Koenders calls for more international action against foreign terrorist fighters

On Monday foreign minister Bert Koenders spoke at a conference in The Hague on foreign terrorist fighters. He called on those present to commit to sharing information on radicalised individuals, relevant trends and successful strategies for addressing this issue. ‘Because just as the threat we face crosses borders and oceans, so too must our response,’ he said. ‘International cooperation is vital in countering terrorism. We need to work together to gather intelligence and block terrorist access to funds.’

The conference is being held by the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which the Netherlands will co-chair with Morocco as of this autumn. ‘It’s good to see people from all over the world here today. The strong turnout underlines the importance the international community attaches to a joint approach to combating radicalisation and extreme violence,’ said Mr Koenders.

Over a hundred experts from 40 countries and international organisations are attending the conference. On Tuesday they will be joined by experts from the international anti-ISIS coalition. The minister believes it is essential for these people to come together on a regular basis to address the terrorist challenges of the 21st century. ‘The GCTF will only become more important in the years ahead,’ said Mr Koenders.

The Netherlands was recently appointed as one of the GCTF’s new co-chairs, a role it will assume this autumn. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) will together play an active role in this. During the Netherlands’ co-chairmanship Mr Koenders wants to turn the expertise generated by the Forum into tangible actions. ‘The planning stage is over; now it’s time for action,’ said the minister. ‘Fortunately we, the international community, have made a good start that we can now build on.’

Mr Koenders cited Indonesia as an example. Besides working together to support victims of terrorism, the Dutch and Indonesian governments are creating a channel for disgruntled foreign terrorist fighters to share their experiences with local communities and turn them away from radicalisation.

The minister wants to promote projects like these during the Dutch-Moroccan chairmanship. This includes support for the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), for Hedayah, a UAE-based expertise centre that is researching the most effective ways to prevent radicalisation, and for the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), a public-private fund that helps local communities become more resilient to violent extremism.

During the Dutch co-chairmanship Mr Koenders also wants to flesh out and implement the best practices identified by the GCTF. ‘We know what works. So now’s the time to apply those successes in different countries.’ Among the options envisaged by the minister is a national intelligence exchange that would allow governments to share information on foreign terrorist fighters.

In the minister’s view there are still great strides to be made in prevention. ‘The GCTF wants to prevent today’s thinkers from becoming tomorrow’s fighters,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘We need to advise parents and teachers on what to do if they suspect a young person is becoming radicalised. In the Netherlands we have a specialise Expertise Unit that works with schools and municipalities to tackle this issue. A similar approach could be used in other countries. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.’

The minister warned against letting obsession and naivety gain the upper hand in the fight against violent extremism. ‘Unlike the terrorists we are combating, we need to act within the moral and legal boundaries set by the rule of law and human rights. No matter how hard it may be, we need to strike the right balance between security and privacy.’

‘It is important to realise that there is a way back for foreign terrorist fighters,’ the minister continued. ‘We need to pay attention to the way we deal with those who come to regret their actions, with due regard for their differing motives. We need to understand why people, from lone wolves to young women, are attracted by ISIS’s empty savagery and why they ultimately decided to return.’

In his conference speech Mr Koenders also said that initiatives against foreign terrorist fighters should not be carried out in isolation. ‘The Netherlands believes that the best way to combat terrorism is for countries to work together in a UN framework. We need to make sure that all counterterrorism strategies are firmly rooted in international law. Otherwise they’re doomed to failure.’