Thank you, Ambassadors Bourita and Ugdul, for your remarks and for your governments’ deep commitment to the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and its practical, action-oriented mission. Given Morocco’s wide-ranging contributions to the Forum’s success since its launch, it is more than fitting that Rabat is the host city for this fifth meeting of the GCTF Coordinating Committee.
As many of you probably know, I took office less than two months ago and this is my first GCTF meeting. I am looking forward to working with my co-chair, Ambassador Ugdul, and all of the governments and organizations around the table to ensure that the Forum maintains its strategic and practical focus, and to build on its numerous successes over the past two-and-a-half years. Over the coming months, I am looking forward to working closely with Ambassador Ugdul and continuing the excellent cooperation we have had with our Turkish co-chairs since the Sept 2011 launch. I am also eager to deepen the collaboration with the governments and organizations around the table to ensure that the Forum maintains its strategic and practical focus, and to build on its numerous successes over the past two-and-a-half years.
In addition to thanking all of the GCTF members who have travelled from their capitals to participate in this meeting, I want to acknowledge the representatives of the regional and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are in the room as observers. This is the first time that non-member organizations have been invited to participate in a Coordinating Committee meeting, and the invitations were extended in recognition of the many contributions these organizations continue to make across the span of the Forum’s working groups. We look forward to deepening the Forum’s partnership with these organizations in the future. Even in the short time I have been in my job, I have been impressed by the range of concrete and practical initiatives the Forum has launched, the number of Forum members that have stepped forward to lead them, and the diversity of non-members who have contributed to and benefited from the GCTF’s work thus far. This highlights the broad relevance of the Forum’s work on so many issues and to so many stakeholders, whether governments, the United Nations, or regional and non-governmental organizations.
Evidence of the GCTF’s impact abounds. The GCTF has developed a series of good practice documents on a range of civilian counterterrorism (CT) issues. Dozens of CT and CVE experts from around the world – both GCTF members and non-members alike – contributed to the development of these framework documents, which offer a shared understanding of key issues, as well as practical guidance to CT practitioners and policy makers in making CT efforts more effective. Through workshops either sponsored by the GCTF or that use as reference GCTF-generated good practices, scores of practitioners and experts are benefiting from the information and skills gained.
Moreover, these GCTF framework documents, which were drafted to be applicable globally by any interested state, are now helping drive the global civilian CT capacity-building agenda. The documents have already helped increase the political will of states to apply good practices and also created new support for technical assistance programs that are implemented by individual GCTF members, the UN, and regional, and non-governmental organizations.
We can use this meeting today and tomorrow to identify ways that all of us can mobilize new resources and expertise to support the development and implementation of GCTF good practice documents. Our work should focus on bringing greater strategic coherence to our bilateral and multilateral efforts, in order to address counterterrorism related challenges in critical regions such as the Sahel and Horn of Africa. We need to ensure these efforts are complementary and are addressing priority country-level and regional needs. Many of us are faced with shrinking budgets to support civilian-focused counterterrorism efforts, and therefore the multilateral platform the Forum provides is extremely useful in essentially helping us do more with less.
The critical nature of this counter-terrorism focus has indeed never been more apparent. The threat we face is evolving rapidly from centralized to decentralized with the emergence of a more aggressive set of AQ affiliates and like-minded groups, most notably in Yemen, Syria, Northwest Africa, and Somalia.
One major trend that will affect the CT landscape in the years to come is that of foreign fighters traveling to Syria. The conflict in Syria is attracting thousands of fighters from around the world, particularly from North Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern and Western Europe, and some of these fighters are joining violent extremist groups. This raises concern that individuals with violent extremist ties and battlefield experience could return to their home countries or elsewhere to commit violence.
While we will have the chance to hear about a number of new GCTF initiatives, I am particularly looking forward to our discussion on the Forum’s recently launched initiative on “foreign terrorist fighters,” and the next steps on this project. This is a topic of critical importance to nearly every government and organization around the table. Much like it did with the issue of kidnapping for ransom by terrorists, or KFR, the Forum, with its technical focus and informal and practical nature, is well-placed to add value to global efforts to address the FTF threat.
The GCTF is also demonstrating its value by expanding its scope to the full range of actors engaged in civilian CT. One example is the GCTF’s initiative on the role of the judiciary in handling terrorism cases within a rule-of-law framework. The first meeting of this initiative in November 2013 brought together judges and magistrates from 24 countries. GCTF activities also routinely benefit from the inclusion of prosecutors, police investigators, border security officials, corrections officers, and other practitioners not commonly thought of as CT officials, but whose disciplines are crucial to an effective global CT response.
Later today we will also have the opportunity to receive updates on the three international institutions that have been inspired by the Forum and designed and developed by interested members. Thanks to the efforts of many of you seated around this table, important progress has been achieved on all three since this group met in New York in late September. Hedayah has had an active first few months of the year. With its legal independence having been recently achieved and its international steering board soon to be constituted, we are looking forward to its work intensifying in the months ahead.
The International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law will be established in Malta later this spring, and we are looking forward to an inaugural event there this summer. And, finally, the multi-stakeholder steering group charged with negotiating the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund’s mandate, mission, and structure concluded its work in late February, and the GCERF’s interim Secretariat will open its doors on June 1 in Geneva.
Today and tomorrow, we will receive updates on the Forum’s five working groups and the United States, as co-chair, looks forward to working with all of you to ensure they maintain a strategic and practical focus. This includes the Horn of Africa group, which held its latest plenary meeting in Nairobi a few weeks ago, and the newest group, formerly the South East Asia Working Group, which will now focus on one of the most salient counterterrorism issues of today – prison rehabilitation and reintegration – and one where the Forum has already made a significant impact through the development of its Rome Good Practices.
The GCTF is proving to be the catalyst for a more dynamic and practically-oriented multilateral CT architecture that will pay security dividends for all of us in future. The Forum is driving strategic change in civilian-led efforts to counter terrorism and the violent extremist ideology that underpins it, helping to reduce terrorism-related instability in critical regions, and addressing key tactical challenges in this effort. I am very much looking forward to working with all of you in the months ahead to ensure the Forum maintains its strategic focus and continues to have an impact. A key element here will be developing and implementing a framework to assess this impact, including at the national and regional levels.
I want to close by underscoring how appreciative both Secretary Kerry and the White House are for your continued commitment to the GCTF and its strategic vision. As we approach the Forum’s third anniversary, we must ensure that this platform is positioned and structured to thrive over the long-term. This will require sustained engagement from all of us. Needless to say, having heard so much about the GCTF over the past few months, I was really looking forward to participating in this meeting. Unfortunately, Secretary Kerry recently asked me to join him on his trip in this region and I will need to depart this morning, though we will have strong representation at all of the Forum sessions. Rest assured that Secretary Kerry and I remain deeply committed to this Forum and to ensuring it builds on its early success. Thank you again for your support and participation.