The U.N. Security Council has just unanimously approved a historic resolution aimed at stopping the flow of foreign extremists to battlefields around the world. Resolution 2178, which criminalizes traveling abroad to fight for extremist organizations as well as the recruiting for or funding of such groups, was adopted by all 15 members of the Security Council. It generally targets fighters traveling to conflicts anywhere in the world. It does not mandate military force to tackle the foreign fighter issue. The resolution is under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which makes it legally binding for the 193 U.N. member states and gives the Security Council authority to enforce decisions with economic sanctions or force.
But the thing about UN Security Council resolutions is that, they are often ignored by member states. So should Singapore adopt this resolution? The answer is a resounding YES.
DPM Teo Chee Hean recently revealed in Parliament that a handful of Singaporeans have gone to Syria to take part in the conflict. One of them is Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali (Haja), a naturalised Singapore citizen of Indian origin. He brought his wife and three children then aged between 2 and 11 with him. Another female Singaporean is believed to have gone to Syria with her foreign husband and two teenaged children. The whole family is taking part in the conflict in various ways, either joining the terrorist groups to fight, or providing aid and support to the fighters. Several others had intended to travel to Syria or other conflict zones to engage in jihadist violence, but were detected before they could proceed with plans. Self-radicalised lawyer Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader has been detained under the Internal Security Act, while Zakaria Rosdan and Khairul Sofri Osman have both been issued Restriction Orders.
And DPM Yeo further gave this chilling assessment:
“The foreign fighters in Syria may similarly return from the conflict proficient in terrorist skills,” said Mr Teo. “They may undertake terrorist activities in their home countries or overseas, or at the very least provide logistical and operational help to terrorists whom they befriended in Syria. This has already happened. UK and French nationals who returned from fighting in Syria have already targeted Central London and the French Riviera respectively.”
There have also been examples of foreign fighters who have travelled to Syria via Singapore, and extremists from neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, trained in Syria.
“The presence of former foreign fighters in our region – whether they originate from South-east Asia or elsewhere – is a security threat to us. The threat is magnified if these returnee fighters are Singaporeans. Indeed, any Singaporean who assists violent organisations like the Al-Nusra Front, IS or any other violent group, would have demonstrated a dangerous tendency to support, or resort to, violence to pursue a political or ideological cause. They would thus pose a real threat to Singapore’s national security,” said Mr Teo.
He also pointed to a possible impact on social cohesion – as seen in what happened after Singaporean JI members were discovered. “If more Singaporeans are discovered to have gone to fight or support the fighting in Syria, or to harbour intentions of doing so, it may cause disquiet on the ground, and give rise to mistrust and tension between our communities.”
So in the light of DPM Teo’s assessment, Singapore should adopt the UN’s resolution and if need be, laws to be enacted to prevent Singaporeans from joining the conflict, and for returning fighters to be detained and punished. We could perhaps use Australia as an example whereby a law is to be introduced to make it an offence to enter, or remain in, a so-called “declared area” where the foreign minister is satisfied a terrorist organization is engaged in hostile activity. The law will not prevent a person travelling to an area for legitimate purposes such as providing humanitarian aid, in an official capacity for Australia or the United Nations, reporting on news events or visiting family. But it notes that “those that travel to a declared area without a sole legitimate purpose or purposes might engage in a hostile activity with a listed terrorist organization”. The offence will not operate retrospectively, and will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years’ in prison.
As a multi-racial country, we cannot be too careful in ensuring that our social fabric is not rend asunder due to ideological conflicts that happen thousands of miles away. If we need to nip it in the bud, so be it.