International Conference on Foreign Terrorist Fighters
It is a huge pleasure to be here.
Jean-Paul Laborde, the head of the UN’s Counter Terrorism Committee, will be speaking shortly and he will remember a conversation we had, just over a year ago.
"Can you do it?", he said.
"Can the Council of Europe find a legal solution to help with the growing problem of foreign terrorist fighters?"
The number has rocketed:
Syria has been a game changer.
And many are young Europeans.
This was just after the UN had passed its historic Resolution 2178 commiting the world to tackling this threat.
So everyone was signed up to the ends – could Europe help deliver the means?
We looked, and we discovered that there was indeed a black hole in the law.
At international level, we criminalise the recruitment, financing and training of terrorists.
In fact, the Council of Europe first drafted these standards back in 2005.
But there has been no equivalent for the act of seeking out these things;
No international legal standards by which to prosecute the increasing number of individuals who attempt to join foreign wars before committing acts of terror abroad and at home.
Nationally, the legal landscape was also weak.
Many states do not have effective legislation and, even if they do it’s not much good if your neighbours don’t.
Even if one country can stop a teenager from heading to Damascus to join Da’esh we still have a problem if that individual can simply head to a nearby state and take their plane or train from there.
It’s made even worse when those states don’t talk to each other and lack the systems for sharing information.
So the Council of Europe decided that we would try to close these gaps.
We set out to create an Additional Protocol to our existing Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism which would criminalise for the first time in international law the early preparations for acts of terror:
“the participation in an association or group for the purpose of terrorism” as well as “travelling abroad for the purpose of committing a terrorist act”.
We wanted a legal instrument which would enable European states to co-operate much more quickly and effectively.
We wanted to see if we could design an entirely new network of 24/7 contact points so that when border guards are confronted with suspicious travellers they know exactly who to call so that we can stop these individuals slipping through the net and we can stop our young people from running away from home to a life of terrorism and war.
And we wanted to show that all of this could be done toughening up our joint action against violent extremists in a way which still safeguards fundamental human rights:
In particular for the rights to freedom of movement, expression, association and religion.
Well, it gives me huge satisfaction to say that we have done it.
After a lot of careful, painstaking work, the Protocol we are launching today ticks all of these boxes.
From the moment drafting began, it was negotiated in just 7 weeks – which must be a world record for this kind of international legal instrument.
It has opened for signature with the backing of 17 states, plus the European Union – which is impressive by any standards.
And it represents a genuinely pan-European response to a problem which threatens all of our countries.
To the states who have signed, I repeat what I said this morning:
Your co-operation is an act of welcome leadership in anxious times.
And by acting together, through the law, with real regard for the protection of liberty we are putting clear distance between ourselves and the mistakes of the past.
Following September 11th during the hunt for Al Qaeda we saw too many kneejerk responses which sacrificed human dignity in the name of national security.
Secret detention. Extraordinary rendition. Torture.
Abuses which boosted those who wish to discredit our values and destroy our way of life.
But actions like those we are taking today remind us that our commitment to the rule of law, to human rights and to each other are our greatest source of strength.
I hope that we can apply this approach to the other threats we face.
I want this Protocol to be ratified by as many states as possible as quickly as possible inside Europe, and out.
We need 6 ratifications for it to enter into force, a condition which I am confident will be satisfied without delay.
But I don’t want us to stop here.
What other steps can we take together to make our societies safer?
How can we improve our framework for mutual legal assistance and extradition?
How can we more effectively disrupt the financing of terrorist groups?
What are our best means of targeting terrorists acting outside of traditional cell structures – “the lone wolves”?
Within the Council we are now looking at all of these questions.
We are also making steady progress with the Action Plan on Violent Extremism that was adopted in May.
An Action Plan which is not only about suppressing terrorist activity through good laws but also preventing radicalisation in the first place: in schools, in prisons and online.
But how to prevent the next Charlie Hebdo attack or the next Ankara suicide bombing…these are the questions which our democracies are facing.
Therefore, we must make use of what we know.
We are aware that radicalisation and recruitment is occurring in prisons through direct exposure to radical and extremist views.
In response to this, draft guidelines for the prison and probation services facing radicalisation and violent extremism have been prepared in Strasbourg by experts in this field.
The purpose of these guidelines will be to provide prison and probation services with practical guiding principles to help them prevent, detect and deal with radicalisation and extremism that can lead to terrorism.
The text has been finalized and is expected to be adopted by the Committee of Ministers in December 2015.
This is a prime example of the kind of concrete measures which need to be implemented in the public sector in order to prevent terrorism.
And here, let me single out our work on education.
It is, in my view, the key.
We must be much more assertive about teaching our young people the skills and understanding that all democratic citizens must possess irrespective of religion, nationality or culture and religion.
And to help states do that, we have designed a set of democratic competences that can be used and adapted in schools across Europe.
These are now in the pilot phase and are being tested and can be found online.
They will be ready to roll out late next year, following a meeting of Education Ministers in Brussels in April 2016.
I hope you will all get behind this project with the same enthusiasm you are showing today.
So, while we are here in Riga to launch the Additional Protocol on Foreign Fighters and many of your discussions will, rightly, be about its implementation let us build on this momentum, too as we think about ‘what else?’ and ‘what next?’
In times of insecurity, much of the world looks to Europe.
Today we are showing why.
For the sake of our shared security let us remain committed to each other united behind our values and determined to lead the way.
22 December 2017
Letter to the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis