Skip to main content

Foreign Terrorist Fighters, Challenges and Lessons Learned

Rome -

Foreign Terrorist Fighters, Challenges and Lessons Learned

International expert meeting in Rome, 11-12 December 2014

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) in partnership with the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF) organized an international expert workshop entitled “Reintegrating Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters, Challenges and Lessons Learned”. The meeting, hosted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome on 11-12 December, was opened by Ambassador Michele Valensise, Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy and Dr. Jonathan Lucas, Director of UNICRI.

The extent of the recent flow of foreign terrorist fighters to a number of conflict regions is unprecedented and increasingly representing a threat to peace, democracy and security, posing several new challenges to the international community. Foreign terrorist fighters have multifarious backgrounds, and have a variety of different motivations and objectives. The only common denominator between them is that they represent a threat to the international community. Through Resolution 2178 (2014), adopted unanimously at a summit presided over by United States President Barack Obama, the Security Council condemned violent extremism and underscored the “particular and urgent need” to prevent the travel and support for foreign terrorist fighters”.

There is a growing global consensus on the fact that terrorists cannot be defeated or rehabilitated without interventions addressing the root of the problem – the specific ideologies and motivations that stimulate alarming levels of recruitment into these criminal organizations. However, research and experience confirm that there is no single approach which is effective or appropriate for all violent extremist prisoners. As such, in order to counter the phenomenon there is a need to build tailored strategies which integrate cultural, sociological and context-specific considerations and draw on expertise of all relevant stakeholders, including State agencies and civil society organizations, absorbing international best practices and proven methodologies.

The meeting on foreign terrorist fighters addressed the need to share and learn from, each-other’s experiences and knowledge, to strengthen the multilateral approach and to successfully frame the strategy to counter this phenomenon as part of the wider stabilization efforts in conflict affected situations. But not only, the meeting addressed also the issue of foreign terrorist fighters’ return into non-conflict areas.

As part of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force of the United Nations UNICRI action in this field aims to identify innovative means to provide Member States with actionable knowledge to strengthen national capacity, particularly, in designing, developing and implementing rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for violent extremists in prison settings. The UNICRI programme promotes the implementation of the Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners and is guided by the Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders, adopted in Istanbul in June 2012 by the ministerial meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum.

During the expert workshop in Rome, issues such as the threats posed by returning of foreign terrorist fighters, mechanisms for assessing and monitoring this phenomenon, rehabilitation and reintegration in society, international cooperation and interagency coordination, and the transfer of knowledge on these issues were discussed following a holistic approach incorporating the role of states, international organizations, civil society organizations, families of radicalized persons, and social media.

The meeting was closed by Ambassador Antonio Bernardini, Deputy Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy and was attended by experts, researchers and representatives from a number of countries including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines, The Netherlands, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom and the U.S.A.