On 11 February, the BIC attended the opening of a two-day, high-level regional conference on challenges posed by foreign terrorist fighters in Vienna. The conference saw the presence of more than 400 participants from over 70 countries, including main organizers such as the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), the OSCE, and Switzerland, in co-operation with Albania’s OSCE Chairmanship.
Given recent developments in the Middle East as well as in other conflict areas, OSCE participating States and Partners for Co-operation2 are expecting the return of FTFs with increasing concern, as some of these returnees may be ready to commit violent acts, incite others to engage in terrorist activities, or take part in recruitment and fundraising efforts for terrorist organizations. Ensuring appropriate treatment of these returnees and their families, including prosecution, as appropriate, rehabilitation and reintegration, will be crucial, in line with UN Security Council resolution 2396 (2017) and the Addendum to the 2015 Madrid Guiding Principles on FTFs, adopted by the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee in 2018. The repatriation, in accordance with Member States international obligations, of women and children associated with those fighters presents additional challenges.
In his opening address, Ambassador Johannes Matyassy welcomed the participants of the conference on behalf of the Swiss Foreign Minister and highlighted the many challenges the issue of foreign terrorist fighters pose. He further emphasized that political solutions must be found to restore regions in conflict and people in need, especially in Syria directly but also elsewhere. Concluding his remarks, Amb. Matyassy stated that “In order to solve what concerns all of us, we have only one choice: we must come together and jointly tackle the issues at hand” .
Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, expressed his hope that “this Conference will provide an opportunity to discuss practical ways to assess and mitigate the risks posed by returning or relocating foreign terrorist fighters, and will address the particularly complex situation of women and children associated with foreign terrorist fighters.” He also added that geopolitical tensions risks jeopardizing global peace and sustainability. According to Mr. Voronkov, unity is a key word in fighting terrorism and radicalization.
During her presentation, Ms. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicated that: “Foreign terrorist fighters pose urgent and expanding challenges to governments everywhere –in the theatre of operations and transit countries, to places of home and return. Strengthening co-ordinated, integrated responses to foreign terrorist fighters remains a critical priority of the UNODC in our comprehensive support to countries and regions to address drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism.”
Section one of the conference brought together experts from a variety of fields to discuss how to build concrete responses to incitement, recruitment and facilitation of FTF activities. Keynote Speakers included Mr. Gilles de Kerchove, the EU`s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator and Ms. Mona Rishmawi, Chief Rule of Law, Equality & Non-Discrimination Branch at the OHCHR. Section two`s discussion addressed the use of passenger data collection (i.e. through Advance Passenger Information Systems and Passenger Name Records) and the role of capacity-building activities for front-line screeners, such as immigration, customs and border security agencies. Finally, section three reflected upon the question of how governments and international organizations could enhance cooperation in the sharing of evidence, including battlefield evidence, in order to enable the successful and rule of law-compliant prosecutions of FTFs, also in their home countries. In this section, speakers included Ms. Michèle Coninsx, Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director at the UN CTED, and Ms. Olga Zudova, Senior Expert at the UNODC.
The work of the Conference will be summarized in a co-chair’s summary, which shall inform the Second UN High-level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States about the regional experiences, good practices and lessons-learned identified throughout the OSCE area, to be held in New York in July 2020.