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.

Developed with the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), the report examines regional efforts to protect non-profit organizations (NPOs) from terrorism financing abuse. It includes a heat map of strengths and weaknesses in implementing international standards from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and offers reflections on ensuring measures do not disrupt or discourage NPO activity.

The report notes weak compliance with FATF’s Recommendation 8 on NPOs and provides further detail on what specific elements of Recommendation 8 are challenging for APG members, finding room to improve on the conduct of inclusive and evidence-based risk assessments of potential NPO abuse for terrorism financing and to strengthen and sustain outreach and engagement between government and NPOs.

The report also analyzes how compliance is being evaluated across the region, with its findings used to inform amendment of the FATF standards. It finds areas of misunderstanding or misinterpretation related to risk-based supervision for NPOs and notes limited consideration of how CFT measures may disrupt or discourage legitimate NPO activities.

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.