A counter-terrorism agenda for the EU: anticipate, prevent, protect and respond

In December 2020, the  European Commission presented a new Counter-Terrorism Agenda to the European Parliament, the European Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions.

The recent spate of attacks on European soil have served as a sharp reminder that terrorism remains a real and present danger. As this threat evolves, so too must our cooperation to counter it. The transnational nature of terrorist networks requires a strong collective approach at EU level, one that safeguards and upholds our pluralistic society, common values and our European way of life. Citizens have the right to feel safe in their own homes and streets, as well as on the internet. The EU has a key role to play in helping to deliver that security.

The EU remains on terrorist alert. The jihadist threat from or inspired by Daesh, al-Qaeda and their affiliates persists. Threats from violent right and left-wing extremists are on the rise. The nature of attacks is also shifting. The vast majority of recent attacks were carried out by individuals acting alone – often with limited preparation and readily available weaponry – targeting densely crowded or highly symbolic spaces. While single actor attacks are likely to remain prevalent, more sophisticated attacks cannot be excluded. The EU also needs to be prepared for threats from new and emerging technologies, such as the malicious use of drones, artificial intelligence and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material. The spread of radical ideologies and of terrorist guidance material accelerates through the use of online propaganda, with the use of social media often becoming an integral part of the attack itself.

Firstly, we need to be able to better anticipate existing and emerging threats in Europe. Information sharing and a culture of cooperation that is multi-disciplinary and multi-level remain key for a solid threat assessment that can form the basis of a future-proof counter-terrorism policy.

Secondly, we need to work to prevent attacks from occurring, by addressing and better countering radicalisation and extremist ideologies before they take root, making clear that respect for the European way of life, its democratic values and all it represents is not optional. This Agenda sets out ways of supporting local actors and building more resilient communities as a matter of priority, in close coordination with Member States, taking into account that some attacks have also been carried out by Europeans.

Thirdly, to effectively protect Europeans, we need to continue to reduce vulnerabilities, be it in public spaces or for the critical infrastructures that are essential for the functioning of our societies and economy. It is essential to modernise the management of the EU’s external borders through new and upgraded large-scale EU information systems, with reinforced support by Frontex, and ensure systematic checks at the EU’s external borders. This is necessary to close what would otherwise be a security gap when it comes to returning foreign terrorist fighters.

Fourthly, to respond to attacks when they do occur, we need to make the most of the operational support EU Agencies, such as Europol and Eurojust can provide, as well as ensure we have the right legal framework to bring perpetrators to justice and to guarantee that victims get the support and protection they need.

Finally, international engagement across all four pillars of this Agenda, facilitating cooperation and promoting capacity building, is essential to improve security inside the EU.

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The European Council approves the EU drugs strategy for 2021-2025

Last month, the European Council approved the EU strategy setting out the political framework and priorities for the EU’s drug policy in the period 2021-2025. The strategy aims to ensure a high level of health promotion, social stability and security and contribute to awareness-raising. On the basis of this strategy, the Council will prepare an action plan which will set out concrete measures to achieve these priorities.

With this strategy, the EU and its member states reaffirm their commitment to an approach which is based on evidence, comprehensive and balanced between demand and supply reduction of drugs, with the preservation of human rights at its core.

With regard to drug supply reduction the strategy targets all aspects of the illicit drug market, and includes the prevention of, dissuasion from and disruption of drug-related crime, particularly organised crime, through judicial and law enforcement cooperation, confiscation of criminal assets, investigations and border management.

This priority area has been further enhanced compared to the 2013-2020 strategy to respond to the challenging developments in European drug markets. These are characterised by the high availability of various types of drugs, ever-larger seizures, increasing use of violence, huge profits, and the use of social media platforms, apps and the internet and darknet for illicit drug trafficking. Such features have not faded during the COVID-19 crisis, to the contrary.

The drug-demand-reduction policy area consists of a range of mutually reinforcing measures including prevention, early detection and intervention, counselling, treatment, rehabilitation, social reintegration and recovery. Such action needs to be appropriate to the local social context and the needs of the target population, be informed by scientific evidence and be safe and effective. It needs to be developed through close collaboration between a number of health and social support services.  The COVID-19 crisis has further revealed the need to ensure the continuity of these actions.

A new chapter has been added to address drug-related harm. This section includes measures and policies to prevent or reduce the possible health and social risks and harm for users, for society and in prison settings. It covers aspects such as reducing the prevalence and incidence of drug-related infectious diseases, preventing overdoses and drug-related deaths and providing alternatives to coercive sanctions.

The strategy also identifies three cross-cutting themes in support of the policy areas:

International cooperation: enhancing the role of the EU as a global broker for a people-centred and human rights-oriented drug policy through cooperation with third countries, regions and international organisations, while strengthening the commitment to development-orientated drug policies and alternative development measures.

• Research, innovation and foresight: providing the EU and member states with the necessary comprehensive research and foresight capacities to address drug challenges in a more agile and proactive manner, increasing preparedness to respond to future challenges.• Coordination, governance and implementation: ensuring optimal implementation of the strategy, including via the key action of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and of Europol, involving civil society and providing adequate resources at EU and national level to achieve this.

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EU anti-racism action plan 2020-2025

Discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity is prohibited in the European Union. The September 2020 Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions sets out the Union’s anti-racism strategy for 2020-2025.

The document states that discrimination persists in our society and, therefore, it is not enough to be against racism; we have to be active against it. It explains that racism damages society in different ways. Most directly, it means that many people living in Europe face discrimination, affecting their human dignity, their life opportunities, their prosperity and their well-being, and often also their personal safety.

The communication states that the EU is built on diversity and on fostering a society of pluralism, tolerance and non-discrimination.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has conducted a wide range of surveys pointing to high levels of discrimination in the EU. The surveys have also identified the areas of life where racial discrimination is felt most strongly. The survey data show that racial considerations influence the likelihood of being stopped by the police. Of the 14 % of the people surveyed who said the police had stopped them in the last year, 40 % perceived that the action was taken because of their ethnic origin or immigrant background.

The survey also pointed to the fact that hate-motivated violence and harassment often remain unreported. Among people of African descent, the 64 % of victims of racist violence did not report the incidents to the police or any other organisation or service.

The Commission will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the existing legal framework to determine how to improve implementation, whether it remains fit for purpose, and whether there are gaps to be filled.

The Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law aims to ensure that serious manifestations of racism and xenophobia are punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties throughout the EU.

The Commission will:

  • Report on the implementation of the Racial Equality Directive in 2021.
  • Present, by 2022, any legislation required to address shortcomings, including to strengthen the role and independence of equality bodies.
  • Ensure a full and correct transposition and implementation of the Framework Decision on racism and xenophobia across the EU.

The Commission encourages the Member States to:

  • Ensure that EU law is fully transposed and properly applied in Member States.
  • Swiftly reach an agreement on the 2008 Commission proposal to implement equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

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A reduction of violence in El Salvador

342.- comando-elite-1-e1461189843981The “Territorial Control Plan” is, according to the Salvadoran government, responsible for the country’s progression from being one of the most violent countries in the world to, in January 2020, recording its lowest number of homicides since the Civil War.

The country’s President, Nayib Bukele, is confident his plan will get the financial green light as the only way to ensure the numbers continue to decrease. Many analysts, however, say the historic reduction in violence is unlikely to be the result of a security strategy that, in their opinion, offers nothing new beyond the strategies put forward by previous governments.

Despite this, the official figures clearly indicate a significant decrease in the number of homicides in El Salvador, where the rate per 100,000 inhabitants fell from 51 in 2018 to 35.8 in 2019. And the downward trend has been even more pronounced since President Bukele took office in June 2019 and announced his plan to improve the country’s security. Since July, the monthly homicide rate has remained below the 200 mark. A record low was recorded in January with 119 homicides and a daily average of 3.8, – 60% less than in January 2018 -.

Several analysts attribute the reduction in violence to factors unrelated to government policy. They believe it’s more likely the gangs have forged a pact to stop the killings in order to avoid confrontations with security forces, leaving them free to maintain control of their territories and continue to engage in extortion. Other researchers think the reduction in homicides is a mirage; the result of a gang-initiated goodwill gesture towards the new Executive. This tactic, employed by gangs in the past, effectively attempts to blackmail President Bukele with the unspoken threat of rising homicide statistics should they wish to make their voice heard or demand a concession.

The “Territorial Control Plan” is divided into seven phases, two of which have already been implemented. Phase 1 involved the deployment of hundreds of police officers and members of the armed forces onto the streets. The prevision for phase 2 includes reconstructing the social fabric and training young people. Phase 3 is pending the approval of a US$109 million dollar loan from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration to fortify El Salvador’s security forces. Phases 4 to 7 have not yet been made public.

The government believes the continual presence of the security forces in the most problematic conflict zones is crucial. Previously, they had been present for 72 hours at most, and once they retired, the criminal world sprang into action once more.

Financial sustainability is one of the most significant challenges for the strategy, which also promotes community engagement as a way of ensuring the latest figures can be maintained.

There is, after all, a limit to what the security forces can achieve in terms of repressing the violence. Without active participation from the community, the results will be difficult to sustain over time. Some analysts are in favour of investing in social reform and employment projects, which they say would help to reduce the homicide rate and not just the rate of criminal prosecution.

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The Government of El Salvador is adopting specific strategies to tackle gangs

339.- Mara_Salvatrucha_MS13Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador, has announced the implementation of specific strategies aimed at reducing violence in the country, which continues to have one of the highest recorded homicide rates in the world at 50.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018.

Although there has been criticism from within government of earlier ‘iron fist’ policies to deal with gangs, it was explained that the government is shifting to new models in the fight against crime, seeing it as a social problem resulting from lack of opportunity and poverty. Even so, there has so far been no mention of prevention or rehabilitation policies, rather the talk has been about attacking the gangs in two areas that the current government sees as key: prisons and the centres of big cities.

The first thing the government wants to do is attack gang finance. The government wants to cut off the gangs’ income so that they have no finance. It is thought that the gangs finance round 80% of their activity through extortion rackets. In parallel, the government wants to stop money laundering through the businesses that enable the gangs to operate.

A second front is to recover control of the centres of big cities, which are thought to be where the gangs run most of their extortion rackets. Government sources are of the view that previous policies focused on small rural communities were misconceived.

To take back those historic city centres, the government will deploy CCTV and put more police and soldiers on the streets. There will be an investment of $15 million in improving pay and conditions for the forces of law and order.

The third strand in the fight against the gangs is to cut communication with prisons, since some 80% of orders for killings and extortion are thought to be issued from prison. The plan is to cut off messages from prisons. Implementation requires new prison staff in order to circumvent bribery and extortion within prisons themselves.

The security plan being implemented by the Salvadorian government does not envisage any role for dialogue with the gangs. What’s more, it has been stressed that a government should not talk to “criminal groups”.

There are gang experts who believe that ‘iron fist’ policies cannot work on their own without a plan that addresses the socio-economic roots of violence in the country. There is no point in locking up thousands of gang members because they are part of the social fabric of El Salvador.

But politicians believe that the public are more concerned about crime and the government is trying to show that they are determined, which is what Salvadorians are thought to want. Nevertheless, there are political commentators who think there is room for a twin strategy: implement the existing strategy with a high-profile tougher approach to crime and when the gangs react put forward alternative proposals.

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The Organisation of American States will support prison reform in Honduras

338.- 42025187020_31480db52d_bThe Government of Honduras and the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) have agreed to develop a penitentiary strategy to strengthen the capacities of the National Penitentiary Institute (INP) of Honduras.

The strategy will be rolled out over nine months and take a human rights approach to the care provided by the INP.

The agreement includes a restructuring of the prison system with integrative policies aimed at contributing to the social reinsertion of detainees in Honduras.

The OAS takes the view that “if you aspire to build societies free of violence and organised crime, you need to have penitentiary centres that educate and offer the opportunity to rehabilitate and reintegrate people who committed crimes into society”.

“A large part of the prison population will, at some point, recover their freedom, and we need them to be prepared to reintegrate into society”.

The strategy on which the OAS and Honduras will work – for a period of 9 months – will incorporate a human rights approach to the care provided by the system during the custody of detained persons.

The lines of action outlined by the OAS include:

– Improvement of the administration and management of the infrastructure of the prison system

– Security, control and life inside prison

– Integral rehabilitation and reintegration

– Post penitentiary assistance

– Transparency and accountability

The agreement was signed in the framework of the Fourth Meeting of the Authorities Responsible for Penitentiary and Prison Policies of the Americas.

It should be noted that according to its official figures, in 2019, Honduras recorded 3,996 homicides, 7.1% more than the 3,732 recorded in 2018.

The report also states that more than 80% of homicide victims in the country are economically active people between 18 and 50 years of age and that close to 6.5% are under 18.

Violence caused by organised crime and drug trafficking is one of the main problems in the country, which is one of those used by drug smugglers to move contraband from South America to the United States.

The Governments blames drug trafficking and extortion-related disputes between the rival Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 gangs for the majority of the homicides.

With regard to femicide, organised crime is responsible for 70% of violent female deaths in the country, and out of the 271 female assassination cases recorded in 2019, more than 90% remain unpunished. Partners or ex-partners cause the remaining 30% of deaths. A country of 9.2 million inhabitants, where one woman is killed every 18 hours.

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Prison population plummets in the Netherlands

328 PRESONSThe Netherlands has closed 23 prisons in five years and has the third-lowest incarceration rate in Europe, with 54.4 incarcerations for every 100,000 inhabitants. The prisons have been converted into temporary asylum centres, housing and hotels.

The Dutch judicial system’s success in reducing its prison population can be partly attributed to rehabilitation programmes for people with mental health problems.

Certain people undergoing psychiatric treatment are the beneficiaries of a growing trend in the country; avoid sending people to prison unless it’s absolutely necessary. One of the key aspects of this is a successful programme of care in the community for people with psychiatric problems.

The programme has two aims: to prevent another crime, and to alleviate psychiatric suffering and the social problems that accompany it. The programme regularly deals with patients suffering from psychotic vulnerability, autism or severe learning difficulties which are often combined with serious personality disorders, addictions, financial problems, housing and family-related issues. They are frequently traumatised.

According to the Justice Ministry’s WODC Research and Documentation Centre, the number of prison sentences imposed in the country has fallen from 42,000 in 2008 to 31,000 in 2018. Furthermore, the country has seen a two-thirds drop in jail terms for young offenders, and registered crimes also fell by 40% during the same period, to 785,000 illicit in 2018. Another contributing factor is the increased use of non-judicial penalties such as fines or the use of court-ordered mediation.

There’s also a psychological rehabilitation programme known as TBS. TBS forms part of the criminal justice system but deals specifically with people who can be held not accountable or only partly accountable for their actions.

People eligible to be considered under TBS must have committed a crime which carries a minimum prison sentence of four years and have a high chance of re-offending. The programme concentrates on their reintegration into society. If this is not deemed possible, or they refuse to cooperate, they can be transferred to a high-security prison.

The criminal justice system takes the view that although prison sentences may appear to be the most logical and efficient way to improve security, the truth is that it only helps to create even more dangerous criminals. With this in mind, it believes that less aggressive methods are capable of achieving longer-lasting results and make it easier for people who have committed a crime to reintegrate into society successfully.

It concludes that life in prison is institutionalised, tightly controlled, and therefore nothing like life in the real world. Younger people also tend to be the ones that suffer the most in prison.

Changing our perspective on imprisonment as the standard solution for crime allows us to research more effective preventative measures.

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Ecuador: The Más Seguridad (More Security) plan looks to a consistent strategy

The Más Seguridad plan, which was suspended 11 years ago, has been renewed. On the 15th of August, principal security forces signed an interdepartmental agreement on the matter.

The meeting, chaired by the Mayor of Guayaquil, Cynthia Viteri, was attended by high-ranking representatives from the National Police, the Integrated Emergency Services ECU911, the National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT), the Guayaquil Corporation for Citizen Safety(CSCG), the Guayaquil Metropolitan Police, the Guayaquil Fire Department, the Municipal transit Agency (ATM), the Armed Forces, and the Municipal Department of Justice and security.

The reprised programme will be implemented with the support of the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Interior, the Crown Prosecution service, and the private sector. It is hoped that this interdepartmental collective will enable the organisations responsible for citizen safety, public order, and other areas, to work together for the common good. The objective is to promote a culture of prevention and citizen participation, monitor policy, and carry out regular assessments and reporting.

In the interest of improving safety, Guayaquil has volunteered resources, equipment, and personnel. Eight million US dollars have been earmarked for the purchase of 120 surveillance cameras. One of the strategies is to combine the government’s 1,100 cameras operated by the CSCG with the 500 operated by the Integrated Emergency Services ECU911.

Also anticipated is the purchase of 600 panic buttons for the “Amiga ya no estás sola (Friend, now you’re not alone)” plan, along with 600 bodycams (500 for the Metropolitan Police and 100 for the Tourism Police).  Finally, investments will be made for a new call-centre and a centre for facial recognition and video analytics.

The Ministry of the Interior underlined the fact that the plan is intended as a shock treatment for violence, drug trafficking, illegal mining, child pornography, femicide, possession of arms, etc. In Ecuador last year, more fatalities occurred in social circumstances than in criminal ones.

The plan will concentrate on areas or neighbourhoods with the highest incidences of criminal activity, such as the Modelo and 9 de Octubre districts, two of the busiest commercial areas in Guayaquil.

The Ministry of the Interior’s statistics show that this central commercial area has the highest rate of shoplifting. Between January and March 2019, there were 284 reported cases, constituting a 10.08 % increase on the figures published for the same period in 2018.

The Más Seguridad plan includes the establishment of integrated workgroups where businesses, journalists, academics, politicians, etc. can debate and put forward solutions and suggestions for improving security.

The workgroups will draft their ideas on how to improve the security services and judicial system, on the correct processing of information about crimes, overall support for victims, and peaceful coexistence.

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The United States and El Salvador sign an agreement on security and migration

El Salvador - USAThe United States and El Salvador have signed a cooperation agreement on security and migration. Under the terms of the agreement, El Salvador has committed to working with the United States to improve border controls and exchange information on organised crime.

The United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and the Foreign Minister of El Salvador, Alexandra Hill, signed the deal following a meeting in which they discussed issues surrounding youth gangs, migration and economic development.

It’s hoped that improvements to El Salvador’s border controls will not only reduce the flow of illegal migrants but also help to tackle the operations of youth gangs and the illegal trafficking of minors.

Another important aspect of the agreement is that the United States has committed to cooperating in the fight against youth gangs and crime, which in the broadest sense of the terms can be understood to include human trafficking, organ smuggling, kidnapping of people for the purposes of selling them into slavery, etc.

El Salvador has committed to sharing biometric data and real-time information on the movements of suspects through both its air and land borders. This could include anyone attempting to enter the country with falsified documents or those wanted for committing crimes by other countries, often related to crimes associated with drug-trafficking.

For their part, the North-Americans recognised efforts made by the Salvadoran authorities to combat and reduce the flow of illegal migration. Furthermore, they explained that help from the United States will be provided on different fronts and will include assisting the police to improve their operational capabilities and increasing access to work visas for Salvadorans.

Despite this, the North-American representatives made clear the agreement does not constitute the establishment of El Salvador as a safe third country, as in the cases of Mexico and Guatemala.

McAleenan concluded that they would continue meetings with representatives of the private sector and that they are open to discussing tariff tables, with the intention of making them more favourable to foreign investment.

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Maximum alert in El Salvador’s prisons

The President of ’El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, at the beginning of July, decreed  maximum alert, indefinitely,  in the country’s prisons as a means of pressure to get “gangs” to put an end to homicides.

The case is that alleged members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) murdered another police officer. Furthermore, at this time, at the end of June, members of MS13 detained a bus with 40 people on board, robbing them and raping two women.


With the death of the latest police officer, 23 officers of the National Civil Police have been murdered in 2019, as well as the murder of 12 soldiers and two prison officers, all of which were carried out by “gangs”.

Hence, one of the measures involved in this state of emergency is that of keeping inmates inside their cells 24 hours a day. Moreover, over a thousand gang members were transferred to more secure prisons from an exclusive prison complex that was exclusively for members of the Barrio 18 gang. Accordingly, the policy, due to the existing rivalry, of placing members of the rival “gangs” Barrio 18 and MS13 comes to an end. This way, the idea of a prison being used for one particular gang is rejected, as the gang ended up imposing their own rules.

At the same time, the government has obliged telephone companies that operate in the country to cut off all prisons to stop communication with the gang outside, to whom they give orders.

With these prison transfers, the idea is to try to abort the orders of gang leaders in their areas and dismantle possible criminal atrocities.

One of the measures required by the President of the country is to meet the request for over 30 million dollars to finance the security plans to deal with the “gangs”. There has been an attempt to pass this budget allocation after the first stage of a plan to recuperate areas controlled by “gangs” in 16 municipalities, including the capital, where there was an attempt to attack the finances of these criminal groups.

It has also been announced that special police forces and armed forces will be sent to pursue gang members.

El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries with its homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants, which over recent years has peaked at 103 deaths, mainly attributed the activities of the “gangs”.

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