Rule-based Diplomacy and UN Counter terrorism System


Rule-based Diplomacy and UN Counterterrorism System

Kamran Adil


On 1st May 2019, Mohammad Masood Azhar Alvi (hereinafter Masood Azhar) was placed on the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida  Sanctions List by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In response, the Government of Pakistan, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), stated:

“The UNSC 1267 Sanctions Committee listing is governed by clear rules and is based on strict technical criteria. All decisions of the Committee are taken through consensus. The Committee procedures allow members to place technical holds to provide additional time for further discussions to reach a common understanding on matters under its consideration. Many members have placed technical holds on various listing proposals. Pakistan has always advocated the need for respecting these technical rules and regulations and has opposed the politicization of the Sanctions Committee. However, the earlier proposals to list Masood Azhar failed to generate the requisite consensus in the Sanctions Committee as the information did not meet its technical criteria.”

Clearly, Pakistan relied on rule-based diplomacy and the notion of the rule of law at international level, which, in turn, are based on international law. The purpose of the write-up is to explore the counter-terrorism architecture of the UN System, and to examine how far a state like Pakistan can dovetail its diplomatic and strategic efforts into the system to tackle Indian designs that try to take advantage of the architecture by relying on the US influence.

The UN Counter terrorism Architecture

With the general impression that the UN system is waning in its influence and effectiveness, the scholars of current affairs often tend to underestimate the power of the international soft law that gets implemented through the UN system. Overviewing the UN system, in February 2017, the FIDH (the International Federation for Human Rights), an international organization comprising 184 human rights organizations in 112 countries, issued a report styled as ‘The United Nations Counter Terrorism Complex’, wherein it took stock of the counterterrorism architecture of the UN. For policymakers in Pakistan, the UN counterterrorism system may excite some interest as India is utilizing it against Pakistan. It is leveraging its relationship with the US to forestall Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts at international level.

The Report by the FIDH offers very useful insights into the UN system. For example, it notes that till 1999, the UN engaged with terrorism in a ‘limited manner’ underlining the fact that terrorism was not central to the UN agenda at that time. The report noted that the UN counterterrorism system is a ‘tentacular structure’. The Report documented different bodies of the UN that deal with counterterrorism. In essence, these bodies at different levels are:

  1. At the UNSC

Many bodies deal with counterterrorism work at the UNSC; the following may be important for an initial introduction:

  1. ISIL (Daesh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee (Sanctions Committee)

According to the FIDH Report, the first UNSC Resolution under Chapter VII that adopted a ‘measure’ by the UN system in counterterrorism work was UNSC Resolution 1267 of 1999. It established ISIL (Daesh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee that recently placed name of Masood Azhar on its list.

  1. The Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC)

It was established through UNSC Resolution 1373 of 2001. It is UNSC’s main counterterrorism body that was introduced in the wake of 11th September 2001 attacks.

  1. The Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED)

On 4th May 2004, the CTED was established to ‘restructure’ the CTC, and to provide strategic advice to it. It was established through the UNSC Resolution 1624 of 2004. Its mandate is to help the CTC in implementing UNSC Resolution 1373 of 2001.

  1. The Analytical Support and Monitoring Team and Working Groups

The Monitoring Team supports the Sanctions Committee. It was preceded by a Monitoring Group that was established through UNSC Resolution 1333 of 2001 (also called 1333 Committee). With temporal mandates that expired, ultimately, by the UNSC Resolution 1526 of 2004, a Monitoring Team was established that supports different UN bodies dealing with counter-terrorism.

  1. Office of the Ombudsperson

The UNSC Resolution 1904 of 2009 established an office of the Ombudsperson for delisting and reviewing decisions by the Sanctions Committees. It was established to ensure that human rights law is not violated by the processes of the UNSC bodies. Pakistan should consider applying for delisting of its citizens from different counterterrorism lists by arguing before the Ombudsperson that executive determinations based on inadmissible evidence and backed by soft international law must be reviewed in the interest natural justice and for the integrity of international system.

2- At the UN General Assembly

  1. UNGA

In 2006, the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, presented a UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy which was later adopted by the General Assembly. The Strategy is reviewed every two years. It has four pillars:

  1. Addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism
  2. Preventing and combating terrorism

iii. Building States’ capacity and strengthen the role of the UN

  1. Ensuring the human rights and the rule of law

Pakistan should try to build its case on the basis of Pillar iv of the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy.

  1. Ad-hoc Committee

It was established by the UNGA Resolution 51/210 in 1996. It was tasked to draft the Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism besides drafting other treaties on the subject. It has negotiated three conventions till date:

  1. The International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997);
  2. The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999);

iii. The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).

3- At the UN Secretariat

  1. UNOCT

In 2017, a new Office of the Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) was established by the General Assembly. It is headed by an Under Secretary General (USG). It oversees the working of Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) and the United Nations Counter Terrorism Centre (UNCTC).

  1. CTITF

It was established in 2009 to liaise with 38 entities that have stake in counterterrorism efforts, e.g. the Interpol.

  1. UNCCT

It was established in 2012. It partners with active think tanks and international NGOs in counterterrorism projects.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal briefs reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Faisal confirmed Wednesday that Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, an outlawed militant group blamed by India for a February suicide attack that killed 40 of its soldiers, has been added to the United Nations sanctions blacklist. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

Pakistan and the UN System

Unlike the general perception, the UN counterterrorism system is growing. Besides the above-mentioned bodies, there are other organizations like Terrorism Prevention Branch (TPB) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that emerged out of the decision of the G-7 countries that affect the municipal law of states, and by doing so, these organizations affect the sovereignty of these states. For effective diplomatic and strategic positioning, Pakistan must partake in all these fora by following rule-based diplomacy. Diplomatic corps of Pakistan has to include justice sector experts to make itself articulate its point of view more effectively, especially given the fact that most of the counterterrorism ecology is based on international soft law and basic concepts of international criminal law.

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