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United we stand on ‘terrorism’? Evaluation of the shortcomings of global efforts and the efficacy of EU’s initiatives

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]n issue that has assumed global proportions, terrorism has become one of the gravest threats to humanity. Yet even as its expanse and reach have spared none, there seems to be no global consensus on what terrorism is all about. However, unhindered by the absence of a global understanding, attempts have been made by the European Union (EU) to deal with the challenges that the increasing spread of terrorism has been posing.

Located in the background of rising terror activities and their worsening impact, this article will evaluate the impediments to forming a global consensus on the ‘what’ of terrorism, followed by an appraisal of the efforts made by EU fill this void at the regional level. By contrasting the efforts that have been undertaken at two different (but inter-connected) levels of analysis – global and regional – prominent debates in the field concerning international organizations, particularly those related structure-agency, pathologies and institutional capacity, will be highlighted.

What is ‘terrorism’ anyway?

What had once been considered as a sporadic, quasi-global occurrence, terrorism was catapulted to the level of a ‘global epidemic’ with the attack on US on September 11, 2001. Much a cause of global concern, however, ‘no ‘universal’ definition of terrorism exists at the level of international law’.

Often taken to be a ‘political act’ that involves ‘indiscriminate or targeted killing’ with the intention of ‘changing the stance of a country or its government’, ‘terrorism’ as a word has been around as a ‘political descriptor’ for long. In fact, the word ‘terror’ – which according to its Latin etymological root, terrere, means ‘to frighten’ – had ‘entered Western European languages’ lexicons through French in the fourteenth century and was first used in English in 1528’. Furthermore, the absence of a legally defined, working definition of ‘terrorism’ has however not hindered a general acknowledgement of its ‘pejorative, unwanted nature’.

Inevitably entwined with power politics – what Foucault (1980) had described as the ‘power/knowledge’ nexus – the word ‘terrorism’ has generally been heaped on activities of identified ‘others’ whose activities have been deemed ‘undesirable’ by the state. However, such was not the case from the beginning. Much like any other political discourse, the concept of ‘terrorism’ – what to make of it, its forms, actors and the ways to deal with it – has undergone transformation. What had once been associated with ‘state-perpetrated violence’ is now generally seen as ‘non-state actors led transnational activity’ that looks to global action for dealing with it.

…And, how have we dealt with it internationally?

Today, as per the United Nations (UN), ‘acts of international terrorism constitute one of the most serious threats to international peace and security in the twenty-first century’, but what exactly these ‘threats’ are continues to be an unsettled debate. What makes the acknowledgement of the global failure on arriving at a legal definition of terrorism even more glaring is the ‘exclusion of terrorism from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court’.

While there continues to be a lack of legal-proper definition of terrorism internationally, the UN in 2005 described what it thought terrorism is. According to the UN, ‘terrorism’ stood for ‘criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them’. However, as one would come to see, the generic usage of ascriptive terms and the abstract conceptualization of ‘acts’ did not take the world body or its members state any far in dealing with this issue. A clear lack of specifics created an open-ended situation in which potentially all or none ‘actions’ could be described as terrorism.

Furthermore, emanating from the absence of legal parameters regarding the understanding of terrorism are multiple overlapping structures and conventions that are geared to tackle the various facets of the same concern – terrorism. The presence of too many frameworks and their respective policy recommendations has created problems related to prioritization. Realizing that any given country can be a signatory to many conventions simultaneously, the absence of an overarching body overseeing the implementation of obligations has hampered harmonious and in-sync actions against the common issue.

Disjunctions between frameworks are also witnessed and which, as a result, have also created conflicts and lack of coordination between mechanisms that are instituted to deal with the same menace. For instance, the UN ‘now oversees sixteen conventions that target different aspects of terrorism, including terrorist financing, hijacking, acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and hostage taking, to name a few’. Added to which, ‘within the UN alone, (there) are more than thirty agencies conducting relevant work on the issue, and too often, these various elements are uncoordinated and even competing.’

Exerting their sovereignty in the absence of a supra-national, global body, the ‘differing perceptions of threats’ as held by the states, in one way, comes to highlight the lacking of international bodies. For instance, while the UNS discharging its responsibilities as enshrined in the charter of the UN, has attempted to ‘strengthen the international legal foundation for counterterrorism efforts by issuing numerous binding resolutions’, their efficacy has often been placed under doubt. In the post-9/11 era, the UNSC had established Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) that was later followed by the CTC Executive Directorate (CTED), however not much has been achieved with their constitution. Observers have been of the opinion that the ‘response of the world organization (UN) to terrorism has been tentative, halting, even ambivalent’.Added to which, “although the CTC was set up as part of the resolution that explicitly invoked the enforcement powers under Chapter VII of the Charter, it is not an enforcement mechanism; it has no power to impose sanctions” and which effectively makes it toothless.

Another instance that highlights the truncated agency of world bodies like the UN to deal with what is indeed a ‘global’ concern – ‘terrorism’ – is the abeyance in which Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) is found. Discussions on the CCIT had begun in 1996 with the intention to criminalize all forms of international terrorism and deny terrorists, their financiers and supporters access to funds, arms, and safe havens. Among the objectives of this convention was the creation of a universal definition of terrorism that all member-states of the UN are to incorporate into their domestic criminal laws’.

Despite the urgency with which it is required, the CCIT has not materialized into a legally-binding convention to date. The reason: lack of consensus over the ‘universal definition’ of terrorism; an aspect about the proposed convention that has the United States, Organization of Islamic Countries and Latin America disagreeing over.

Faced with sovereign resistance to the creation of a concerted global effort, the UN has endeavored to forge global intention – if not action – against terrorism. In a display of its institutional agency and capacity, and with the intent to ‘increase the legitimacy and add coherence’ to what it does, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted in 2006 the Global Counterterrorism Strategy (GCT). And, even as it is acknowledged that the GCT ‘is either unknown or largely overlooked beyond New York, Geneva, and Vienna’, the fact that the UN could create an ‘important normative and operational foundation for counterterrorism’ can perhaps be taken as an indicator of life that international organizations have of their own, notwithstanding how impacting it might be.

European Union saves the day

As it became evident that global efforts to tackle an acknowledged global issue have not been able take off much from the ground, it was domestic, bilateral and regional initiatives that one had to turn to. Among the regional initiatives, those taken by the EU have proven to be instances of success.

Attributing the swiftness with which the EU adopted and implemented measures to tackle terrorism within its regional territory to ‘greater homogeneity in the interests of the European states’, Eugenia Dumitriu (2004) notes that, ‘as early as in 1977, European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism’ was signed by the then member-states. While ‘this Convention did not offer a comprehensive definition of terrorism, since its objective is of a procedural nature…it drew up a list of terrorist acts defined either autonomously or by reference to international conventions’.

Apart from having been ratified and incorporated into the domestic law by all the member-states of this regional organization, what stands out the most about this convention is the difference that is drawn between acts of terror and those having political purposes and motives. Dumitriu notes,

“European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism is the first to address a wide spectrum of terrorist acts and to impose on States the obligation not to consider them as political offences, offences connected with a political offence or as offences inspired by political motives.”

Furthermore, the Treaty of European Union (or the Maastricht Treaty of 1992) that led to the creation of the EU too reinforced a ‘legal basis for action by the Union in this field (terrorism)’. Developing an ‘effective fight against terrorism’, the “Union has several tasks to fulfill and a variety of instruments at its disposal, an emphasis being laid upon the approximation of member states’ criminal laws in accordance with Article 31 of Maastricht Treaty”.

It was in 2002 that the EU came up with a common definition of terrorism which was ‘combined with standard’ penalties. Institutionalizing a legal framework to fight terrorism, the creation of the ‘Council Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism’ was geared to promote coordination between member-states by creating a regionally universal standard for classifying terrorism and putting in place mechanisms based on that common understanding. As Dumitriu notes, the Framework provides a ‘common definition of terrorist offences, as well as rules of competence and of legal cooperation between member states for the prosecution of persons having committed terrorist acts’. Thus, by establishing a totalizing mechanism to deal with terrorism, this Framework eliminates duplication, lack of coordination and conflicts that could have emerged thereof.

Apart from this larger Framework that informs the various steps taken by the EU for tackling ‘terrorism’, this regional body has put in place certain other legal, financial and judicial measures. These include, creation and enforcement of the ‘European Arrest Warrant (of 2002 which smoothens inter-member-state extradition); Schengen Borders Code and Schengen Information System (to check money laundering which is a known source financing terrorism); EUROPOL (the European Police Office) and EUROJUST (European Union Judicial Cooperation Unit), among many other initiatives that have been taken.

Providing an overall point of convergence is the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP; formerly known as European Security and Defence Policy), which in rendering a common framework to its member-states with regards to the promotion of ‘international security’ equips EU with policies and instruments required for tackling terrorism both at home and abroad.

In this context, it is also important to note that EU has also ventured beyond its shores to create and enforce methods and mechanisms promoting coordination between EU, member-states and other entities (countries and organizations). For instance, the EU has ‘concluded an agreement with the USA for a Terrorism Finance Tracking Programme, (TFTP) which entered into force in August 2010’.

Further enhancement in the power of the EU to preside and decide over matters related to the ‘internal security’ of its member states has been witnessed since the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty (of 2007). These include, greater oversight by the European Parliament over the implementation of provisions related to the Framework and CSDP; bestowing of rights to EUROPOL, EUROJUST to enter into treaties and agreements with external organizations; the expansion of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to cover all freedom, security, and justice issues, including measures on counter-terrorism. (Renard, 2016)

Thus, equipped with policies and mechanisms that assume a life of their own, the efforts made by the EU to define and deal with terrorism have been far more effective than that at the global level. It cannot be denied that management of sovereign realities globally in the absence of a supra-national entity will be a herculean task, but instances such as that of the EU – which too was built on the ashes of Second World War rivalries – can surely be seen as instructive. Also, where the EU stands out as a case of a regional organization assuming agency, the reduction of the UN to a ‘talking platform’ on the other hand highlights the challenges faced by such entities.

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Terrorism

Who are the Real Terrorists in North East Syria?

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Earlier this week President Trump abruptly changed course and green-lighted a Turkish incursion into north east Syria with disastrous results. The subsequent invasion has unleashed a hellish nightmare of carnage and chaos in what was a dangerous, but relatively peaceful, area governed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who had just defeated ISIS territorially.

In recent days, over 30 civilians—including Kurds, Christians and minorities, and very young children—have been killed in indiscriminate Turkish bombings and mortar fire. Likewise, the UN reports that over 130,000 Syrians have suddenly become displaced, fleeing Turkish violence. In addition to these massive displacements, Turkey insists that it will forcibly repatriate 1 to 2 million of the 3 million Syrian refugees it is currently housing back into the SDF-held areas it is now overtaking. That 83% of these Arabs never lived in the areas they are to be forcibly resettled in, begs the question of whose homes and lands will they be overtaking? 

Turkey claims to be fighting a terrorist group and wanting to clean their border area of terrorists, but the pictures coming out of northeast Syria instead make Turkey look like the terrorist aggressor. Countless photos and videos, many of them validated, circulate of Syrian civilians lying bloodied and dead on the ground while their family members wail unconsolably. Hevrin Khalaf, a female, and the Secretary-General of the pro-Kurdish Future Syria Party, is reported to have been dragged from her car and assassinated by Turkish-hired thugs who said while filming her corpse, “this is the corpse of pigs.” Likewise, video footage of bearded mercenary soldiers backed by the Turks, shooting their Kurdish captives while calling them “kufar scum” (unbelievers) are said by U.S. forces to appear authentic. If so, these actions are war crimes.

These bearded assassins, backed by Turkey are likely the same unemployed ISIS, al Nusra, and other former jihadists still happy to kill in the name of Allah, who Turkey used to clear Afrin in 2018. Indeed, they have shown a brutality akin to their mother groups, some even shouting ISIS slogans as they kill, such as “Baqiya wa tatamadad!” meaning we (ISIS) will remain forever, and expand. 

That Turkey would use former ISIS cadres to fight the Kurds is no surprise, given they worked closely with ISIS to try to quell the Kurds early on in the Syrian conflicts and continue to see their interests in destroying Kurdish power to lie with militant jihadist and Islamist groups. An ISIS emir that ICSVE interviewed in 2019 went into great detail about his work on behalf of ISIS, about how he negotiated with the Turkish MIT and military regarding border entry for the 40,000+ foreign fighters that streamed across Turkey into ISIS-controlled areas of Syria, agreements for sending wounded ISIS fighters back into Turkey for medical treatment, supplying water for the Tabqa dam to provide electrical power for ISIS, and so on. According to this emir, even then, Turkey was insisting on a buffer security zone. Now it appears they will go to any lengths to get it.

Meanwhile, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi told U.S. Ambassador William Roebuck, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS “You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered.” He also asked in confused despair how the U.S. could also insist that the Kurds not turn to others, like the Russians for support, effectively boxing them in for slaughter.

When ISIS foolishly attacked Kobani in 2014, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) rose up and fought valiantly and since 2015, they fought with U.S. military backing, to defeat ISIS.  They have been our “boots on the ground”, sustaining most of the casualties and doing all the heavy lifting in defeating a global foe. While U.S. forces lost less than 20 troops after they aligned with the Kurds to fight ISIS in Syria, our hardy allies lost 11,000 male and female brave fighters who faced down this global foe.

Indeed, while ISIS was an active force on the ground in Syria, it external emni (intelligence arm), threatened the globe, mounting and inciting attacks in many major cities from New York, to Brussels (where two Americans were killed), to Paris, Nice, Stockholm, London and Istanbul to name but a few.

In serving as our “boots on the ground” forces for the territorial defeat of ISIS, and continuing to battle the remnants of ISIS, the Kurds saved, and continue to save, countless Americans and Westerners from being slaughtered by a heinous force willing to attack, anywhere, at any time.  

Yet their current aggressor, Turkey, calls these Kurds terrorists. That picking up arms against ISIS gave them the sudden opportunity to rule a considerable swathe of Syrian land that they had liberated from ISIS is no one’s fault, except those who supported ISIS in the first place—Turkish government officials among them. No doubt, the Kurds once in power, made some mistakes, but it is notable how quickly they moved to incorporating minorities into their ranks and transitioning to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have had a good record of building a grassroots democracy amidst the ashes of war. That their majority Kurdish leadership may have long-term aspirations to one day become a fully independent Kurdish state should be no surprise, but that they were acquiescing to all U.S. demands upon them to remain within Syria and negotiate some kind of governance agreement with Assad also needs to be noted. The trouble in that regard, is Assad wants to appoint top-down leaders in the area and thereby destroy the grass-roots nature of the Kurdish democracy building. From a position of strength and good governance, with U.S. backing behind them, the SDF had a chance of becoming a real island of democracy, perhaps even one day spreading such, within the Syrian state.

In the meantime, with ISIS defeated territorially, ISIS is still far from total defeat. In recent months ISIS has been attacking on a weekly basis in both Syria and Iraq, and the SDF were busy rounding up ISIS sleeper cells while also holding more than 70,000 ISIS prisoners and their family members, thousands of which are from European and Western countries who have refused to repatriate and bring them home to justice.

Now, amidst the chaos unleashed by Turkey, up to 800 ISIS cadres have escaped when their prison was shelled, with hundreds more ISIS women and children escaping from their bombed and burning camps. Where they will run to amidst the chaos is uncertain, but Turkey and beyond, is certainly a possibility given that when cornered in Hajin, and later Baghouz, SDF leaders told ICSVE that ISIS leaders were asking to be bussed out of Syria into Turkey—presumably believing they would be welcomed into a country that had helped them in the past. 

500 of the worse ISIS cadres are said to have been transferred by U.S. forces from Syria, into Iraq, and possibly more will befall the same fate. For those of us who still believe in human rights and rule of law, even when applied to ISIS cadres, it’s unfortunate that in Iraq these prisoners—many of them Westerners—can expect forced confessions, hurried court proceedings and almost certainly sentence of life imprisonment, or death, based on very little, if any, evidence presented against them. Whereas, in our ISIS interviews conducted in SDF territory, with 100 of the ISIS foreign terrorist fighters, the prisoners stated that they were not being subjected to torture and were fairly treated by the SDF. Likewise, the SDF was working patiently, including in efforts with ICSVE, to gather testimonies and data to prod Western countries into action that have been reluctant to take their ISIS citizens home for prosecution.

While the SDF could only do its important work with U.S. support, this support was not costing us much. Few troops were deployed on the ground and our air support was operating out of Iraq, where it is likely the U.S. forces will stay for some time. That we should not involve ourselves in endless wars or that the troops need to come home is something most agree with, but how and when is also of great importance.

Any U.S. withdrawal of support for the SDF should only occur because they are no longer serving our interests and must take place in a planful and secure manner without allowing for an all-out slaughter of civilians or of the allied forces who, by fighting ISIS, saved Americans countless lives.

Given that the Kurds sacrificed greatly to defeat ISIS territorially on the ground, and when in power, began at once to build one of the only democracies in the middle east that is respecting minority rights and following Western rule of law, while being surrounded by dictatorial and corrupt regimes, it seems we should have continued to give them our full support. Instead Trump has unleashed Turkish forces on a group that Turkey universally treats as terrorists and is willing to violently displace and kill. This sudden betrayal of our loyal allies is a matter that needs to be quickly resolved in Washington, D.C. 

Our American ideals, and our reputation as stalwart and reliable allies, are at stake right now, and this disastrous decision needs to be reversed immediately.  

From our partner ICSVE Brief Reports.

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Strategies for combating international terrorism in Central Asia

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia has been cast as the site of a new “great game”. Central Asia has been largely influenced by international developments and the emergence of persistent sources of instability and tension in other parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa. Some states in the region have succeeded in expanding their relationships with other actors. For example, Kazakhstan has tried to advance its goals by participating in important international issues and designing appropriate policies. Although Kazakhstan has succeeded in this path, most of the countries in the region face major challenges.

At the moment, Central Asian states are facing serious menaces to their security from various challenges like drug trafficking, water disputes, religious fundamentalism and expansion of terrorist and takfiri groups such as ISIS.

Given the increased risk of terrorist groups infiltrating the region, the key question is: “What strategies exist to counter international terrorism in the Central Asian region?” This study suggest that an integrated long-term strategy is an effective and comprehensive way to combat international terrorism.

Central Asia and international terrorism

The war in Syria and Iraq has significantly altered modern terrorism, with radical Islamic militants from Central Asia being no exception. Most importantly, for the first time travelling outside of the region to fight in the ranks of militant and terrorist organisations became a mass phenomenon. In Syria, the radical Islamic militants from Central Asia have established terrorist organisations of their own. These terrorists have Salafi-Wahhabi inclinations and are among the backers of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, and Daesh Takfiri groups. They have turned into a potential threat for countries in Central Asia as these international and organized terrorists may one day find their way to other regions and states after Syria. 

Activities of extremist networks which send their members and devotees to Syria have a determining role in the region. Many of the foreign rebels operating in Syria had links to these groups in their own countries. A portion of them are being encouraged by their relatives and friends in Syria to join the ranks of the Takfiri militants, especially older brothers motivate the younger ones to join the terrorists.

The terrorists’ method for recruiting forces is almost the same in most of the countries in the Central Asia. They usually do this through local sources and Islamist groups and organizations that have close ties with al-Qaeda, Salafists and Wahhabists. However, this is not done openly.

A number of terrorist groups are tasked with recruiting individuals to send them to fight in Syria. In fact, all terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and the al-Tahrir Party are busy with the recruitment. The Takfiri groups of al-Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic Jihad Union are also employing nationals from Central Asia. In some countries, the process of employment is done through indigenous people. For instance, one-third of all Kyrgyz people who have traveled to Saudi Arabia in pursuance of religious education have turned into extremist Salafi-Wahhabi preachers in Kyrgyzstan. That is why today the Kyrgyz are employing their people to prevent this. 

The Challenges of Combating Terrorism in Central Asia

Fighting terrorist threats in Central Asia is a complex issue. To counter these threats, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian governments have been reevaluating their national counter-terrorism strategies. Counter-terrorism cooperation under the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has its limits because not all the Central Asian governments are members of the organizations. Also these strategies have been mainly established to counter-terrorism within the member states, not the ones stemming from other regions. 

On the other hand, some external actors play a destructive role in improving the security situation in the region. Indeed none of the great powers are not serious fight against terrorism. At present, the security conditions of the region can be made more complicated for several reasons:

First, the spread of terrorism and extremist groups;
Second, U.S. competition to increase penetration;
Third, ISIS’s willingness to be present in the region;
Fourth, the presence of people from the countries of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the ranks of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria;

Iran and Fighting Terrorism in Central Asia

The rising threats of extremism in Central Asia represent a strong menace for Iran interests. Due to the increasing presence of ISIS forces in Afghanistan, the security of Central Asia remains a top priority on the Iran security agenda. The Iran-Central Asia Strategy should include in its objectives the challenges of foreign fighters and radicalization, drug trafficking and organized crime, and conflicts that require cooperation between Central Asia and Iran.

No one and no country can deny the constructive and positive role of Iran in fighting the scourge of terrorism in the region and the world. Iran’s efforts and assistance to regional countries have helped reign in the violence and bloodshed of ISIS terrorist group in various parts of the world by bringing the self-proclaimed statehood of ISIS to an end in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to advocate dialogue, cooperation and trust among regional countries as the only viable way to end terrorism and devastating wars in the Middle East. In result no country would benefit from weakening Iran in the region.

In the past years, Iran has acted as a buffer zone and has prevented the entry of terrorist groups from Middle East to Central Asia. Iran has always tried to fight with terrorist and takfiri groups. Among foreign actors in the region Iran and Russia have a good cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Iran and Russia are winning the Fight against Terrorism in Syria. Undoubtedly Iran and Russia can offer their experience in combating terrorism to Central Asian countries.

Conclusion

No doubt, security, peace and respect for the sovereignty of countries, as well non-interference in their internal affairs, and an effective fight against terrorism without double standards will be in the interest of all countries in the world.

Fight against Terrorism Requires a holistic and coordinated approach. For the implementation of the international Counter Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia need a Regional Joint Action Plan. Integrating counter-terrorism strategy to political, economic and social development policies is an important part of the comprehensive approach.

In order to combat terrorism in Central Asia, there are a few issues to consider:

1. All States in region to combat terrorism must take coordinated action.

2. Fighting terrorism in Central Asia will not succeed without creating peace and stability in Afghanistan.

3. Combating terrorism requires the formation of a regional and international coalition with States that really have a concern for countering terrorism, not the countries that have been sponsors of terrorist groups.

4. The fight against terrorism requires the use of past experiences in this regard. Iran and Russia have considerable experience in combating terrorism.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Fighting Terrorism Online: EU Internet Forum committed to an EU-wide Crisis Protocol

MD Staff

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The participants of the 5th EU Internet Forum, hosted by Commissioners Avramopoulos and King, have committed to an EU Crisis Protocol – a rapid response to contain the viral spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online. The Commission, Member States and online service providers, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, JustPaste.it and Snap have committed to working together on a voluntary basis within the framework set out by the Crisis Protocol, while ensuring strong data protection and fundamental rights safeguards. The EU Internet Forum also discussed the overall progress made in ensuring the removal of terrorist content online since its last meeting in December 2018 as well as how to strengthen cooperation on other challenges, such as child sexual exploitation online.

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Since I launched the EU Internet Forum 4 years ago, it has gone from strength to strength, offering Member States and online platforms an effective framework to work together to tackle terrorist content online. We have managed to build a strong relationship of trust and mutual understanding with the internet platforms. I am pleased with the progress we are making and the remarkable results we have achieved. Today, we are taking this cooperation another step further with an EU Crisis Protocol. With this, we will be ready to act quickly, effectively and in a more coordinated way to stop the spread of terrorist content.”   

Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King added: “The events in New Zealand earlier this year were a stark reminder that terrorist content spreads online at a tremendous speed. While our response might be quick, it isn’t quick enough. The Protocol is an EU response to contain the havoc created by such events – in a coordinated way.”

In the aftermath of the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, government leaders and online platforms agreed on the Christchurch Call for Action. On this occasion, President Juncker announced the development of an EU Crisis Protocol in the context of the EU Internet Forum. The EU Protocol will allow Member States and online platforms to respond rapidly and in a coordinated manner to the dissemination of terrorist content online in the event of a terrorist attack.

The EU Crisis Protocol endorsed by the EU Internet Forum today will:

    Provide a coordinated and rapid reaction: Member States’ authorities, together with Europol, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and online service providers will be able to respond quickly, in a coordinated manner to ensure that the spread of terrorist or violent extremist content is swiftly contained.

    Facilitate public and private sector cooperation: In the event of a crisis, law enforcement authorities and online service providers will share relevant information on the online content (e.g., URLs, audio-visual media, and metadata) on a voluntary basis, in a secure way and in real time.

    Facilitate a voluntary arrangement: The Protocol does not replace national legal frameworks or existing national crisis management mechanisms. It should apply only to extraordinary situations where those national measures are no longer sufficient to coordinate a rapid and cross-border response.

The EU Internet Forum also discussed the overall progress made in ensuring the removal of terrorist content online since its last meeting in December 2018 and looked at the emerging challenges. This included, for the first time, a discussion on the global threat of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Cooperation between public authorities and online platforms is key to fight against these horrible crimes effectively. Participants also took stock of the work to tackle the challenges presented by right wing extremism and the radicalising effect of violent political discourse.

Background

The EU Internet Forum was launched by Commissioner Avramopoulos in December 2015 to address internet misuse by terrorist groups. It brings together EU Home Affairs Ministers, the internet industry and other stakeholders who work together voluntarily to address this complex issue. Since its creation, the EU Internet Forum meets annually to take stock of the progress made in removing terrorist content online and to discuss emerging challenges. In 2015, an efficient referral mechanism to flag and remove terrorist content online was created at Europol.

In 2016, at the EU Internet Forum, the industry announced the creation of the “database of hashes” to make removals permanent and irreversible. The database is a critical tool in stemming the spread of terrorist content online. Since its launch, the database has gathered over 200,000 hashes (pictures, videos, etc.) and has helped both large and small platforms to remove such content quickly.

President Juncker announced the development of the EU Protocol in Paris earlier this year when he attended a meeting of government leaders and CEOs of major online platforms that was co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A first exercise to operationalise the Protocol already took place at Europol on 11 September 2019.

The EU Crisis Protocol will contribute to efforts undertaken at global level in the context of the Christchurch call, in particular the Crisis Response Protocol as announced in September at the margins of 2019 UNGA.

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