We Must Intensify Our Work to Create Future without Terrorism, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Conference

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the third high-level conference of heads of counter-terrorism agencies of Member States, in New York today:

Welcome to the United Nations and thank you for being here. You are at the forefront of a great global effort.

Terrorism affects every region of the world.  It preys on local and national vulnerabilities and the instability of political, economic and security systems.

Poverty, inequalities and social exclusion give terrorism fuel.  Prejudice and discrimination targeting specific groups, cultures, religions and ethnicities give it flame.  And criminal activities like money-laundering, illegal mining and the trafficking of arms, drugs, antiquities and human beings give it funding.

Terrorism festers in the complex crises engulfing our world. From the food and energy crisis.  To the growing inferno of climate change that is increasing competition for scarce resources and forcing people away from their homes.  To cyberspace, where prejudice, discrimination, misogyny, societal division and outright hatred run rampant.

Year after year, terrorism has chipped away at the bulwarks we’ve built up over the decades.  Human rights, humanitarian and refugee law — and the United Nations Charter itself — are flouted with impunity.

This has grave consequences for the most vulnerable people — including women and girls, who face intimidation and sexual and gender-based violence in communities afflicted with terrorism.

While we have made some significant gains over the years, terrorism and violent extremism continue to take root and grow.  Al-Qaida and Da’esh affiliates in Africa are rapidly gaining ground in places like the Sahel and probing southward towards the Gulf of Guinea.  Neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements are fast-becoming the primary internal security threats in a number of countries.  And the brutal legacy of Da’esh in Iraq and Syria continue to cast a long shadow over tens of thousands of lives.

But, as this conference reminds us, when it comes to combating terrorism, we must stand as one against this global threat.  And we are.  Through the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact, the United Nations is providing practical, coordinated support to Member States, and helping countries implement the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  We are working closely with civil society, including victims of terrorism, religious leaders, women and young people to shape counter-terrorism responses, policies and programmes.

We are assisting regional organizations like the African Union in key areas like prevention, legal assistance, investigations, prosecutions, reintegration and rehabilitation, and human rights protection. We jointly established the Independent High-Level Panel on Security and Development in the Sahel.

We’re tirelessly advocating for a new generation of robust peace enforcement missions and counter-terrorism operations, led by the African Union with a Security Council mandate under Chapter VII, and with guaranteed, predictable funding, including through assessed contributions.

And we look forward to co-hosting the African Counter-Terrorism Summit with Nigeria.  This week marks a critical opportunity to build on this progress.  I see four areas of focus.

First — we must continue strengthening the central tool in our efforts:  the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  I’m deeply grateful to the co-facilitators — Canada and Tunisia — for their strong leadership throughout the eighth review process.  And I look forward to the General Assembly’s consensus adoption of the review resolution of the Strategy later this week.

Second — we must focus on the most effective approach to ending this menace:  prevention. We will be putting forward a New Agenda for Peace with prevention at its heart.

Prevention means more than just foiling attacks and disrupting plots.  It means addressing the underlying conditions that can lead to terrorism in the first place — such as poverty, discrimination, disaffection, weak infrastructure and institutions and gross violations of human rights.

Prevention also means inclusion.  We must ensure that counter-terrorism strategies and measures reflect all communities, constituencies and voices — especially minorities, women and young people — and do not hinder civil society in carrying out their vital work.  And prevention means placing human rights and the rule of law at the core of all that we do.

Which brings me to my third point — human rights.  Terrorism represents the denial and destruction of human rights.  And so the fight against it will never succeed if we perpetuate the same denial and destruction.

In fact, human rights can be the greatest weapon we have in fighting terrorism.  Evidence shows that counter-terrorism efforts that are solely security-focused rather than human-rights-based can inadvertently increase marginalization and exclusion, thereby perpetuating the same conditions that can lead to terrorism in the first place.  We need to ground firmly all counter-terrorism policies and initiatives within human rights.  This must include repatriation efforts.

We are joined today by two returnees from Al-Hol camp who have come to share their experiences with us.  Their presence reminds us that, despite the territorial defeat of Da’esh over four years ago, more than 50,000 children, women and men still remain in Al-Hol and other camps and detention centres in northeast Syria as it was referred by our Under-Secretary-General of Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov.  They are subjected to dire security and humanitarian conditions, and human rights abuses.

I commend Iraq and other Member States working to repatriate nationals from the camps — and reiterate my call for all Member States to help accelerate the pace of repatriation as an urgent priority.  As I said when I met with returnees from Al-Hol in Iraq in March — this is a matter of human decency and compassion, and it is also a matter of security.  We must prevent the legacy of yesterday’s fights from fuelling tomorrow’s conflicts.

My fourth point today is about funding.  I remain deeply grateful to Member States for their contributions to the work of the United Nations.  But, we are facing a worsening funding crunch, with assessed contributions to our Organization going unpaid.  This shortfall will have serious implications — both for our peacekeeping efforts and for the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism.  I call on all Member States to fulfil their funding commitments and ensure that we have the resources to help take on this common challenge.

Terrorism has cast its shadow over too many lives, in too many communities, for far too long.  In the names of all those who have suffered and continue to suffer, and in the names of all victims and survivors, let’s intensify our work to create a future without terrorism.

For information media. Not an official record.