Global Center staff participated in a number of side events organized by member states, UN entities, and civil society organizations, including: 

Franziska Praxl-Tabuchi, Global Center’s Director of Multilateral Relations, joined the Launch of the Global Study on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism on Civil Society and Civic Space, and provided remarks which reflected on the need to remove barriers to civil society engagement and improve the environment to enable their participation.

Saeida Rouass, Global Center Senior Programs Officer, spoke at a side event which examined good practices for managing violent extremist prisoners. She shared several lessons learned from the Global Center’s work with the prison services of Morocco, Indonesia, and Kenya, including the importance of developing long-term institutional partnerships and the value of specialist assistance alongside core trainings for general prison staff.  

The Global Center co-organized a hybrid side event with Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the governments of Costa Rica, Denmark, and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The event focused on inclusive civil-society engagement to support rights-based counterterrorism efforts at the United Nations and featured a panel of diverse civil society speakers. The panel was comprised of Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; Maji Peterx, Preventing and Transforming Violent Extremism Lead Facilitator and Coordinator, Carefronting Nigeria; and Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director, Gulf Centre for Human Rights. The discussion brought forth practical recommendations to remove barriers to civil society engagement with the United Nations, including the importance of multidirectional information sharing, improved risk assessment and protection measures, and offering varied methods and platforms for input and participation. The event is part of an ongoing scoping project that the Global Center is conducting in partnership with Rights and Security International.

The Global Center’s Eelco Kessels and Melissa Lefas published an article in Just Security reflecting on the eighth review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GCTS) which furthered the promotion of human rights and protection of civic space. The negotiations were heated, with some member states threatening to revise existing language in an attempt to deprioritize human rights and civil society engagement, while promoting their own interests and agendas. The next GCTS review will mark its 20th anniversary, demanding a sober assessment of its promise to normatively reset counterterrorism approaches and size, scope, and prioritization of UN counterterrorism efforts against other global priorities.