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.

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.

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 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.

With more than 1.5 billion adults unbanked globally and a growing body of data demonstrating the benefits of increased financial access, it is crucial to support financial inclusion efforts . This brief summarizes key evidence of the success of financial inclusion efforts globally and reflects on the role of financial inclusion in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Realizing the promise of financial inclusion toward advancement of the SDGs requires bridging the gaps between financial service providers and potential account holders. Digital finance offers significant promise, but the evolving nature of the landscape presents risks and barriers to access both traditional banking institutions and digital financial technology remain.