Remarks at the UN General Assembly Open Debate on the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy Resolution

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
June 26, 2018


Mr. President, Thank you for convening this General Assembly meeting on the biennial review of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy. We also sincerely thank Ambassadors Sauer of Finland and Bahous of Jordan and their teams for co-facilitating this difficult, but important negotiation. The Strategy was adopted by consensus 12 years ago. It was a major step forward in international peace and security – we came together to coordinate a unified global framework to address the evolving threat of terrorism. Looking back, we have strengthened our efforts after each and every review, whether it be through the endorsement of the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism or by grounding our counter-terrorism and counter violent extremism work in human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The 2016 review of the Strategy was a high watermark, and we are pleased to see that despite a small group of Member States’ determined efforts to walk back important progress, important elements from 2016 endured, especially on prevention of violent extremism.

Prevention is integral to a comprehensive approach to tackling the underlying causes of violent extremism. That is why we welcome the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. It is critical that Member States develop tailored national action plans that take a whole-of-society approach to fortify the social compact and address the local drivers of violent extremism. We may be defeating ISIS and Al-Qaida in the battlefield, but terrorist organizations are still able to radicalize and recruit people to commit acts of violence around the world. The goal of our efforts is not simply to react to these attacks, but also to prevent violent extremism by working with communities to stop radicalization in the first place. This requires governments to partner with local actors, especially civil society, and go well beyond law enforcement.

Grassroots organizations understand the challenges and nuances on the ground and often have more access to local communities. Family members, teachers, community organizations, and religious authorities can all serve as an early warning mechanism, as they are often in a position to spot initial signs of violent extremism before government officials can. To win this fight, we must work with all of civil society, including NGOs, think tanks, educators, and religious and cultural leaders to build resiliency in our societies.

We call on the UN and all Member States to strengthen their counterterrorism and prevention of violent extremism work by increasing their engagement with local communities, and especially women and youth, who are too often on the sidelines. We wish that this resolution could have better reflected the important role civil society plays in effective counterterrorism strategies.

Counterterrorism efforts must not be abused for other political ends. We condemn the misuse of counterterrorism laws by some Member States to criminalize ideas and punish so called “extremists” who have not resorted to any form of violence. We must stay focused on real threats to international peace and security. Counterterrorism should not be an excuse to undermine respect for human rights. We also reiterate that successful counterterrorism and prevention of violent extremism efforts must respect human rights and be rooted in the rule of law.

We regret that some Member States have demanded that donors step up to increase counterterrorism capacity-building, while using state sovereignty to shield themselves from accountability. When it comes to donor funding, the United States will not subsidize political crackdowns in the name of counterterrorism. Again, the United States will focus on supporting counterterrorism measures that we know yield results.

We are pleased that this year’s resolution strengthens the global call to counter the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, FTFs, addressed in the Security Council’s unanimously adopted resolution 2396. We must strengthen border security and law enforcement efforts against FTFs through increased collection, analysis, and sharing of traveler data, such as advanced passenger information, API, passenger name record, PNR, and biometrics. We must develop and implement gender and age-sensitive prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration strategies.

And, for the first time in the General Assembly, we condemned the use of civilians to shield military objectives from attacks. Terrorists, with their disregard for the welfare of civilians, are amongst the worst abusers, as we have seen with Hamas, among many examples. We applaud our consensus on this important issue – that civilians, including children, should not be used to shield terrorists.

Finally, despite these achievements this year, we remain deeply concerned about the references to a so-called “Principle to Extradite or Prosecute,” which is a misstatement of international law. While extradition and prosecution are vital elements of law enforcement response to terrorism, the obligation to “extradite or prosecute” arises under specific multilateral treaties. It is not a freestanding principle of law. Attempting to advance incorrect and ambiguous legal provisions harms the legal cooperation it purports to advance. We also reject the generic call in operative paragraph 79 on Member States to ensure that counter-terrorism legislation does not impede humanitarian aid, even if terrorists benefit from such activities. Member States are obligated to prohibit their nationals or those within their territories from providing assets to terrorist organizations or individual terrorists for any purpose.

The 2018 Global Counterterrorism Strategy is stronger than the last one, and that is why we joined consensus today on all but one paragraph, despite our concerns. We are committed to working harder to protect our future generations from terrorism and violent extremism, and overall, this resolution is a step in the right direction.