The Rise of Counter-Terrorism at the UN

Some states have used the UN’s reputation to ‘blue-wash’ problematic counter-terrorism approaches.

This new report by Saferworld and FES New York demonstrates that the United Nations system has been leveraged by certain member states to enable counter-productive anti-terrorism policies following the attacks on September 11th, 2001.

Published on the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1373 — the resolution that defined a broad counter-terrorism mission for the UN — the report details how member states continue to use the UN's brand to “blue-wash” counter-productive anti-terrorism approaches. 

The authors identify several threats to the UN system based on its growing counter-terrorism architecture and provide recommendations to protect the UN’s legitimacy and reputation around humanitarianism, human rights, and peacebuilding.

The report provides a detailed examination of the human, economic and social costs of the UN’s approach to counterterrorism since 9/11, including but not limited to:

  • How the push by UN leaders to be a player on counter-terrorism has led to human rights standards, conflict prevention and peacebuilding priorities and methods being neglected.
  • How the UN has at times accepted toxic partnerships with authorities that reinforce rather than tackle abuse, corruption and exclusion.
  • How UN country teams continue to support questionable counter-terrorism efforts, despite their role in restraining civic space and targeting human rights defenders in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, the Philippines and more.

Arguing that the UN’s increasing involvement in counter-terrorism activities threatens to undermine its reputation as an impartial arbiter in conflicts, the report also reveals the risk of UN counter-terrorism activities damaging the generally favorable public opinion about the organization. FES's new Global Census Poll released last week gave the UN high marks for promoting peace, human rights, and development.

The report coincides with a new podcast series from Saferworld and FES: Reckoning with 9/11. This podcast, released weekly on Thursdays, covers the long-term implications of securitized interventions and policies around the globe. The show is joined by experts on responses to 9/11, reflecting on key moments and issues from the past 20 years. 

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