South and South-East Asia: Addressing returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters

UNODC's Terrorism Prevention Branch (UNODC/TPB) is working to help Member States address criminal justice challenges of foreign terrorist fighters returning from active conflict zones. Furthermore, criminal justice officers of Member States facing the issue of returnees must possess knowledge of violent extremism leading to terrorism, prosecutorial techniques, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies, as well as counter-messaging against extremist narratives.

Returnees pose unique challenges, as they may possess newly-gained expertise in the tactics of terrorist groups pertaining to recruitment strategies as well methods related to travel to and from conflict zones with family members. These family members add additional layers of complexity. While some may have been coerced or deceived into joining the conflict, others voluntarily take on supporting or active fighting roles.

To provide training on these principles, UNODC/TPB implemented a cross-regional workshop for South and South-East Asia on the issue of returning foreign terrorist fighters in Tokyo on 17-20 December 2018 that was hosted at the Government of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The workshop gathered participants from Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka who are actively working in roles related to counter-terrorism investigation, prosecution, the judiciary and prison management.

The event featured lecture and discussion sessions on preventing and countering violent extremism leading to terrorism with a specific focus on the unique challenges pertaining to returnees. Presentations included the following: coverage of ISIL/Da'esh recruitment of families including women and children; how extremists develop compelling narratives to generate support; and managing violent extremist offenders in prison. A hypothetical case study challenged participants to consider the issues of nationality, punishment, and rehabilitation of children who were born or raised in a conflict zone.

The workshop included study visits to the Tokyo Detention House and the community-based rehabilitation facility Step Oshiage. The visits demonstrated how the Government of Japan addresses corrections and reintegration of offenders into society, with an emphasis on developing employable skills of those who have been incarcerated, as well as building attitudes of personal and social responsibility.

The workshop was organized under the project on "Strengthening the Capacity of South and South East Asian Countries to Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism and Foreign Terrorist Fighters through Effective Criminal Justice Responses", funded by the Government of Japan.