SCO Secretary-General: The Convention on countering extremism is the SCO’s common response to this growing threat

SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov gave an interview to the correspondent of the Renminwang

Following the the results of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Heads of State Council Meeting, which was held on June 8-9 in Astana, SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov gave an interview to the correspondent of the "Renminwang". Below is the text of the interview.

"Renminwang": During the Summit in Astana, the SCO Heads of State signed the SCO Convention on Countering Extremism. What were the reasons for developing this document?

Rashid Alimov: Threats of extremism and efforts to counteract it are acute issues that require urgent solutions. We are witnessing an upsurge in extremist crime all over the world. Combating this evil is a pressing goal for the global community. The SCO Heads of State noted the importance of developing international legal regulations for counteracting extremism back when the organisation was created, as early as in 2001, when the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism was adopted.

"Renminwang": What were the reasons for adopting a new document on counteracting extremism? Isn't the existing legal framework enough to combat this phenomenon?

Rashid Alimov: Until now, the legal framework for the cooperation of SCO Member States in counteracting extremism was based on two documents: the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism of 15 June, 2001, and the Concept of Cooperation Between SCO Member States in Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism of 5 July, 2005. The latter stipulated the main goals, objectives, guidelines, areas and forms of cooperation in combating the "three evils." In the 2001 convention, the SCO member states defined the notion of extremism for the first time. The document defined the forms of cooperation, the nature of information subject to exchange, and the format for the interaction of the involved authorities. It is important to point out that the SCO member states were the first organisation of nations to coordinate such a document based on consensus. In contrast, the debates in the United Nations on drawing up a common convention to combat terrorism have been ongoing for almost 40 years.

Years have passed since the adoption of the aforementioned conventions, and the nature and scope of extremism have changed. The 2017 convention, signed during the Astana Summit, maintains the continuity of the two previous documents, aims at improving the mechanism to counteract extremism in the SCO space, expands the provisions of the SCO Development Strategy until 2025, and coincides with the main themes and issues solved under the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. New threats to international security demand improved methods to fight them.

"Renminwang": Has the new convention kept the terms from the previous documents in this field under the SCO? Have the SCO members changed their understanding of the phenomenon of extremism?

Rashid Alimov: The first definition of extremism under the SCO was defined in the 2001 convention. Extremism was defined as "any act aimed at forcible seizure of power or forcible retention of power, as well as forcible change of a constitutional system of a state and also violent encroachment upon public security…"

The 2017 Convention on Countering Extremism: this definition refers to the notion of "extremist act," which is somewhat expanded. The notion of "extremism" is defined not as an "act" but as an "ideology and practice." Definitions are also given by the 2017 convention for "financing of extremism," "extremist materials," "extremist organisations," "countering extremism," and others.

Thus, with time, there have not only been an increased number of definitions related to countering extremism in SCO documents, but also expansions of the existing definitions, which attests to the prompt response to the changing political and security situation. As a reminder, the 2001 convention was adopted three months prior to the 11 September terrorist attacks. Such prompt evaluation of the situation and the response certainly speaks of the high level of interaction between the SCO member states in taking on these new challenges and threats.

"Renminwang": Are there any new formats in terms of SCO member interaction in counteracting extremism?

Rashid Alimov: Sure. Along with developing the existing forms of cooperation, the 2017 convention also includes measures to prevent the spreading of the extremist ideology and extremist crime, including measures to prevent using the internet to spread extremist ideology.

The Convention is notable for a separate section containing measures to counteract the financing of extremism. These are legislative and other measures with due account for the fundamental principles of the legal framework of the parties.

"Renminwang": Regarding the mechanism for SCO Member State interaction in this field, has it remained the same compared to the 2001 convention?

Rashid Alimov: I can say that the mechanism has been slightly improved. In the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, the SCO members defined the acts related to the notion of extremism as crimes that involve extraditing accused individuals, for the first time. The 2017 Convention on Countering Extremism goes further and defines the conditions for the SCO member states to assert jurisdiction for crimes covered by the convention, and the conditions that allow extradition.

Also, the 2017 convention more clearly defines the mechanism and channels for the interaction of the SCO member states, the list of acts for which the SCO member states establish various types of responsibility, and the procedure for adopting measures that prevent the involvement of individuals in the acts covered by the convention.

"Renminwang": What other items are new in the signed convention? What is its relevancy?

Rashid Alimov: The adoptiong of the SCO Convention on Countering Extremism is relevant without doubt. The SCO member states are not only expressing a deep concern with the escalating manifestation of extremism today but are also united in their awareness of the "two evils," extremism and terrorism.

The new document clearly defines extremism as a breeding ground for terrorism, which poses a threat to the world and security, to the territorial integrity of states and the development of friendly relations between them, and securing human rights and freedoms. The SCO members also highlighted that it is unacceptable to use extremism as a tool to achieve political and geopolitical goals. A new item in the document is a shared vision of a legal basis for counteracting a forcible attempt to overthrow a legitimate authority not only in the context of growing terrorist threats but also in the broader sense of preventing any coup.

It is possible that the new convention will become a pivotal and strategic act whose definitive standards will serve as a foundation for a body of counter-extremist legislation to be formed within the SCO. This document is the SCO's collective response to new forms, methods and specific extremist activities.