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.

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.

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.

This report is the sixth in the Global Center’s “Blue Sky” series which explores how the UN’s comparative advantages can be leveraged to improve the balanced implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The report opens with a broad overview of changes in the security landscape and reflections on UN counterterrorism and preventing violent extremism responses. Chapter two highlights key developments in the UN ecosystem since the seventh review of the Strategy, providing context and background to support member states, UN entities, and other stakeholders in situating core issues in the eighth review. Chapter three then assesses the key architecture, namely the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact, and stresses the need for improvements in integrating the rule of law, human rights, and gender commitments, engagement with diverse civil society, and monitoring and evaluation. The report concludes with recommendations on leveraging the Strategy to realize the UN’s comparative advantage on counterterrorism and PVE issues.

The recommendations focus on (1) optimizing the UN counterterrorism architecture; (2) resource mobilization; (3) integrating the rule of law, human rights, and gender commitments; (4) meaningful engagement with diverse civil society; and (5) measuring Strategy implementation.

Summary findings and key recommendations were presented during a launch event held in 31 May 2023, in the lead up to the UN Counter-Terrorism Week and the negotiations of the eighth Strategy review resolution. Support for this project, including the consultations, high-level events, and report, was generously provided by the governments of the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland and with broader support of our work by the government of Sweden.

 
 

As part of a series of policy briefs collaboratively produced by the Global Center and the Royal United Services Institute, Dr. Jessica White addresses the implications of participation in and impacts of the fighting in Ukraine.

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there was relatively wide-ranging support of the call from Ukraine for foreign volunteers to join its military efforts based on nations’ perceived alliances to Ukraine, considerations of European security, and concerns over threats from Russia and its interests and allies. This brief addresses the implications and impacts of the international call to fight in Ukraine in order to gauge potential threats and to encourage preparations for the successful return and reintegration of volunteers into civilian life. It raises awareness of the societal reintegration preparations needed by the countries of origin for the mental, physical, and potentially ideological challenges these foreign volunteers may have faced while responding to the defense of Ukraine.