Southeast Asian nations partner to fight extremists

Southeast Asian nations partner to fight extremists

Tom Abke

Senior leaders from six Southeast Asian nations united in Indonesia in July 2017 to plan ways to eradicate violent extremism across the region, such as the assault in June on Marawi in the southern Philippines by fighters inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Officials from Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Philippines met in Manado, Indonesia, for a one-day summit, co-hosted by Australia and Indonesia.

“Terrorism transcends national boundaries, and closer cooperation on counterterrorism issues is critical to strengthening our national and regional security,” said Australian Attorney General George Brandi, pictured, left. “We look forward to working with our regional partners to enhance our already robust relationships and keep our people safe.”

Cooperation to thwart violent extremism was the theme of the summit, which resulted in a joint statement signed by all representatives. The nations agreed to establish a foreign fighter strategic forum “to enhance information sharing and synchronize priorities among law enforcement and intelligence agencies from across the subregion.” That includes the use of existing databases and the possibility of establishing databases on foreign fighters and cross-border movements of terrorists.

Participants emphasized rule of law as an effective response to violent extremism, particularly “robust counterterrorism laws,” which define as criminal acts activities such as preparing to commit terrorism and supporting foreign terrorist fighters. Such laws, the participants concurred, need to align with international laws on human rights and the treatment of refugees.

The officials also agreed to study other nations’ terrorism laws, enabling them to formulate a common understanding of legal frameworks applied to acts and perpetrators of violent extremism.

They emphasized the need to address the root causes and underlying conditions of terrorism. Strengthening social cohesion, education, women’s empowerment, public awareness and economic development, as well as developing counternarrative frameworks through programs that counter violent extremism, will be key.

Other agreements included fostering government cooperation with civil society groups and private industry to counter the extremist threat in the community and online. The Southeast Asian nations also will develop best practices for dealing with violent extremists while they are incarcerated and after their release. That subject will be on the agenda for an upcoming roundtable.

The partners discussed additional meetings, such as the upcoming counterterrorism financing summit in November 2017, hosted by Malaysia. It will focus on cooperation and capacity building among financial intelligence units and the role of the private sector in countering terrorism financing. Officials also talked about the trilateral meeting on security among the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia held in Manila in June 2017 and a law enforcement dialogue on ISIS in August 2017, co-hosted by the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesian National Police.

“We must face the threat together,” said Indonesian Chief Security Minister Wiranto, pictured, right, at the summit’s concluding news conference. “Terrorism has become a real threat to humanity. Not a single country is free from the threat.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.