AU member states urged to implement PSC anti-terrorism measures

As Kenya commemorates the first anniversary of the devastating Westgate Mall attack, in which 67 people died, the PSC remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorism on the continent. Following its 2 September meeting on terrorism and violent extremism, the ball is now in the court of the PSC representatives and all AU member states to implement the measures adopted at the summit.

Innovative new solutions aimed at bolstering African anti-terrorism efforts were discussed at the first summit meeting of the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) on terrorism and violent extremism in Nairobi earlier this month. These include proposals to introduce an African arrest warrant and setting up specialised regional counter-terrorism units.

The summit also mooted a possible counter-terrorism fund and commended the establishment of the African Police Cooperation Organisation (Afripol) in July this year.

The leaders urged all African states to reject the payment of ransom to hostage takers – a major problem in countering terror groups such as Boko Haram – and identified mechanisms for facilitating coordination and intelligence-sharing among member states.

The leaders urged all African states to reject the payment of ransom to hostage takers – a major problem in countering terror groups such as Boko Haram

Acting on the decision reached at the Malabo Summit, the PSC meeting on 2 September was attended by seven heads of state. Of these, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, the host, and Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud are not currently members of the PSC. The other heads of state and government in attendance were Chad’s President Idris Déby (the PSC chairperson of the month who presided over the meeting), President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, and President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger.

Slow ratification hampers AU efforts

Using the analysis and proposals contained in the report of the Chairperson of the AU Commission and the briefing by Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) as its point of departure, the summit deliberated on the ever-expanding threat of terrorism in Africa. The discussion ranged from the challenges faced by the continent in its fight against the scourge and the measures required to halt the rise of terrorism to the need to muster effective and collective responses to the threat.

In the communiqué issued after the summit, the PSC adopted a host of measures aimed at elevating the quality and scale of the continent’s fight against terrorism.

First, particular emphasis is placed on the implementation of existing AU counter-terrorism instruments and previous decisions. In this regard, the PSC lists a number of steps that AU member states need to take.

One such measure is the ratification of existing AU instruments, including the 1999 Convention and its 2004 Protocol before the 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union. Given that it took 10 years for the 2004 protocol to secure the 15 ratifications required for its entry into force in February 2014, the ratification and implementation of existing instruments remains an issue. This raises the question whether AU member states have a common perception of the threat of terrorism. If the past is anything to go by, it is unlikely that member states will heed the PSC’s call for the ratification of these instruments before the next AU summit in January 2015.

Other measures include the implementation of the 2002 AU Action Plan and the effective operationalisation of the PSC sub-committee on counter-terrorism. Although the PSC decided to establish the sub-committee in 2010, it did not become fully operational until July 2014. While the PSC received and reviewed the document prepared by the AU Commission regarding the mandate, composition and functions of its sub‐committee on counter‐terrorism at its 311th meeting on 20 February 2012, the five members of the committee representing the five regions of Africa (Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa) were only elected at the 447th meeting of the PSC on 24 July 2014.

Particular emphasis is placed on the implementation of and follow-up to existing AU counter-terrorism instruments and previous decisions

The effective operationalisation of this committee is key if the PSC is to discharge its mandate. This includes following up on the implementation of AU instruments and decisions, mobilising an effective response to terrorist acts, preparing and regularly reviewing lists of persons, groups and entities involved in terrorism, considering the annual report of member states, and preparing an annual report for the AU Assembly.

Addressing member states’ weaknesses

The second category of measures stipulated in the PSC communiqué relates to addressing the weaknesses in AU member states that expose them to terrorist threats. These include the establishment of effective criminal justice mechanisms; suppressing the financing of terrorism and money-laundering; denying safe havens to terrorist and criminal groups; improving border controls; and strengthening the capacity of law enforcement organs and armed forces.

Additionally, the PSC emphasises the importance of comprehensive national counter-terrorism strategies covering prevention, response and reconstruction. In this respect, attention is drawn to the need ‘to address all conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and violent extremism, including prolonged unresolved conflicts, lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalisation and poor governance’.

The third category of measures relates to strengthening continental and regional frameworks and establishing new operational mechanisms for better cooperation among member states. One such measure relates to Kenya’s proposal for the establishment of a counter-terrorism fund. The PSC tasked the AU Commission to develop a concept note on the possible establishment of such a fund. The other measure concerns the recent establishment of Afripol and the strengthening of the role of various institutional mechanisms, including the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT) and CISSA.

Leaders at the summit reaffirmed the rejection of ransom payments to terrorist groups and in this respect the PSC, while welcoming resolution 2133(2014), urges ‘member states to incorporate the prohibition of the payment of ransom to terrorist groups into their national legislations, on the basis of the relevant provisions of the AU anti-terrorism Model Law’. The recent reports that authorities in Cameroon were negotiating with Boko Haram on the release of hostages illustrate the challenges in implementing this particular measure.

Attention is drawn to the need to address all conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and violent extremism, including prolonged unresolved conflicts

Another interesting step envisaged is the issuing of an African arrest warrant, which will require member states to arrest and transfer a terror or criminal suspect to the issuing state for prosecution or sentencing. Diverging legal standards and the abuse, in some cases, of terrorism legislation to attack political dissidents are among the factors likely to hamper the enforcement of such an arrest warrant.

Respect for Human Rights

Emphasising the need to protect human rights and observe humanitarian law in the fight against terrorism, the PSC calls on the AU Commission ‘to work closely with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other stakeholders to further support member states’ efforts to promote and ensure the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law while preventing and combating terrorism’. This is particularly important in addressing the particular human rights issues that arise in counter-terrorism operations, including the protection of civilians and the principles of distinction and proportionality.  

As the threat of terrorism has increasingly become regionalised on the continent, the fourth category of measures addresses the important issue of intelligence-sharing among member states. This is to ensure a more robust collective response and to facilitate coordination and collaboration with international actors. Despite the fact that this was identified as critical in the fight against terrorism, coordination and intelligence-sharing among member states remain poor and ad hoc. Nothing better illustrates the depth of this problem than the convening of a summit-level meeting on Boko Haram in Paris – rather than in West Africa - on 17 May this year to facilitate coordinated action by the countries neighbouring Nigeria.

In terms of coordination and timely intelligence-sharing, one issue identified in the Chairperson’s report was the lack of a secure communication system to facilitate this information- and intelligence-sharing. In this regard the PSC calls for the expeditious establishment of ‘the planned secure communication system among the African intelligence and security services’. Such issues as regional rivalry, lack of trust and diverging legal and bureaucratic procedures surrounding intelligence also need to be addressed for effective action.

With respect to coordination, the PSC calls for the implementation of the decisions made in existing regional processes and the promotion of regional cooperation initiatives and mechanisms. In this regard, particular attention was given to the implementation of measures agreed in the Nouakchott Process and the operationalisation of regional mechanisms for addressing the threat posed by Boko Haram. It calls for the establishment of regional fusion centres as points of intelligence analysis and –sharing, to facilitate the exchange of intelligence as well as coordination and joint operations at the regional level.

The PSC also expresses deep concern about external interferences that exacerbate African conflicts

Provision is also made for the possible establishment of specialised joint counter-terrorism units at sub-regional and regional level, within the framework of the African Standby Force (ASF) and pending the ASF’s reaching full operational capability as part of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC).

While the importance of coordination and collaboration with international actors is emphasised and provision is made for enhancing the support from international actors in addressing the threat of terrorism, the PSC also expresses deep concern about external interferences that exacerbate African conflicts, thereby creating an environment conducive to the spread of terrorism.

It is interesting to note that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia pledged US$10 million in support of the AU’s efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism and to strengthen the AU–Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) partnership in this field. It was reported from the summit that the Secretary-General of the OIC, Iyad Ameen Madani, also called for the delinking of Islam from terrorism.

The PSC summit comprehensively dealt with the issues surrounding continental efforts in the fight against terrorism. Commenting on past efforts, the PSC pointed out that ‘despite the progress made in developing a comprehensive normative and operational counter-terrorism framework, serious gaps continue to exist in terms of implementation and follow-up, thus undermining the effectiveness of Africa’s response to the threat of terrorism and violent extremism’. As in the past, the challenge with respect to the plethora of measures adopted at the summit is for the AU and its member states to walk the talk in following up the suggested steps, mustering the political will to respond timely and effectively and mobilising the required resources.

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