READ – Remarks and Explanation of Position Following on the Adoption of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, Senior Advisor for UN Management and Reform
New York, New York, June 30, 2021

Thank you very much, Mr. President. Thank you for convening this General Assembly meeting on the biennial review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. We also thank Ambassadors Augustin Maraver of Spain and Mohammed Alhassan of Oman for co-facilitating this difficult but important negotiation process.

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When the Strategy was adopted in 2006, the international community came together to coordinate a unified global framework to counter the evolving threat of terrorism. At the heart of our collective counterterrorism effort is the imperative to protect lives. Unfortunately, we have not always succeeded, and the resulting victims of terrorism are an eternal reminder of our collective responsibility to prevent acts of terrorism everywhere in the world, and to hold terrorists accountable. You must stand in solidarity with victims of terrorism and support the immediate, short-term, and long-term relief and rehabilitation of victims and their families.

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That we have managed to adopt this Strategy by consensus, once again – despite the entrenched and divergent views of Member States – is a notable achievement. My intervention today serves as both our statement of debate and our explanation of position – both will be posted on our website following this session.

Although few of us would consider GCTS a perfect resolution, it does address many critical issues for which there is international consensus. For example, the United States welcomes the inclusion of language promoting national sentencing policies, practices, and guidelines for terrorism crimes that are proportionate and reflect the gravity of the offences, while respecting human rights and upholding international law. The United States also welcomes new language on terrorism and violent extremism based on racism, though we regret that we could not come to consensus on language that encompasses both race and ethnicity as potential motivating factors. The United States also welcomes references to the important topic of repatriation, but regrets that these references are not commensurate with the gravity of the issue, which as Under-Secretary-General Voronkov called, “one of the most pressing issues in the world today.”

Foreign terrorist fighters in inadequate detention facilities and their associated family members living in overburdened camps in Syria and Iraq pose a serious security threat and a dire humanitarian crisis, raising human rights concerns. Unfortunately, many of the states that pushed for adding human rights language throughout the Strategy refuse to address the inhumane conditions of their own citizens languishing in Syria and Iraq. We believe that repatriation of all Member State citizens, rehabilitation, reintegration, and prosecution, as appropriate, of foreign terrorist fighters is the best way to prevent a resurgence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and prevent the uncontrolled return of FTFs to countries of origin in the future. Similarly, the best way to support the short- and long-term relief and rehabilitation of associated family members – particularly the thousands of children who remain in displaced person camps like al-Hol – is to return them and reintegrate them into their local communities.

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As the United States said in 2018, the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review resolution should guide global efforts to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism, not be yet another vehicle to unjustly criticize Israel at the United Nations. The United States cannot accept the divisive reference to foreign occupation in preambular paragraph 43. It attempts to justify terrorist acts, which are categorically unacceptable under any circumstances, and to undermine a Member State’s legitimate right to self-defense. Accordingly, the United States dissociates from consensus on preambular para. 43 of the resolution. All forms and manifestations of terrorism are criminal or unjustifiable.

The United States supports increasing humanitarian assistance and access for those in need consistent with both counterterrorism and humanitarian imperatives. We endorse the language in operative paragraph 60 – drawn from United Nations Security Council Resolution 2642*, adopted in 2019 – which urges Member States, when designing and applying counterterrorism measures, to take into account the potential effect of those measures on exclusively humanitarian activities, including medical activities, that are carried out by impartial humanitarian actors in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law.

The United States rejects the efforts by some to read language included in paragraph 109 to mean that all Member States – including non-parties to the relevant armed conflict – have obligations under international humanitarian law any time it applies to ensure that counterterrorism legislation does not impede humanitarian aid, even if terrorists benefit from such aid. While we support the critical role humanitarian actors play, there is no obligation under international law that requires the completely unrestricted delivery of humanitarian or other assistance to terrorist groups or individual terrorists at all times. We emphasize that paragraph 109 has no impact upon the binding obligation for Member States to criminalize the financing of terrorism and prohibit their nationals or those within their territories from providing funds or other economic resources directly or indirectly to terrorist organizations or individual terrorists for any purpose, even in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.

The United States also remains concerned about the references to the so-called “Principle to Extradite or Prosecute” in operative paragraphs 26 and 29 of the Strategy, which is a misstatement of international law. Extradition and prosecution are vital elements of law enforcement response to terrorism, but we remind the Assembly that the obligation to “extradite or prosecute” arises under specific multilateral treaties. It is incorrect to suggest that it exists as a freestanding principle of law that applies and has independent meaning outside the specific relevant provisions of those treaties.

In preambular paragraph 23, we note that the right to education is to be progressively realized, as with all economic, social, and cultural rights. In that same paragraph, we read “all feasible measures” to encompass existing obligations under international humanitarian law. This resolution does not expand on the obligations of parties to an armed conflict vis-a-vis schools.

In operative paragraph 68, we read the term “nuclear, chemical and biological materials” to include only materials with the potential weapons of mass destruction applications and not – for instance – bona fide medical supplies.

We also reiterate that successful counterterrorism and prevention of violent extremism efforts must respect human rights, including freedom of expression, and the rule-of-law. As such, we read this resolution in light of our Constitution and international obligations.

One of the United Nations’ founding purposes was the promise of collective measures to prevent and counter threats to international peace and security. For almost 20 years since the September 11 attacks, Member States and UN entities have fulfilled this purpose. The United Nations has created collective mechanisms to identify strategic counterterrorism priorities and strengthen the capacity of Member States to prevent and counter terrorism, while highlighting the value of whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches, and the importance respecting human rights and the rule of law.

Over the next two years, the United States looks forward to building on this work, and to collaborating with UN and other multilateral organizations, Member States, and civil society to implement the GCTS in a balanced approach across all four of its pillars.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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