Streamlining counter-terrorism efforts priority for UN

UNITED NATIONS, New York — Streamlining the UN’s counter-terrorism portfolio is of significance for the United Nations, according to Miroslav Lajcak, who took his oath this week to become the new UN General Assembly President.

The 72nd UN General Assembly Session officially opened on September 12, but general debate will start on Tuesday, September 19. 

Rudaw’s correspondent in New York asked Lajcak about what is on the assembly’s agenda with respect to counter-terrorism and the war in Syria at a press conference on Thursday. The conflict began in 2011 and has become a counter-terrorism fight as much as it is a traditional civil war with clearly demarcated rebels and loyalists.

Lajcak pointed out that the UN Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov of Russia, who took the post in June, will prioritize the effort to unify the UN’s counter-terrorism entities.

“One of his priority tasks will be to streamline the work of the UN agencies dealing with counter-terrorism,” said Lajcak. “You might know that there are 38 different agencies that have counter-terrorism as part of their portfolio, so his ambition is to streamline that effort. And we are here and I personally stand here ready to support him in his effort.”

He did not go into detail about what the efforts would entail, however.

A key function of the UN’s counter-terror office is to ensure the issue is prioritized across the UN, including preventing violent extremism as the organization assists member states in their own efforts.

In a July report looking into the reasons why individual groups join terrorist organizations, the UN’s counter-terror office spoke with foreign fighters who had gone to Syria. The report found that many of the young men who went to Syria to fight with terror groups were socially and economically disadvantaged in their home countries, often without advanced education.

Religious belief “played a minimal role” in motivating the foreign fighters interviewed for the report, but “empathy” with Syrian Sunni communities was a common reason cited for traveling to the country. 

Most left Syria because of disillusionment or disappointment with what they found in the country. 

Among the conclusions reached in the report, the counter-terror office stressed that no country can deal with the threat of foreign terror fighters alone, but a coordinated effort was needed and one that did not rely on military means alone. 

The Slovakian Lajcak also expressed hope that they will be able to build on progress made with respect to Syria in the General Assembly’s previous session, “including of course the thorough investigation of war crimes that were committed.”

In August, former war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte announced she was resigning from the UN’s independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria because of a failure of the Security Council to hold criminals accountable in Syria. 

"I give up. The states in the Security Council don't want justice," Del Ponte said in comments published by Swiss magazine Blick. Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

She said Assad’s government is committing crimes against humanity and using chemical weapons and the opposition is made up of “extremists and terrorists.”

The commission was established in August 2011 by the Human Rights Council to investigate crimes in Syria. 

In December, the UN General Assembly voted to set up an investigative body to help document crimes and prepare legal cases with the possibility of prosecution of the most serious violations in Syria’s deadly, drawn-out war. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Syria needs “a lot of attention of the international community,” noting that fighting continues, including against terrorism on multiple fronts, without a political solution in sight. 

“And I think that there is a risk of fragmentation in Syria that is very important to take into account,” he said at a press conference in UN headquarters on Thursday.

Guterres expressed hope for progress in talks in Geneva and Astana, but said it was important “for international peace and security” that the United States and Russia maintain a “positive and constructive relationship.”

The world’s problems would be easier to solve if the US and Russia worked together, he said. 

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