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Past event

Civil Society's Role in Implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy


From October 20 - 22, 2011, the ICCT attended a conference on "Civil Society’s Role in Implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy" in New York.

During this 3-day event, civil society organisations working on all continents active in areas of human rights, conflict prevention and peace building, development, state-building, the role of women in peace and security, human security, and secure online communications, gathered in New York to discuss the role of civil society organisations in the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism strategy. The intention was to start to build a dialogue with the UN and Member States to ensure that this strategy is effective and comprehensive, while respecting human rights and the political space of civil society organisations. The initiative to organise this event was taken by Cordaid and GPPAC, in close cooperation with Hunter College, the Kroc Institute, the Fourth Freedom Forum, the Centre on Global Counter-terrorism Cooperation, the Netherlands Institute for International Relations ‘Clingendael’, and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) - The Hague. It took place in Roosevelt House at Hunter College in New York.

On Day I, Lia van Broekhoven of Cordaid introduced the participants to the initiative and the trajectory that had already been developed over the last 3-4 years by Cordaid. She explained how the work is now moving towards the creation of an interface for civil society to influence the review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy that will take place in June 2012, as well as looking for opportunities to influence agendas on other intergovernmental, regional and national levels. During the event, the civil society representatives were familiarised with the UN architecture on counter-terrorism (CT) by Bibi van Ginkel, Research Fellow at Clingendael Institute and ICCT, and especially the challenges and opportunities, as well as the limitations to impact the agenda were discussed. William Tsuma of GPPAC shared a summary of the debate on human security within GPPAC, and reflected on the importance of this concept for this initiative. David Cortright of the Kroc Institute presented the Friend not Foe: opening spaces for civil society engagement to prevent violent extremism Report that highlights the way in which civil society organisations have suffered from unbalanced counter-terrorism measures implemented throughout the world.

During the break-out sessions in the afternoon, participants reflected on the findings of the Friend not Foe report, and shared their own experiences of the proliferation of new CTMs and the shrinking space for civil society. They discussed for example how this restricted their ability to deal with conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. Although, most participants explained that they not use the label of counter-terrorism, their experience was that governments tend to label more and more security issues as terrorism issues, in order to adopt more hard core security measures.

The focus of Day II was to start building a dialogue with the UN and member states on the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. For this occasion, officials of relevant UN entities on counter-terrorism as well as member states who support this civil society initiative were invited. Prof. dr. Amany Lubis started the day with a presentation on the work of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which is the largest and one of the oldest Muslim organizations in Indonesia. NU has over 40 million members that traditionally organize and provide basic services for disadvantaged groups. Nowadays NU is also involved in preventing young people from turning to violent radicalism and stimulating them to choose moderation in their social, religious and spiritual lives. The large women’s branch is pivotal in this work in the way they seek dialogue and build bridges. The work of the organisation complements the work of the government of Indonesia in its efforts to deal with radicalisation. Mr Hery Saripudin of the Permanent Mission to the UN responded to the presentation of Prof. Lubis, and highlighted some points that are important in the counter-terrorism policy of Indonesia. Key to the strategy is that it should belong to anyone and everyone. Cooperation on different levels and with different stakeholders, including civil society is therefore crucial. The strategy should moreover also be focused on root causes, and be implemented in accordance with human rights.

This important example of the successful strategy of Indonesia, was followed by a panel of high-ranking UN officials, Mr EJ Flynn of CTED, Mr. Muhammed Rafiuddin Shah of CTITF, Mr. Daanish Masood of the UN Alliance of Civilization and Mr. Richard Barrett of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, representing different UN organs that work on issues of counter-terrorism. They participated in a dialogue with the participants from civil society organisations. Issues that were raised included: the terminology used, as well as the labelling, scope of concepts and the (lack of) definitions of terrorism; the opportunities for cross-linking CT efforts with other agendas, such as the work on the 1325 resolution; the challenges with regard to way the UN can work with civil society in for example the working group on the use of the internet, and more intense cooperation with organisations that represent victims and survivors of terrorism; issues of empowerment, dialogue and the use of the media were also brought forward; and the way in which the effectiveness of CT measures can be measured was discussed. The need for the UN to work more closely with civil society was emphasised to stimulate governments to respect human rights and the right to assembly and association of civil society which is vital in preventing violent extremism.

Based on the issues raised during this dialogue, themes for break-out session were selected, that allowed civil society to further explore the issues, in dialogue with the UN officials who stayed during the afternoon. The themes selected were: how human security and human rights are linked; the opportunities and approaches for civil society influence on CTM issues; the role of victims of terrorism in the efforts to build a dialogue; the way in which civil society can get more engaged with the UN on the implementation of the UN Strategy; and, monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of CT measures and policies. Reporting back to the plenary, the breakout groups suggested a range of practical strategic opportunities to pursue in order to improve the cooperation of the UN with civil society on the selected topics.

Day III was used for strategic planning by civil society participants. Four issues were selected that were further discussed in small groups. The issues concerned the questions: 1) Who are we? And who should we become in order to effectively influence CT policies and measures?; 2) Strategies for External Communication; 3) Planning civil society input for the review of the UN Global CT Strategy; and 4) Logistical questions on exchange of information, setting up a framework for evaluations of CTM, keeping a calendar of CT related events and events on cross-cutting issues, setting up an early-warning mechanism, and the collection of good practices. All participants indicated to the facilitators group how they can contribute to the different activities that were identified.

The working conference ended on a positive and energetic note. Lia van Broekhoven committed on behalf of the organizing group to produce a conference summary report the draft of which will be shared with the participants for their feedback. She also committed to coordinate the follow up steps towards the UN review next year based on the outcome of the strategic planning session.