Bhutan: Countering use of the internet for terrorist activities - an emerging concern

While Bhutan has so far not directly felt the tremors of terrorism, the Royal Government of Bhutan recognizes that it needs to be prepared to prevent and act against terrorism in light of its transnational nature.

Bhutan supports regional and global initiatives against terrorism and has ratified 8 of the 19 international legal instruments against terrorism. The Royal Government of Bhutan has in particular stressed the need to be prepared for and take preventive action against the emerging threat of cyber-crime. While the internet has emerged as one of the most valuable means of communication, it is also being exploited for the purposes of terrorism and other criminal activities.

In response to this concern, in January 2015, UNODC in collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan organized a national capacity building workshop titled, "The Universal Legal Framework against Terrorism and Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes" in Thimpu, Bhutan with the objective to strengthen the capacity of national criminal justice officials to implement the universal legal framework against terrorism and to address issues related to the use of the internet for terrorist purposes.

At the workshop, UNODC presented a brief overview of the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions related to terrorism, as well as the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy. The Royal Government of Bhutan described its legislative provisions on counter- terrorism, the Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Act (BICMA, 2006) and Bhutan's regional initiatives, including the respective regional conventions of the South Asia Association for Regional Corporation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectorial Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

International experts highlighted the rise of cyber-crime globally and the obstacles law enforcement and criminal justice officials face in addressing this threat, including the constant debate on the right to the freedom of expression and the need for government monitoring of information.  It was highlighted that while Bhutan has achieved remarkable progress in the area of information technology, a number of challenges associated with the potential misuse of the internet for criminal activities have emerged. In light of this, the BICM Act, 2006 is undergoing an amendment to include provisions pertaining to cyber-terrorism and other cyber-offences. Recognizing the importance of cyber-security, the Department of Information Technology and Telecom, Ministry of Information and Communications has initiated a project to establish the Bhutan Computer Incidence Response Team (BtCIRT). This team will serve as the national agency to (i) collect, analyse and disseminate information on cyber incidents, (ii) establish emergency measures for handling cyber security incidents and (iii) prepare disaster management, contingency plans and business continuity plans for critical information infrastructure.

The workshop concluded with a discussion around steps that should be taken at the national level to strengthen the domestic legal and policy framework to implement the universal legal framework against terrorism.  All participants underscored the need for platforms for exchange of information and the development of international cooperation.  Participants also requested UNODC to conduct more capacity building activities to enhance effective criminal justice responses, given the relatively recent engagement in the topic of the use of the internet for terrorism.

The workshop was attended by Representatives from the investigation and prosecution services of Bhutan as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Home and Cultural Affairs, Information and Communication, Department of Civil Aviation and the Royal Monetary Authority.

The initiative was conducted under the UNODC Global Project  titled: "Strengthening the legal regime against terrorism", with financial support from the United States of America.