Remarks at the UN Counterterrorism Cooperation with Regional and Sub-regional Organizations in Central Asia

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY
September 25, 2019


Thank you Mr. President, and thanks to Secretary-General Guterres and our other briefers, for their presentations today. This is a timely discussion as we work together to address a problem that reaches beyond the capacity of any one state.

Following the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we are faced with the challenge of repatriating, prosecuting, and rehabilitating many Central Asian foreign terrorist fighters who had travelled abroad to fight in terrorist groups. The United States commends the governments of Central Asia for their actions to take responsibility for their citizens in Iraq and Syria and their efforts to repatriate them to their home countries.

Mr. President, on this issue, we can do more together than alone. That’s why this Council has taken a number of significant steps to address the evolving terrorist threat. We adopted resolution 2178 to prevent foreign terrorist fighters travelling to battlefields and resolution 2396 to deal with the challenges of them returning to our own countries.

We also adopted several counter-ISIS financing resolutions and expanded the 1267 al-Qa’ida sanctions regime in 2015 to include ISIS. However, we only added ISIS Khorasan in Afghanistan to the 1267 List in May of this year, and we need to designate the many more ISIS affiliates operating across the globe.

In addition to our collective efforts at the United Nations, Mr. President, we agree that regional and sub-regional organizations continue to play an important role in addressing the terrorist threat in Central Asia and beyond. As other speakers have noted, NATO efforts have expanded information sharing, improving preparedness and resilience to terrorist attacks, and increasing capabilities to defend against the use of technology for terrorist purposes.

The OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] has helped Central Asian partners implement Security Council resolutions on foreign terrorist fighters by holding workshops to address this threat, and also introducing new programs to counter violent extremism in the region.

In addition to regional organizations, platforms like the C5+1 initiative, which includes the five Central Asian nations and the United States, have been useful in deepening counterterrorism capacities and facilitating dialogue on efforts to repatriate, rehabilitate, and reintegrate foreign terrorist fighters. Just yesterday, under the auspices of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the United States co-hosted a side event highlighting the experiences of those that have repatriated their foreign terrorist fighters.

But regardless of organization, forum, or platform, all efforts to strengthen counterterrorism cooperation with the United Nations must be conducted in line with UN Security Council resolutions, the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy, and applicable international law.

Mr. President, efforts to counter terrorism that do not respect human rights ultimately breed resentment and violent extremism. When Member States or regional organizations conflate terrorism with non-violent political dissent, they do a disservice not only to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, but to our global effort to defeat terrorism.

Unfortunately, this is the dangerous approach we are witnessing in Syria, where the Assad regime and its allies justify as legitimate counterterrorist operations airstrikes on civilians, schools, ambulances, and hospitals that have killed over a thousand people since April and wounded over two thousand. In over 50 cases, Russian and/or Syrian attacks have hit medical facilities deconflicted by the UN, putting the UN’s credibility and civilian lives at risk. These attacks must stop. Continued violence in Syria will only further terrorist radicalization and recruitment.

And yes, Mr. President, we are deeply concerned by the situation in Xinjiang, where more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims have been arbitrarily detained under the guise of counterterrorism. Men, women, and children in Xinjiang have been subjected to torture, forced labor, and invasive arbitrary surveillance solely on the basis of their religion and ethnicity.

China, like all nations, has every right to respond to actual terrorist threats, but counterterrorism cannot be used as an excuse to repress the peaceful religious practices of Chinese Muslims and an entire minority group.

Mr. President, preventing and countering terrorist radicalization and recruitment, online and offline, is a global concern. The United States also works to ensure that terrorists do not find safe haven online while we protect freedom of speech. We collaborate voluntarily with technology companies to share information to address the uses of internet for terrorist purposes.

We urge regional organizations like the SCO, CSTO, and CIS to take a close look at revising how they address terrorism, in order to better avoid conflating separatism, extremism, and terrorism in their core documents. And we urge them to fully promote the observance of applicable international law.

Mr. President, it’s important for the UN to work with regional organizations to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism. However, we must collectively ensure that regional organizations reflect all elements of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy including engagement with civil society, while promoting a human rights–compliant, rule-of-law approach to fighting terrorism.

The United States is committed to working with our Central Asian partners and the border international community to counter terrorism and to prevent violent extremism.

I thank you for your attention.