No ransom, strict on legal standards, and active against foreign fighters: Three propositions for counter-terrorism à la OSCE (en)

Berne, 28.04.2014 - Interlaken, 28 avril 2014 - Discours du président de la Confédération Didier Burkhalter lors de l'ouverture de la conférence de la Présidence suisse de l’OSCE consacrée à la lutte contre le terrorisme - Seul le texte prononcé fait foi

Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome to Switzerland, welcome to this OSCE Chairmanship event on countering terrorism.

We are gathering here at a time of heightened international tension. The Ukraine crisis has brought to the fore how perceptions of external threats in the OSCE area can diverge. The net effect of this divergence is growing insecurity und uncertainty for everyone.

Since the outbreak of this crisis, the OSCE and the Swiss Chairmanship have been working hard to contribute to de-escalation in Ukraine, to foster dialogue and build bridges, and to defend the normative acquis of the OSCE. Launching a Special Monitoring Mission by consensus decision was a milestone in this regard. The additional responsibilities assigned to this Mission following the Joint Geneva Statement are an expression of confidence towards the OSCE as an inclusive platform for supporting de-escalation in Ukraine.

The past two days have shown how challenging the situation is in Ukraine – for the authorities, the people, and the OSCE. The abduction of a group of military inspectors from OSCE participating States and their Ukrainian hosts in Sloviyansk is unacceptable. I am grateful for the broad support that the OSCE has received in its ongoing efforts to secure the release of these detained persons. And I call upon all sides – and especially upon all signatories of the Geneva Statement – to actively contribute to conditions that allow for effective implementation of the Geneva measures.

There is no doubt that the diverging perceptions of external threats that have significantly contributed to the Ukraine crisis will need to be addressed if we are to re-establish security and stability in Europe. But it is equally important that we continue to cooperate in those fields where common ground still exists. It is worth noting that perceptions of domestic and transnational threats largely converge in the OSCE area, according to a recent study commissioned by the Swiss Chairmanship and the German foreign ministry.

Terrorism is one of those major transnational threats that all of us are concerned about. Effectively countering the terrorist threat requires two things: cooperation and a broad-based approach. On both accounts, the OSCE is well equipped to deliver.

The OSCE brings together 57 participating States (and 11 Partners for Cooperation) that have agreed to advance their mutual security through dialogue, political commitments, and practical cooperation. And it pursues a comprehensive approach to security that goes beyond military and national perspectives and allows for cross-dimensional measures.

Switzerland is convinced that the OSCE has an important role to play in countering terrorism. This is why we have decided to make this a priority topic of our Chairmanship. Our goal is to take the successful work of the OSCE in the field of terrorism further and advance key issues that in our view should be addressed in a holistic manner.

We have put three main topics on the agenda for this conference:

• First, terrorist financing and the need to address “Kidnapping for Ransom”;

• Second, the need to counter terrorism in accordance with human rights and in legal, transparent, and accountable ways;

• Third, the need to respond to the phenomenon of so-called “foreign fighters” travelling to, and returning from, conflict zones like Syria and Somalia.

Let me say a few words about each of these topics in turn.

Kidnapping for ransom

First, “Kidnapping for Ransom”. If we want to fight terrorism, we have to effectively hinder its financing. One important issue to address in this context is kidnapping for ransom. We need to make sure that terrorists no longer regard the kidnapping of our citizens as a valuable source of income.

There is plenty of evidence that ransom payments finance additional terrorist activities and fuel further kidnappings. The most effective measure to disrupt this pattern is to apply and promote a policy of no-ransom.

Switzerland is committed to the no-ransom principle. It is one of our priorities this year to strengthen this policy. Our approach is based on three pillars.

We seek:
• to prevent people from travelling to, or pursuing activities in, places with a high risk of kidnapping,
• to broaden international support for a no-ransom policy
• and to promote international cooperation at the operational level when a terrorist kidnapping occurs.

I regard it as positive that the fight against ransom payment is shifting from isolated efforts of individual States to the international agenda. The issue was raised in 2012 by the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which adopted the Algiers Memorandum. In 2013, it was taken up by the Group of 8.

In January 2014, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2133, devoted solely to “Kidnapping for Ransom”. The resolution emphasizes that the safe release of hostages has to be secured without ransom payments or political concessions. It also recognizes the need to continue expert discussions on kidnapping for ransom within the UN and other regional organizations.

Our conference in Interlaken represents a concrete step to implement Resolution 2133 at the level of the OSCE – the largest regional security organization. We also see this event to be in keeping with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for reviving the role of regional organizations under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Applying the no-ransom principle is no easy policy to pursue. And yet, I am convinced that it is an indispensable measure to prevent kidnappings in the future and discourage potential hostage takers.

One thing is clear: The more States subscribe to a no-ransom policy, the bigger the prevention effect will be. This is why I call upon all OSCE participating States to approach this issue with an open mind. Having successfully launched the kidnapping for ransom issue in the OSCE Security Committee, the Swiss Chairmanship is convinced that the OSCE could play an important role in both promoting this issue and enhancing the necessary spirit of cooperation.

Legality, transparency, and accountability

A second important issue to address at this conference is the imperative of upholding human rights in the fight against terrorism. The Swiss OSCE Chairmanship is convinced that counterterrorist strategies can only deliver sustainable results if they are implemented in legal, transparent, and accountable ways. The absolute respect of all obligations under international law is a priority in Switzerland’s fight against terrorism.

The OSCE participating States have repeatedly confirmed their commitment to respect the rule of law, human rights, and fundamental freedoms in the fight against terrorism. These principles are underlined in the Bucharest Plan of Action for Combating Terrorism of 2001. They also play an important role in the OSCE Consolidated Framework for the Fight against Terrorism of 2012.

There is thus a solid basis for discussing these issues at this conference. I would propose two major lines of action:

First, we should encourage participating States to ratify terrorism-related UN conventions and protocols and to implement them in full conformity with human rights obligations and the rule of law. The knowledge and experience of the OSCE, its institutions, and field missions can and should be used when it comes to implementing such agreements at the national level. The OSCE can assist with both the adoption and the adaptation of national counter-terrorism legislation and strategies.

Second, we should strengthen inter-institutional cooperation in this field. In the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of the UN, the respect for human rights and the rule of law is one of four pillars. Important work on these issues is also being done by the EU, the Council of Europe, and the Global Counterterrorism Forum. We are pleased that high-level representatives from all these organizations and institutions are participating in this conference. Combating terrorism is already a thematic area of cooperation between the OSCE and the Council of Europe – and I think more such working relationships should be established.

„Foreign fighters“
Finally, a few remarks on the issue of so-called “foreign fighters”. Everyone talks about them these days. But more work is needed for governments to understand how best to deal with them. This is why we have identified “foreign fighters” as the third main topic of this conference.

The phenomenon of “foreign fighters” is not new. However, the sheer scale of it today is unprecedented. There are estimates that about 2000 citizens from participating States of the OSCE are currently engaged as “foreign fighters” in the conflict in Syria.

“Foreign fighters” are a multi-faceted challenge. For each of the typical stages of “foreign fighter” action, different sets of issues and questions arise:

First, there is the departure stage. A key question here is why citizens leave their home countries to participate in violent activities abroad. Experts point to economic deprivation, societal isolation, and religious radicalization as the main drivers. We will need to address such root causes to prevent potential “foreign fighters” from ever travelling to conflict zones. This calls for well-balanced approaches tailored to the specific situation in any given country.

Second, there is the transit stage, by which I refer to the presence of foreign fighters in transit countries, either on their way to conflict zones or on their way home. We should look into the specific challenges of “foreign fighters” during this transit stage and discuss how we could improve international cooperation to meet these challenges.

Third, there is the conflict stage. How are we to deal with “foreign fighters” once they become active and do damage in conflict zones? An important issue here is how to make sure that these fighters are held responsible if they commit violations of international humanitarian law.

Finally, there is the return stage. Here we have to take into account the risk of “foreign fighters” engaging in violent extremism after they return home. Another important issue to address is the question of whether and how to prosecute returnees, and on what legal basis.

Ladies and gentlemen

As the “foreign fighter” phenomenon is multi-faceted, we must address it from different angles. Again, the Swiss Chairmanship is convinced that the OSCE is well-positioned to assist States in approaching this issue in a holistic manner.

The OSCE could enhance capacities to support participating States and Partners for Cooperation on a number of specific issues.

For example, at the legal level, the OSCE could assist participating States in ensuring that new national strategies or action plans to combat terrorism also include measures to address “foreign fighters”, by taking into account best practices and know-how generated in other participating States.

Moreover, the OSCE could produce guidelines and best practices for issues such as the handling of returnees. There is already a considerable amount of national experiences that we can draw on, and the OSCE seems the right forum to assess these experiences and jointly learn from them.

Dear conference participants

- Kidnapping for ransom;
- human rights in counter- terrorism;
- and foreign fighters;

These three issues each deserve much attention when it comes to fighting terrorism. Taken together, they provide for a conference agenda that is both ambitious and highly relevant.

I am grateful that you have come to Interlaken to discuss these issues in an OSCE context. And I hope that you succeed in developing some appropriate and constructive responses to these challenges within the unique framework of the OSCE.

The Swiss Chairmanship is convinced that the OSCE has an important role to play in the international fight against terrorism. In past years, the OSCE has managed to adapt to the growing importance of transnational threats by building up respective institutional capacities and developing a comprehensive strategy to deal with these challenges. The OSCE can link fighting terrorism to related issues such as managing borders and building modern, democratic, and efficient policing conducted in accordance with international legal standards. This is “state of the art”, and I encourage you all to fully tap the potential that the OSCE holds in these matters.

I conclude by thanking the Transnational Threats Department of the OSCE and ODIHR for their support in the preparation of this conference. I would also like to thank all the high-level panelists who accepted to contribute with their knowledge and experience.

I wish you two days of constructive debate, for the benefit of our countries – and of our people.

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