Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Counterterrorism and Violent Extremism in Africa

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 11, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. Mrs. Viotti, Mrs. Mohammed, and Mr. Dieye, thank you for briefing us on the evolving terrorist threat in Africa, as well as on continuing UN and AU efforts to counter that threat.

By working together as a part of a coalition, the United States and its allies deliver crushing blows to ISIS in the Middle East. Yet, ISIS has shown a dangerous ability to adapt by establishing ISIS branches around the world. It usually does this by co-opting existing insurgencies and filling the spaces where governments either cannot reach or turn a blind eye. While this phenomenon is not unique to Africa, parts of the continent are especially vulnerable to this growing threat. The Sahel and the Horn of Africa are experiencing frequent attacks. We’ve seen this with the Al’Qaida-affiliated group known as JNIM, which aims to carve out its own territory in Mali and expand its sphere of influence in the Sahel. Last month, Somalia-based al-Shabaab attacked an airfield in Kenya, killing three Americans. These terrorist groups prey upon innocent civilians, kidnap foreigners, and work to undercut legitimate governments or moderate voices, all while trying to destroy basic human freedoms. To tackle this threat in a comprehensive fashion and eliminate the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, it is imperative that we work together. This starts with leadership, sound governance, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.

As a study from the UN Development Program on Violent Extremism in Africa found, State violence and abuses by police and military were often the catalyst for radicalization to violence. This is true in Africa, and in other parts of the world. We must ensure that any measures we take to counter terrorism fully comply with our obligations under international law to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. Counterterrorism efforts, including on the Internet, fuel radicalization to violence when they do not respect basic human decency. This means that counterterrorism can never justify the arbitrary incarceration of dissidents, journalists, or members of religious and ethnic minority groups. Effective counterterrorism must be firmly rooted in full and complete respect for human rights. They are mutually reinforcing and respect for fundamental freedoms is the essential part of a successful counterterrorism effort. Collective security does not override individual rights.

The United States is working to build the capacity of our African partners to prevent, detect, deter, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists across the continent. The bottom line here is that terrorism can be beaten. This is a fight governments and citizens can win. We are working closely with our partners, like Niger, to train the military and police on how to transfer physical and digital forensic evidence from the battlefield to civilian law enforcement authorities, thereby enabling the prosecution of terrorists. We are working throughout Africa to strengthen criminal justice systems; empower women and girls at risk of violent extremism; facilitate civilian security and community cohesion; and cut financial flow to terrorists, most of which come from outside of Africa. We are also working with our multilateral partners to address the evolving threat of terrorism globally, but especially in Africa. We are pleased that the Counterterrorism Executive Directorate has prioritized the region. In the Security Council’s 1267 Sanctions Committee, we successfully listed ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, and ISIS-Libya last month. We thank the many countries who cosponsored these listings, and we encourage other Member States to join us in identifying, sanctioning, and targeting each ISIS affiliate around the world.

However, governments alone cannot prevent and counter violent extremism. Civil society organizations often have crucial knowledge of, and engagement with, local communities to confront the challenges of recruitment and radicalization to violence. Together, we can build communities resilient to terrorist narratives. We need to broaden our efforts to include leaders in the religious, education and youth development sectors who can help contest the destructive vision terrorists are trying to advance. In doing so, we must reject those who seek to bring violent extremist ideology into schools or social systems. For example, the United States recently partnered with the [Mauritanian] Government to help officials identify risk factors of terrorism, speak out against terrorism, reach vulnerable youth, and offer them relevant, positive, and appealing alternatives.

A comprehensive approach to countering terrorism has proven more effective over the long term, primarily because it draws from a variety of disciplines and promotes whole-of-government and whole-of-society efforts. That is why the United States continues to support the UN’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, as well as UN efforts to help member states develop national and regional plans of action to prevent violent extremism. We encourage our African partners to continue working together to counter this growing threat. I look forward to hearing from our partners today and continuing our discussions to advance our shared counterterrorism objectives in the region and around the world.

Thank you.