- January 25, 2021
- Posted in Expert Analysis
The situation facing women and children with links to United Nations listed terrorist groups is
increasingly untenable. There is an urgent need to identify and implement solutions, which must
acknowledge the distinct profiles of the individuals concerned and be specific to the immediate,
medium- and longer-term challenges facing the countries and communities involved. The
solutions needed go well beyond the immediate response to humanitarian needs and cannot be
provided by humanitarian actors alone. Necessary measures include political engagement;
repatriation; justice; prosecution (where appropriate), rehabilitation and reintegration; access to
psychological expertise and support services; and consideration of security issues. This requires
the engagement of Member States and other relevant actors, including civil society.
The United Nations has a responsibility to support Member States to comply with their
obligations under international law. There are specific international law obligations applicable to
Member States’ action with regard to women and children with links to UN listed terrorist groups.
However, UN agencies and other humanitarian actors engaged on the ground are faced with
multiple challenges, including those of a political and practical nature.
Although some Member States have begun repatriating women and children, the pace of
repatriation is slow, marked by unclear processes, and contingent on the availability and
willingness of the Member State to provide consular services. The fate of these women and
children often depends on the application of national laws, the level of protection they are
granted (including international protection) and the approaches of the host countries and
countries of origin to deal with this complex issue.
This situation is further complicated in practice as many children do not have legal
documentation, are orphaned, or, are either accompanied by foreign mothers or fathers whose
fates are uncertain or separated from their parents or responsible caregivers. Many of these
women and children have been subjected to human rights violations and abuses and exposed to
extreme acts of violence, with little or no access to appropriate medical, psycho-social and other
forms of support, including holistic rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. In particular,
children who have been living in areas under the control of such groups or who are otherwise
suspected of having links with such groups, are critically vulnerable and subject to violence at
multiple levels. They require specific protection and are entitled to individualised care and
This paper outlines the key legal, policy and operational principles that must be adhered to in the
UN’s system-wide response to this challenge. This includes improving system-wide coordination
through the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact. It is not intended
to be an exhaustive document, but rather, one that clarifies the vital elements that must be met
by all UN entities in their support to protection, repatriation, prosecution, rehabilitation and
reintegration efforts. This set of principles is particularly timely in light of the increasing demand
for UN assistance in this context.
Please see the full version of the key principles here: Key Principles on Repatriation, Prosecution, Rehabilitation of Women and Children