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.

____________________________________

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

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.

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.

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.

Among other efforts, the Global Center is currently leading a global process to engage civil society around the work of the United Nations on countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism, with the goal of establishing a mechanism by which civil society can advocate, inform, and hold states accountable on counterterrorism.

Separately, on 9 March, 2023, the Global Center organized a high-level event at the UN Headquarters to inform the negotiations on the future of UN counterterrorism efforts. An all-women civil society panel briefed member states and UN entities on the importance of inclusive, human rights-based approaches to counterterrorism, which need to account for the negative impacts on civic space, humanitarian action, and human rights defenders.

This policy brief presents recommendations for a whole-of-society approach to the reintegration of former Boko Haram associates in Cameroon. The brief builds the Global Center’s engagement with local, national, and regional partners in Cameroon to strengthen the country’s response to terrorism in the Far North Region, a joint roundtable with the Centre for Peace, Security and Integration Studies of the University of Maroua, and other consultations. The Cameroonian case offers a window into the roles of different stakeholders in shaping and implementing efforts to reintegrate ex-associates and the challenges they face. This brief emphasizes the need to adapt to local specificities and to place communities at the heart of the process, which is particularly important in nontraditional disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration contexts such as the Lake Chad Basin, where peace agreements are absent and conflict is ongoing.

It is in this context that in 2017 we were invited to partner with Cameroon’s National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM), the official training program for Cameroon’s public servants. Within ENAM, we established an expansive human rights-based training program for judges and prosecutors, governmental authorities, investigators, and civil society actors; a curriculum now taught to all incoming recruits as well as seasoned officers. Our legal team has since trained hundreds of Cameroonians of various sectors who are active in the country’s long-term security and governance efforts. We continue to deepen our programming in partnership with Cameroonian experts and institutions, including recently developing an anti-torture course for investigators.

Our legal team built a groundbreaking network of 180 judges, attorneys, traditional authorities, and civil administrators to address governance and security challenges facing communities impacted by Boko Haram. The insights garnered through this community-based network directly informed our draft of a new law that adequately harmonizes existing Cameroonian legal frameworks with international human rights standards which has been submitted to the President.

Building on these successes, we funded local organizations working to enhance community resilience in regions impacted by Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa. Through our subgrants program, we supported 13 grassroots organizations promoting peacebuilding and governance—from the launch of a peace radio station to a leadership development program for women who are responding to local security challenges. This work continues through our support to USAID’s multiyear programming in the country. The Global Center has unique access and influence, thanks to our privileged role serving as one of only two independent organizations in the country funded by the U.S. Department of State to support Cameroonian security efforts. This program has strengthened collaboration among governance, justice, and community actors, and significantly contributed to the country’s long-term efforts to prevent violent extremism and build sustainable peace.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF)’s Gender and Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) Policy Toolkit was developed under the leadership of the GCTF CVE Working Group Co-Chairs, the governments of Australia and Indonesia, and implemented by the Global Center with support from Professor Jacqui True and a twelve-person Expert Project Advisory Committee. The Gender and P/CVE Policy Toolkit was developed to support the implementation of the Good Practices on Women and Countering Violent Extremism (2015) and the Addendum to the Good Practices on Women and Countering Violent Extremism, with a Focus on Mainstreaming Gender (2019) by providing practitioners and policymakers with relevant frameworks, good practices, and resources for designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating gender-responsive P/CVE policies and programs.

The Toolkit is based on the premise that mainstreaming gender is about ensuring inclusive, equitable participation and leadership of people of diverse gender and intersecting identities, while also recognizing the diversity within a group of individuals that identifies similarly. It is about accounting for the experiences, needs, and challenges of individuals and recognizing gender differences and inequalities, as well as intersecting factors, including socioeconomic, age, disability, ethnic, and cultural identities.

Prisons around the world have seen an increase in individuals who are involved in violent extremism, presenting new challenges for authorities. In response, we work with several national prison services to develop human rights–based training programs to help staff identify violent extremist radicalization and recruitment in prisons and to support the management, rehabilitation, and reintegration of violent extremist prisoners.

This work began in 2017 in Morocco, where we trained the entirety of its prison system staff—approximately 9,000 individuals—across all prison facilities in the country. We also lead a unique program for all prison psychologists in Morocco, who can serve as critical agents in addressing the psychological risks and needs of violent extremist prisoners. Building on these successes, we have replicated the model in Indonesia, Kenya, and Trinidad and Tobago. Our program Kenya is underway to train all 30,000 prison staff around the country, delivered by Kenyan officers through a training-of-trainers framework designed to maximize institutional ownership and sustainability. In Indonesia, we implement a unique program for female prison officers managing violent extremist prisoners as well as an advanced training that has become the standard training program for prison staff posted to high security prisons. In Trinidad and Tobago, we supported the development of a national strategy to prevent violent extremism in prisons and designed and institutionalized a new curriculum for recruits.

The Global Center is an implementing partner of the Strong Cities Network, which facilitates collaboration between municipal governments and civic leaders on violence prevention initiatives. Launched in 2015 at the UN General Assembly to mount a city-led response against hate, polarization, and extremism, the SCN now includes 140 local governments, from small municipalities to megacities.

We are helping grow the network by engaging municipalities from Central and Southeast Asia; by joining, governments and civic leaders have access to regional dialogues and city visits that facilitate effective strategies across cities. As part of this work, we also allocate small grants for community-led initiatives in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.