The comprehensive UN Security Council Resolution 2178 Condemning Violent Extremism,  Underscoring Need to Prevent Travel, Support for Foreign Fighters, passed on Sept. 24, 2014 under Chapter VII, making compliance mandatory for UN member states. It requires them to take a number of steps to address the problem created by 13,000 foreign fighters from over 80 countries that have joined terrorist groups, including travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, surveillance and more. It specifies that these measures must be consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law.  UNSR 2178 also highlights the role civil society can play in addressing violent extremism and its drivers, noting that solutions must be comprehensive and not just law enforcement oriented.  However, the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and countering terrorism, Prof. Martin Scheinin, posted a blog criticizing the Resolution as overly vague and broad, potentially opening the door to abuse by governments seeking to suppress human rights or political opposition.

The day the Resolution passed the UN added 14 people and 2 entities to its Al-Qaida sanctions list and the U.S. listed 12 “foreign fighter facilitators,” including an Indonesian group described as the social wing of a listed terrorist group.

At the meeting on the Resolution UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that “over the long term, the biggest threat to terrorists is not the power of missiles – it is the politics of inclusion.”  Key statements in the Resolution reinforce this concept, mentioning civil society groups and human rights.  They include:

  • “Reaffirming that Member States must ensure that any measures taken to counter terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law, and international humanitarian law, underscoring that respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are complementary and mutually reinforcing with effective counter-terrorism measures, and are an essential part of a successful counter-terrorism effort and notes the importance of respect for the rule of law so as to effectively prevent and combat terrorism, and noting that failure to comply with these and other international obligations, including under the Charter of the United Nations, is one of the factors contributing to increased radicalization and fosters a sense of impunity,

  • “Recognizing that addressing the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters requires comprehensively addressing underlying factors, including by preventing radicalization to terrorism, stemming recruitment, inhibiting foreign terrorist fighter travel, disrupting financial support to foreign terrorist fighters, countering violent extremism, which can be conducive to terrorism, countering incitement to terrorist acts motivated by extremism or intolerance, promoting political and religious tolerance, economic development and social cohesion and inclusiveness, ending and resolving armed conflicts, and facilitating reintegration and rehabilitation,

  • “Recognizing also that terrorism will not be defeated by military force, law enforcement measures, and intelligence operations alone, and underlining the need to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, as outlined in Pillar I of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (A/RES/60/288),

  • “16. Encourages Member States to engage relevant local communities and non-governmental actors in developing strategies to counter the violent extremist narrative that can incite terrorist acts, address the conditions conducive to the spread of violent extremism, which can be conducive to terrorism, including by empowering youth, families, women, religious, cultural and education leaders, and all other concerned groups of civil society and adopt tailored approaches to countering recruitment to this kind of violent extremism and promoting social inclusion and cohesion;

  • “19. Emphasizes in this regard the importance of Member States’ efforts to develop non-violent alternative avenues for conflict prevention and resolution by affected individuals and local communities to decrease the risk of radicalization to terrorism, and of efforts to promote peaceful alternatives to violent narratives espoused by foreign terrorist fighters, and underscores the role education can play in countering terrorist narratives;

Despite these provisions, many experts are concerned that the provision of Paragraph 6, which calls on UN members to bring “any person who participates in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts or in supporting terrorist acts” to justice, and to ensure their laws treat these as serious criminal offenses, could be interpreted overly broadly, risking consequences that could create new problems.

In explaining this, Scheinin’s blog says,

This provision, even if difficult to enforce by the Security Council itself, and therefore representing a panic reaction that is mainly symbolic at UN level, will provide a handy tool for oppressive regimes that choose to stigmatize as “terrorism” whatever they do not like – for instance political opposition, trade unions, religious movements, minority or indigenous groups, etc. Let us assume that a country applies a definition of terrorism that includes organized campaigns of indigenous groups toward self-determination by non-violent means. Criminalizing the provision of training to empower these groups, including in the field of human rights, would then be legitimized by OP6. The repressive regime would refer to its obligations under the UN Charter to justify a crackdown upon travel, training and funding of organizations and movements said to constitute a threat to the oppressive regime itself – even when totally nonviolent.