Recently circulated by the United States in New York, in conjunction with the larger campaign against ISIS: a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution aiming to reduce the rising threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs)---or, as the resolution defines them, “individuals who travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of terrorist training, including in connecting with armed conflict.”
If approved, the document seemingly would impose obligations upon U.N. member states. It explicitly invokes Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, for example, refers to threats to international peace and security posed both by terrorism and FTFs generally, and purports to “decide” numerous issues pertaining to the threat. The draft will be the subject of a September 24 Security Council meeting, which President Obama will chair personally.
An overview of the resolution follows, with a focus on areas where the draft would impose obligations on member states.
There’s a lengthy preamble describing the Council's motivations and overarching objectives. This opens by stating that terrorism in general is one of the most serious threats to international peace and security and that, despite a campaign against it, trend lines indicate that various regions in the world are experiencing increases in terrorism largely motivated by intolerance and extremism. Like President Obama in his speech earlier this week, the resolution is careful to note that terrorism should never be associated with any particular religion or civilization.
What warrants Security Council intervention to deal with FTFs? The draft declares that FTFs increase the intensity and intractability of conflicts, posing serious threats to a range of states. And they pose distinct problems as compared to “run-of-the-mill” terrorists because FTFs are part of an international web that isn’t particular to any one state or region. The draft thus treats FTFs as a unique problem requiring a unique international policy response.
Next the draft expresses “particular concern” with those joining “the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Al-Nusrah Front (ANF) and other cells, affiliates, splinter groups or derivatives of Al-Qaida.” This line is notable in part because it demonstrates that the Security Council, like President Obama, continues to perceive a linkage between Al-Qaeda and ISIL.
The preamble highlights how addressing the FTF threat will require preventing radicalization, reducing recruitment, placing limits on FTFs’ ability to travel, and disrupting their financial support systems. The draft’s introductory portion also emphasizes that terrorism cannot be defeated by military force alone, and that the global community must address conditions that are conducive to the spread of terrorism.
The draft raises two other concerns: terrorist exploitation of communications technology and the Internet and persons with multiple nationalities who travel for the purpose of supporting terrorism.
Finally—and significant for the resolution’s status if approved—the preamble concludes with an explicit claim that the Security Council is acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.
The resolution’s operative part starts by demanding that all FTFs withdraw from armed conflict zones and end their terrorist activity. It then declares that states should work to limit terrorist movements by more careful issuance of identity papers and travel documents, more effective border control, and prevention of counterfeiting, forgery, and fraud. Much like the international nature of the FTF threat, part of the response to it, the draft notes, must come from member states’ exchanging operational information on terrorist movements and actions. And, echoing earlier language in the preamble, one of the draft’s provisions asks that states develop and implement mechanisms for the prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration of returning FTFs.
This brings us to the resolution’s key “decides” paragraphs---key, again, because of their mandatory character vis-à-vis U.N. member states. The Security Council decides that members shall work to “prevent and suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping of individuals who travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts” and the like. States’ efforts in this regard, moreover, should be consistent with international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian laws.
Second, all UN member states “shall ensure” that anyone participating in or supporting terrorists acts be brought to justice and, further, “that all States shall ensure that their domestic laws and regulations establish serious criminal offenses sufficient to provide the ability to prosecute and to penalize in a manner duly reflecting the seriousness of the offense.” The draft highlights three offenses: when states’ nationals travel or attempt to travel to another state (one other than their residence) for the purpose of supporting terrorism; the willful collection of funds by a state’s nationals for the purpose (or intended purpose) of using them to travel in order to receive training for terrorism, or to support it generally; the willful organization or facilitation of the travel of others for the purpose of supporting terrorist activity.
The draft resolution then “decides” that member states shall prevent the “entry into or transit through their territories of any individual whom that State has credible information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that he or she is seeking entry into or transit through their territory for the purpose” of engaging in terrorist activity. Entering a specific territory for the furtherance of judicial process is excepted.
The resolution further calls for more international coordination and collaboration, stronger border protection, disruption of FTF financial support systems, local community engagement, and the development of non-violent alternative avenues to conflict prevention, stating that this will decrease the risk of radicalization to terrorism.
The draft concludes by asking for more studies and information from UN bodies. The Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team is tasked with giving special attention to ISIL and ANF FTFs and the threats they pose, as well as with identifying the most affected regions’ trends in radicalization; the Counter-Terrorism Committee is asked to identify gaps in the capacities of the different member states and to provide the relevant assistance that might be necessary to remedy those shortcomings.