UN and Experts Call for Increased Role of Civil Society in Countering Terror

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September 16, 2010

On Sept. 8, 2010, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly reaffirmed its support for the UN anti-terror strategy that in part calls for increasing engagement with civil society groups. With the unanimous adoption of the resolution, the 192-member assembly said detecting and preventing terrorism requires more coordination and dialogue among its global partners. Concurrently, the UN’s Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) held a multiday event at the International Peace Institute (IPI) analyzing the implementation of the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. It included a panel of nonprofit experts that addressed the impact counterterrorism measures have on civil society groups and called for more collaboration and partnership with the CTITF. 

The reaffirmation of the resolution was to underscore the role of the UN, including the CTITF, in countering terrorism at national, regional and global levels. The head of CTITF, Jean-Paul Laborde, and several of his colleagues led the three day event that brought together over 150 UN officials and international policy makers and analysts together to discuss a range of issues, including protecting human rights while countering terrorism and countering terrorist use of the Internet. Laborde said if a fraction of the investment made by nations in hard power was put delegated towards soft power measures, such as promoting education and respect for human rights, “we really can reduce these terrorist threats.” 

Speaking at the CTITF event, Bibi van Ginkel, a research fellow at the International Centre on Counter-Terrorism in The Hague, and a senior research fellow at Clingendael, a Dutch think-tank, spoke about challenges to engagement between civil society and the CTITF. Traditional barriers to civil society groups, such as working in places that limit their political space to operate and the reluctance of states “to engage civil society on national security matters” remain obstacles to be overcome. Additionally, the sector, representing a wide range of issues and opinions, does not “speak with a single voice,” and cannot be expected to agree on every issue or response.

Van Ginkel co-authored a paper with Fulco van Deventer and Lia van Broekhoven, policy analysts at Cordaid, a Dutch development organization, that analyzed the effectiveness of engagement between civil society and the implementation of the UN’s anti-terror strategy. The paper outlines the roles civil society can have in effectively countering terrorism and recommended the UN create a “process of engagement with civil society actors by the creation of political space, safeguards and long-term commitments on development and inclusiveness.”


Speaking on the same panel, Alistair Millar, Director of the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation, discussed the role and contributions of civil society to countering terrorism. They included:

  • Addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism
  • Ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law
  • Raising awareness of victims, popular counterterrorism measures and countering the terrorists’ narrative
  • Preventing and combating terrorism
  • Building states capacity to counter terrorism

David Cortright, Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for INternational Peace Studies at Notre Dame and Chair of the Fourth Freedom Forum, said the nonprofit sector must become more involved in the decision making process because they are often adversely impacted by counterterrorism measures. Cortright described many counterterrorism measures as overbroad, saying they should focus exclusively on “terrorists, and not citizens.” 

In September 2006, the UN unanimously adopted the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which adopted the view that "long term efforts to address conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism are an essential part of an effective and comprehensive strategy to combat and prevent terrorism, thus moving beyond the Council's emphasis on law enforcement and other security measures." It is the first UN document on counterterrorism to include a role for civil society organizations in that it stresses respect for human rights and the rule of law, and "acknowledges that a wide range of stakeholders, beyond states, have a role to play in its implementation."

In his address after reaffirming the resolution, Ali Treki, President of the UN General Assembly, said terrorism remains a complex problem that requires a "better coordinated and effective response" from the international community. "In spite of continuing efforts by the United Nations, member states, international, regional and sub-regional organizations as well as the civil society, the menace of terrorism continues to spread with its serious destabilizing and disruptive consequences felt around the world," Treki added.

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