UN Resolutions and Policies
The United Nations has initiated several Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, developed organizational strategy documents, and mandated internal committees in order to establish a common basis for the 193 Member States to combat terrorist use of the internet in their individual countries. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions that have shaped counter-terrorism regulation at the international level include resolutions 1267 (1999), 1373 (2001), 1566 (2004), 1624 (2005), 2178 (2014), 2322 (2016), 2396 (2017). On 28 September 2001, the Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC) was created through the adoption of UNSC resolution 1373 (2001). The UN’s main global instrument is the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, adopted in 2006 under the General Assembly’s Resolution 60/288. The Strategy is designed to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism in general, including within cyberspace. On 15 June 2017, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) was established through the adoption of General Assembly resolution 71/291. The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) and the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT), initially established in the Department of Political Affairs were moved into the Office of Counter-Terrorism. In 2018, the CTITF was replaced by the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact.
On 15 October 1999, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) established a Committee to impose sanctions on Taliban, through the adoption of resolution 1267 (1999). Over the years, the resolution has been reaffirmed and modified by several other landmark UNSC resolutions, including resolution 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015). Currently, the Committee concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida, and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities oversees the sanctions measures imposed by the Security Council.
In April 2006, the UN General Assembly published “Uniting Against Terrorism: Recommendations for a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy”. This report of the Secretary-General recognized that terrorism had become one of the main agendas of the UN and the General Assembly urged the organization to take action. The purpose of this report was to encourage a collective global effort to counter terrorism based on five fundamental components: dissuading people from resorting to terrorism or supporting it (1); denying terrorists the means necessary to carry out attacks (2); preventing state members from supporting terrorism (3); enhancing state capacity against terrorism (4), and defending human rights throughout the process (5).
As a result of the aforementioned report, the UN published a Global Counter Terrorism Strategy that was adopted by consensus in 2006. The strategy is a global instrument designed to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism. Following this strategy, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 60/288, detailing common strategic and operational goals to counter terrorism with an annexed plan of action composed of 4 pillars. The first pillar focuses on addressing “the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism” and establishes eight measures that all member states must follow. The conditions that need to be addressed include “prolonged unresolved conflicts, dehumanization of victims, lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalization, and lack of good governance.” The second pillar deals with “measures to prevent and combat terrorism”. This pillar includes 18 different measures that all Member States of the UN have agreed to take in order to prevent and combat terrorism. Each State should deny terrorists’ “access to the means to carry out their attacks, to their targets and to the desired impact of their attacks”. Under point 12 of the second pillar, the resolution specifically addresses issues relating to terrorist use of the internet, by committing to explore ways to:
a) “Coordinate efforts at the international and regional levels to counter terrorism in all its forms and manifestations on the Internet”
b) “Use the Internet as a tool for countering the spread of terrorism, while recognizing that States may require assistance in this regard”
The third pillar deals with “measures to build States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system”. The third pillar notes that a core element of countering terrorism globally is capacity-building across all states. The 13 measures included in this pillar focus on developing State capacity in addition to augmenting and reinforcing coordination and coherence within the UN system through international cooperation. The fourth and final pillar deals with “measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism”. This pillar focuses on keeping the fundamental human rights as a first priority while countering global terror. The 8 measures established under this pillar reaffirm that the protection of human rights will be present on all components of the strategy and that counter-terrorism and the protection of human rights should be nothing but complementary.
In September 2012, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in conjunction with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, produced a report on the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. The report and its associated working group aimed at coordinating activities of the United Nations to support the United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy adopted by the General Assembly’s resolution 60/288, specifically it’s intent to counter “terrorism in its forms and manifestations on the internet”. The working group found three key themes for discussion: legal issues, technical issues, and opportunities for the international community to use the internet to counter terrorism. In addition, the report classified the means by which terrorists use the internet into six categories: propaganda (including recruitment, radicalization and incitement to terrorism); financing; training; planning (including through secret communication and open source information); execution; and cyberattacks.
On 24 September 2014, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2178, which reaffirmed that terrorism is to be prevented and criminalized by the Member States. In particular, it focused on the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters while also acknowledging the use of the internet and social media for terrorist purposes.
The Council expressed “concern over the increased use by terrorists and their supporters of communications technology for the purpose of radicalizing to terrorism, recruiting and inciting others to commit terrorist acts, including through the internet, financing and facilitating the travel and subsequent activities of foreign terrorist fighters, and underlining the need for Member States to act cooperatively to prevent terrorists from exploiting technology, communications and resources to incite support for terrorist acts, while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms and in compliance with other obligations under international law…”.
The Council demanded that “all foreign terrorist fighters disarm and cease all terrorist acts and participation in armed conflict”. Furthermore, it “encouraged” member states to employ evidence-based traveler risk assessment and screening procedures including collection and analysis of travel data. The Council urged the states “to intensify and accelerate the exchange of operational information regarding actions or movements of terrorists or terrorist networks”. In addition, it called upon “the members to disrupt and prevent financial support to foreign terrorist fighters, and to develop and implement prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies for returning foreign terrorist fighters”.
In 2016, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2322, calling upon UN Member States to cooperatively prevent terrorists’ use of the internet. The resolution encouraged Member States to develop effective counter narratives to prevent terrorists from using the internet for recruitment, propaganda and incitement purposes.
On 24 May 2017, Tech Against Terrorism was implemented pursuant to the UN Security Council resolution 2354 (2017) and the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Comprehensive International Framework to Counter Terrorist Narratives (S/2017/375). This project led to several conferences and collaborations with small tech companies. Tech Against Terrorism also works with large companies such as the founders of the Global Internet Forum to Counter-Terrorism (GIFCT): Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube. The project aims to reach out to the private information and communications technology sector and to fight against terrorists’ use of internet through an online knowledge sharing platform accessible to organizations looking for help and advices.
Following the adoption of the General Assembly Resolution 71/291, the UN established the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism on 21 June 2017. The office has a close relationship with Security Council bodies and Member States, and performs five main functions which are the basis for the UN’s part in countering terror globally:
1.“Provide leadership on the General Assembly counter-terrorism mandates entrusted to the Secretary-General from across the United Nations system”.
2.“Enhance coordination and coherence across the 38 Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact (former CTITF) Task Force entities to ensure the balanced implementation of the four pillars of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy”.
3.“Strengthen the delivery of United Nations counter-terrorism capacity-building assistance to Member States”.
4.“Improve visibility, advocacy and resource mobilization for United Nations counter-terrorism efforts”.
5.“Ensure that due priority is given to counterterrorism across the United Nations system and that the important work on preventing violent extremism is firmly rooted in the Strategy”.
On 20 September 2017, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy and Prime Minister Theresa May of the UK co-hosted a meeting on “Preventing terrorist use of the Internet”, which was held on the margins of the 72nd UN General Assembly. The high-level meeting was organized following efforts by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) to prevent and counter terrorism online. The three Heads of State released a joint statement, reaffirming their commitment to work together with private companies, governments and civil society “to prevent the dissemination of terrorist content online and the use of the internet by terrorists to radicalize, recruit, inspire or incite”.
In addition, UNSC resolution 2396 (2017) called upon the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) “to continue to increase engagement with governments and technology companies globally”.
In June 2018, the UN published a report on the United Nations High-Level Conference to Counter-Terrorism. The conference set multiple goals and emphasized the importance of preventing terrorism and violent extremism. Representatives of Member States discussed a range of topics, including the importance of preventing abuse of the internet by terrorists and the potential need for an international instrument to counter terrorism in cyberspace.
On 28 March 2019, Security Council Resolution 2462 reaffirmed the close collaboration between the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the United Nations in the fight against terrorist fighting. FATF is an inter-governmental body which was established in 1989. The organization promotes measures and develops a series of recommendations in order to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. FATF’s decision making body meets three times per year on a plenary session.