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Regional cooperation in combating terrorism

A three day workshop for police officers and prosecutors in South Asia on effectively countering terrorism, with the support of UN Counter Terrorism, began on Tuesday at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo. The following article deals with the background of this workshop and issues being discussed.

Mike Smith

Terrorism threatens the security of every region of the world. Decades of socio-economic progress are today put at risk by terrorism. In an instant, a single terrorist attack can obliterate painstaking efforts to promote development and to foster economic opportunities, access to education, agricultural and industrial innovation, and civil and human rights. Attacks on markets, schools or offices, destroy not only lives but also livelihoods; each attack devastates a family, a community, a future generation, often targeting those least able to defend themselves. In regions connected by history, kinships and shared borders, what happens in one State cannot fail to have an impact on others. Terrorism therefore threatens the political stability, economic progress and security, not just of individual States, but of entire regions.

Thriving in South Asia

South Asia is no stranger to terrorist violence. We recall watching in shock as the attacks unfolded in Mumbai; as schools, mosques, offices and hotels are targeted in Pakistan; as tactics such as suicide bombing are used with deadly precision against Heads of State. We, in the United Nations family, have mourned the deaths of friends and colleagues who were working in the region to foster peace and provide relief to those in need.

The contemporary terrorist threat has evolved beyond national, and even regional boundaries. The horrific terrorist acts perpetrated in New York, London, Madrid, Moscow, Jakarta and elsewhere demonstrate that no State is immune to attack, even if its perpetrators are motivated by events that are geographically distant from the target. Moreover, terrorists are increasingly associated with organized criminal networks and with trafficking in narcotics, weapons and persons. Their activities contribute to armed conflicts and political violence throughout South Asia, as they do in other parts of the world. As the challenge of combating terrorism has grown more urgent and complex, so too has the required response.

Efforts to combat terrorism

At the direction of the Security Council, the United Nations supports the efforts of Governments to combat terrorism, including, through criminalization, suppression of financing of terrorism, and denial of safe haven to terrorists. Combating terrorism is a process that needs to be sustained and strengthened as the nature of the threat evolves. In addition, it also advocates approaches that fully respect human rights, as we believe this is the only way that will be effective in the long term against terrorism.

Demining in the post-conflict era. File photo

We also recognize that no State can achieve all this alone. The office that I head, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), is tasked with facilitating the delivery of technical assistance to States to develop and strengthen their counter-terrorism capabilities and with working together with other members of the United Nations family to support implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

As part of this effort, CTED is helping to organize a series of workshops for prosecutors and law enforcement officials working at the frontlines of national counter-terrorism efforts in South Asia. The flow of illicit goods and persons - of explosives, illegal funds, suspected terrorists and criminals - across the regionís porous boundaries requires that law enforcement officials on all sides of the border be adequately equipped to effectively address these threats. Yet, opportunities for interaction in the region remain limited.

The workshops provide a much-needed platform for regional counterparts to share their experience, lessons learned and good practices, and to discuss key challenges.

Our workshop in Colombo this week follows a successful workshop held last year in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This second workshop is co-hosted by CTED, in association with the Sri Lankan Government and organized by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies and the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation, with the financial support of the Australian and Canadian Governments.

Police officers and prosecutors from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, The Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as observers from SAARC and representatives of INTERPOL, the Commonwealth, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Marshals Service will meet to share their experience and challenges in relation to investigating and prosecuting terrorist acts in the region.

Making great strides

The goal in Colombo is to build on the valuable dialogue started in Dhaka and to support continuing efforts to strengthen law enforcement capacities and cooperative regional mechanisms in South Asia.

This regional workshop will focus on certain key issues raised by participants in Dhaka, such as the need to provide training for prosecutors, police and the judiciary in pursuing terrorism-related cases; issues relating to witness protection and financial controls, including the challenge posed by terrorists' use of new technologies for money-laundering and fraud; and the relationship between counter-terrorism efforts and international and human rights law.

It is our hope that such gatherings will serve not only to enhance the technical expertise of law enforcement officials in the South Asia region, but also to foster cooperation that will enable them to prevent and more effectively respond to terrorism and its related legal challenges.

While several States in the region have made great strides in their domestic counter-terrorism efforts, a critical element for continued progress will be to sustain and build on these successes, to develop and strengthen mechanisms to support law enforcement officials in their efforts to bring to book those who threaten the lives and livelihoods of their fellow countrymen.

We at the United Nations stand ever ready and willing to support those efforts, and we believe that our discussions in Colombo will help strengthen interaction among regional counter-terrorism actors and support the continued growth and development of South Asia.

The writer Mike Smith is an Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED).

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