This article has been adapted from UN News.
With terrorism posing a complex, constantly evolving and multi-faceted threat, law-enforcement agencies gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Monday in search of a comprehensive, inclusive, and effective multilateral response.
The day also marked the start of the UN’s Third Counter-Terrorism week.
Addressing the delegates “at the forefront of a great global effort”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that terrorism affects every region of the world, while preying on local and national vulnerabilities.
“Poverty, inequalities and social exclusion give terrorism fuel. Prejudice and discrimination targeting specific groups, cultures, religions and ethnicities give it flame,” said the UN chief, adding that criminal activities like money laundering, illegal mining, and the trafficking of arms, drugs, stolen artifacts and human beings, help fill terrorist coffers.
He was joined by Ms. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), who noted that “human rights must be front and center in our responses to terrorism and violent extremism: This means due process, fair trials, humane prisons, respecting fundamental freedoms, and focusing on rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders into society.”
She urged the international community to “listen to the voices of those who are most affected” by terrorism to achieve long-term impact in prevention, and to cooperate with the private sector, civil society, and academia – principles that guide UNODC’s own work on terrorism prevention.
Since terrorism festers in complex crises with no region immune, the response to the threat needs to be multilateral and coordinated, said Mr. Guterres – citing some key UN tools that can help combat the scourge.
He said there were four priority areas where the counter-terrorism community should direct its efforts.
Firstly, he said the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy needed strengthening.
The second area of focus needs to be prevention, which means addressing the underlying conditions that lead to terrorism in the first place - such as poverty, discrimination, disaffection, weak infrastructure and institutions, and gross violations of human rights.
Identifying promotion of human rights as the third priority, the Secretary-General expressed his conviction that all counter-terrorism policies and initiatives should be based on respect for human rights, including the right to repatriation.
Finally, he called for more sustainable financing for counter-terrorism efforts.
UNODC helps States build their normative frameworks, policies, and institutional capacity to strengthen their criminal justice response to terrorism, in line with international norms and human rights standards.
Since 2002, UNODC has trained almost 40,000 criminal justice officials on a range of matters pertaining to preventing and countering terrorism, while also contributing to the review of over 200 pieces of counter-terrorism legislation.
Its in-depth training and mentoring to criminal justice officials in Nigeria, for example, led to the conviction of over 650 terrorism suspects and the release of over 2,400 people due to lack of evidence since 2018.
UNODC also helped set up a cooperation mechanism for the Middle East and North Africa region. The platform facilitated the exchange of information and collaboration among Member States, which led to the interception of a terrorist attack and the extradition of a terrorism suspect.
In partnership with civil society, Ms. Waly added, UNODC launched a campaign in Iraq, titled “Victims’ Voices, Silencing Terrorism,” showcasing the resilience and strength of victims of terrorism and the power of their voices to defeat the narratives of terrorists. The campaign has reached an audience of 3 million people so far.
By “leveraging our field presence in many of the countries and regions most affected by terrorism,” Ms. Waly noted, UNODC welcomed the chance to “expand and replicate” its work in partnership with the Global Coordination Compact and Member States.
“Standing against terrorism means standing united,” she concluded.
In October 2022, UNODC launched a new Global Programme on preventing and countering terrorism. The programme promotes inclusive, people-centered, prevention-focused, human rights-based practices reaching women, young people, victims, and civil society. It will allow UNODC to build on its track-record of delivering packages of counter-terrorism technical assistance to some of the countries most affected by terrorism across the globe. Learn more here.