The UN Countering Terrorism

(Analytical Commentary)

A-M Johannessen, 1 May 2007

One of the United Nations’ significant activities is to counter terrorism on a global level. The UN is currently striving to cooperate constructively and effectively in the global struggle against terrorism in order to fulfill its mandate to maintain international peace and security. (UNODC, 2006)
The article “Security Council condemns in ‘strongest terms’ terror attack on Iraqi parliament”(see attachment) from the UN News Service on the 13 April 2007, says that “all terrorism is unjustifiable and constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace.”

Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations (1945) states the right to take action when peace is threatened.
In September 2001, the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, adopted Resolution 1373 as a response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York. ( UNODC, 2006) This resolution obliges UN member States to implement more effective counter-terrorism measures and to strengthen international cooperation in fighting terrorism. (UNODC, 2006)
A Counter- Terrorism Committee (CTC) was established in order to monitoring member States’ implementation of the UN resolution. (UNODC, 2006, UNHCHR, 2004)
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has a Terrorism Prevention Branch which is assisting member States in implementing and ratifying international conventions to counter terrorism. (UNODC, 2006)

In the UN document ‘In Larger Freedom’, Kofi A. Annan wrote about UN strategies to prevent transnational terrorism. (Annan, 2005) This is linked to the principle of ‘Freedom from Fear’ as part of the ‘Larger Freedom’, and talks about people’s right to security and development. (Annan, 2005) ‘In Larger Freedom’ outlines a strategy to counter terrorism which builds on five principles: “dissuading people from resorting to terrorism or supporting it” (Annan, 2005, p.35), denying “terrorists access to funds and materials” (Annan, 2005, p.35), deterring “States from sponsoring terrorism” (Annan, 2005, p.35), developing “State capacity to defeat terrorism” (Annan, 2005, p.35) and “defending human rights”. (Annan, 2005, p.35)
In September 2006 the UN General Assembly adopted a global counterterrorism strategy, which builds on these principles. (UN Action to Counter Terrorism, 2006) The strategy also aims to strengthen the role of the UN in combating terrorism. (UN Action to Counter Terrorism, 2006)
‘In Lager Freedom’ and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Resolution are stressing that counter terrorism efforts must always be compatible with International human rights Laws. (Annan, 2005, (A/RES/60/1, 2005) The 2005 World Summit Outcome Resolution talks about terrorism as “one of the most serious threats to international peace and security”. (A/RES/60/1, 2005, p.22) It stresses the importance of the UN in responding to global terrorism as well as the importance in acting according to International Law. (A/RES/60/1, 2005)

When countering terrorism the UN has a strength in its international legitimacy.
Another strength of the UN in countering terrorism is its expertise in promoting conditions that can discourage terrorism, such as democratization, development, human rights and political openness. (Crenshaw, 2004, UNHCHR, 2004) It can also restrict resources used for terrorism, including controlling terrorist financing. (Crenshaw, 2004, Benjamin, 2004)
The UN also has a strength in its influence over Governments defeating terrorism and in its efforts to control and ensure that International Law is being followed. (UNHCHR, 2004, Annan 2005)

The protection of human rights and strengthening of democracy should have a positive effect in terms of reducing terrorism. Currently the UN has a big challenge in supporting a peace process in the Middle East as well as the se 4lf- rule and reconstruction of Iraq. (Cortright, 2005)

Some of the UN member States that have enacted counter- terrorism legislation are lacking in financial, technical and human resources needed in order to implement the laws. (Cortright, 2005) Some countries do not have the capacity to comply with UN treaties and resolutions. This is a weakness of the UN countering terrorism. A challenge for the UN is to help these countries with resources, technology and training in order to upgrade their counter terror efforts. (Benjamin, 2004)
A challenge that the UN faces in fulfilling its mandate in relation to this activity is that global terrorists are non- state actors, and thus more difficult to target and to combat. (Cortright, 2005) Global terrorist networks spread across many States, and thus requires close cooperation between the UN member States.
However, there are some disagreements among member States as to the definition of terrorism as well as to whether some terrorist acts can be justified as being acts of national liberation. (Ninian, 2003, Stephen, 2002) These factors complicate the cooperation process between member States when aiming to counter terrorism.
A weakness of the UN’s performance in this activity is the lack of an agreed definition of terrorism. (Ninian, 2003)

The UN’s efforts in promoting social progress and peaceful conflict resolutions, protecting human rights and developing respect for International Law, needs to address global terrorism which is a threat to these principles. (Leslie, 2004, Crenshaw, 2004) This is a challenge for the UN.

A big challenge for the UN in countering terrorism is to protect human rights and basic civil liberties. (UNHCHR, 2004, Annan, 2005) The threat that the UN faces in this regard is that increased surveillance, law enforcement as well as stricter border control and regulations of finances will encroach individual and social rights and liberties. (Marten, 2004, Leslie, 2004)
The fight against terrorism has potential negative consequences in terms of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. (UNHCHR, 2004) It can also affect fundamental freedoms, such as freedom from discrimination, freedom of association and expression, freedom from arbitrary detention, and freedom from torture. (Leslie, 2004) The UN has an important and challenging job in ensuring that these rights and freedoms are not violated. This is essential for the UN in fulfilling its mandate.

The UN has an important opportunity in promoting tolerance and dialogue and encouraging open political participation. (Crenshaw, 2004) The UN agencies and international institutions should be encouraged to promote these values to local communities.
There should also be a focus on increased economic and political participation and on promoting principles of equality and justice. (Crenshaw, 2004, Leslie, 2004)
The UN has an opportunity in striving to understand the deep reasons and ‘deep cultures’ behind terrorism, in order to find the best solutions to defeat it and prevent it in the future. More resources should be delegated for this purpose.


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Ali, Tariq (2005) Speaking on Empire and Resistance, Scribe Publications Pty Ltd, Victoria, Australia

Benjamin, Daniel Terrorism and International Organizations, United Nations Foundation, 2004 orism.pdf (Accessed 30.04.07)

Cortright, David Can the UN Battle Terrorism Effectively, Fourth Freedom Forum, January 2005 (Accessed 29.04.07)

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United Nations, Economic and Social Council, Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Report of the Secretary General, E/CN.15/2006/12, 24 February 2006

UN News Service, Condemning blasts in Algeria, Ban Ki-moon urges global action against terror, 11 April, 2007 (Accessed 29.04.06)

UN News Service, Darfur at the crossroads, says Ban Ki-moon as he calls for comprehensive solution, 17 April, 2007 (Accessed 27.04.07)

UN News Service, Security Council condems in ‘strongest terms’ terror attack on Iraqi parliament, 13 April, 2007 (Accessed 29.04.07)

UN News Service, Security Council deplores deadly bomb attacks in Algeria, 12 April, 2007 (Accessed 29.04.07)

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