Following is UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ speech at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London on “Counter‑terrorism and human rights: winning the fight while upholding our values”, in London today:
I thank SOAS and Valerie Amos for bringing us together this evening. As Valerie said, I had the luck of being working side by side with her to support the most vulnerable of the vulnerable in the most tragic of circumstances. And I have to tell you that she is a leading humanitarian, a fantastic colleague and a very dear friend.
And I also want to thank all of you for being here to talk about one of the most difficult and challenging issues of our time: combating the global threat of terrorism, without compromising our respect for human rights. Let me be clear from the outset: nothing justifies terrorism — no cause, no grievance. Nothing can ever excuse the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, the wanton destruction of lives and livelihoods and the creation of panic for its own sake.
Terrorism has unfortunately been with us in various forms across ages and continents. But, modern terrorism is being waged on an entirely different scale. It is notable for its geographic span. No country can claim to be immune. It has become an unprecedented threat to international peace, security and development.
As conflicts have grown in intensity and number over the past decade, terrorist attacks have increased and spread, destroying societies and destabilizing entire regions. Last year, at least 11,000 terrorist attacks occurred in more than 100 countries, resulting in more than 25,000 deaths and 33,000 injuries.
And while the spotlight tends to focus on terrorism in the West, we should never forget that the vast majority of terrorist attacks take place in developing countries. In 2016, nearly three quarters of all deaths caused by terrorism were in just five States: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and Somalia.
It was estimated that the global economic impact of terrorism reached USD$90 billion in 2015, but this cost may be far higher. And in 2015 again, terrorism costs amounted to 17.3 per cent of GDP [gross domestic product] in Iraq and 16.8 per cent in Afghanistan.
Modern terrorism is not only different in scale, but also different in nature. It has grown more complex and with new modus operandi. How can one not be horrified by trucks and cars ramming in a peaceful crowd with the intent of maiming and killing? It happened here in the streets of London, but also in Jerusalem, Barcelona and more recently in New York. How can one not be shaken to the core by the views of young girls not more than 10 used as human bombs in Maiduguri, in Nigeria? It is an assault on our security and our very humanity.
And the fact that the state of shock and terror of those murderous attacks is nowadays amplified by the 24‑hour news cycle, social media and cynical political manipulation makes it even more impactful. This has brought an acute perception of insecurity among communities that challenge the social fabric.
As Secretary‑General of an organization established “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”, I am painfully aware and concerned by the risk of fragmentation carried by global terrorism.
I am here in London and just down the road, at the British Library, you will find original copies of the Magna Carta. More than 800 years ago, that charter established that nobody should be imprisoned without due legal process. This established the principle of the rule of law. And it is no shortcut to suggest that it laid the groundwork for the freedoms and liberties that terrorism directly assaults.
At its core, human rights are a true recognition of our common humanity. They unite people, while terrorism thrives on divisions. I am here in London humbled by the long journey across history that gave recognition to the aspirations of people to justice, freedom and human rights.
Those are the very aspirations that led so many young men and women when I was living under [António de Oliveira] Salazar’s dictatorship in Portugal to fight for human rights and democracy in my own country. And I believe it is you, young people, who can take up the torch of those enduring aspirations.
Based on all my experience, and with a sense of urgency, I am here in London to deliver a simple message: Terrorism is fundamentally the denial and destruction of human rights and the fight against terrorism will never succeed by perpetuating the same denial and destruction. We must relentlessly fight terrorism to protect human rights.
And at the same time, when we protect human rights, we are tackling the root causes of terrorism. For the power of human rights to bond is stronger than the power of terrorism to divide.
Let me reiterate two important points: Number one, terrorism should not be associated with any religion, ethnicity or race. Number two, there is no excuse for terrorism. Let me stress this once more.
Article 5 of the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism Bombings states that “such criminal acts (…) are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.” Contrary to the propaganda of terrorist groups, terrorist acts are not legitimate murders, but murders plain and simple, and as such criminal acts.
But, we must admit that there are indeed conditions conducive to terrorism and violent extremism. If we want to address and avoid the gap between this global threat and our collective response, we need to pin them down.
First, it is clear that terrorist groups exploit conflict zones and ungoverned territories. While terrorism often starts in conflict zones, it reaches far beyond them, organizing and inspiring attacks and radicalizing people across borders and continents.
Second, lack of development and inclusive governance, including extreme poverty, inequality, as well as exclusion and discrimination, are also drivers for terrorism and violent extremism. Income inequalities are a growing trend within both developing and developed countries.
A new study on the threat of violent extremism in Africa found that lack of education and poverty were factors behind radicalization. But, the final tipping point was often state violence and abuse of power. Ninety‑three per cent of all terrorist attacks between 1989 and 2014 occurred in countries with high levels of extra-judicial deaths, torture and imprisonment without trial.
Third, [the] Internet has become an asset for terrorist groups to disseminate violent extremist propaganda, recruiting new converts and raising money. It was first used in the 1990s by white supremacists in the United States to reach a wider audience easily and cheaply, giving a voice to many forms of racism and anti‑Semitism. The recruitment of violent extremists through social media is nowadays central to Da’esh’s terrorist campaigns.
Although the drivers of radicalization to violence varied from country to country and even within countries, terrorism draws strength from resentment, humiliation, lack of education. Terrorism thrives when disenfranchised people meet nothing but indifference and nihilism. It is deeply rooted in hopelessness and despair. That is why human rights, all human rights, political and civil rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights, are unquestionably a part of the solution in fighting terrorism.
The threat of terrorism is real, dangerous and unfortunately here for years to come. Member States have primary responsibility for protecting their citizens. As a former prime minister, I know all too well this priority to enhance safety and security. Military operations in Syria and Iraq have evicted Da’esh from its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa. But, it would be a mistake to assume that military operations alone will eradicate terrorism.
Technology still enables terrorist groups to reach disenfranchised people everywhere in the world and impress on them. That is why a smart and comprehensive counter-terrorism global strategy addressing root causes of violent extremism is all too vital.
I would like to suggest five key counter‑terrorism priorities and underscore how respect for human rights and the rule of law will secure long-term benefits in the fight against it.
Number one, we need much stronger international cooperation on counter‑terrorism. I heard this message loud and clear during the high-level week of my first General Assembly at the United Nations in September. One hundred and fifty-two leaders – 80 per cent of all members of the United Nations ‑ highlighted the need to step up the exchange of information.
In a globalized world, the failings of one of State can quickly become a threat to its neighbours and far beyond. Our watchwords should therefore be unity, solidarity and collaboration.
It means unity at the United Nations. One of my first reforms as Secretary‑General was to create a Counter‑Terrorism Office to coordinate the 38 different UN groups and offices working in this area. I intend in that regard to develop a new UN system-wide global counter-terrorism coordination compact.
And it means unity in the international community. There is an urgent need for Governments and security agencies to collaborate far more effectively in fighting terror, while respecting human rights. There is still no consensus on a comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.
But, there are 19 different international conventions and many regional instruments in this field that make it easier to prosecute terrorists, enhance protection, and cooperate in other key areas. They are true manifestation of the international rule of law. Signing them and ratifying them is not enough. All Governments must get serious about implementing them.
Furthermore, resolutions of the Security Council often complement those conventions. The Security Council has imposed sanctions against terrorist groups, but it has also played a leading role to enact common rules on foreign terrorist fighters, financial measures against terrorist groups and, more recently, international judicial cooperation.
Capacity‑building and appropriate expertise remain crucial for all Member States to implement those provisions. Member States also need to increase international efforts to address the sources of financing, including suppressing money laundering and illicit trafficking. But, these multilateral efforts are insufficient against today’s threat.
Security services on the ground also need to get better at exchanging information and acting on it, respecting, always, human rights. To give just one example, police in certain countries are divided into local forces, which literally speak different languages and are reluctant to share information.
It is time for a new era of intelligence‑sharing and collaboration to save lives. As a small contribution to this effort, next year I intend to convene the first ever United Nations summit of heads of counter-terrorism agencies, to forge new partnerships and build a relationship of trust.
The second key route to more effective counter-terrorism is a sustained focus on prevention. First, preventing conflict and sustainable development is our first line of defence against terrorism. When I took up the position of Secretary‑General, I made this a priority, calling for a surge of preventive diplomacy.
The international community is already addressing some of the drivers of violent extremism. The 2006 UN Global Counter‑Terrorism Strategy sets out strategic priorities and comprehensive recommendations. One of its four pillars is ensuring the full respect of human rights and the rule of law when countering terrorism.
Prevention, it’s true, includes deterrence. We need strong cross‑border cooperation to make sure that highly-trained terrorists who travel to join conflicts and commit atrocities face prosecution under national laws if they return. But, prevention also means addressing the factors that radicalize young people and make terrorism an attractive option for them.
Second, development is the best way to tackle the poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity and public services that feed despair. Development is an important goal in itself and should never be seen as a means to an end.
But, it is also true that sustainable and inclusive development can unquestionably make a decisive contribution to preventing conflict and terrorism. The United Nations development system helps Governments tackle some of the root causes: poverty, inequality, youth unemployment and the lack of public services, such as health and education.
Right now, United Nations agencies are supporting national Governments in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ‑ the world’s shared blueprint for peace, prosperity, dignity for all, but also a powerful antidote as such to some of the causes of terrorism.
Third, investment in young people must be a major element of any prevention strategy. Most new recruits to terrorist organizations are between 17 and 27 years old. Extremist groups can exploit feelings of disillusionment and alienation, offering a twisted sense of purpose to disaffected young people, including women and girls. One major reason for this is lack of opportunity. Jobs, education and vocational training for young people must be an absolute priority in national development plans and in international development cooperation.
Young people are an overwhelmingly positive asset to our societies. We must invest in them and empower them. It is no surprise that the Kingdom of Jordan with so many threats on its borders with Syria and Iraq has wisely led efforts in the United Nations on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace. We stand with all young people, victims of terrorism, from the Chibok girls of Nigeria, to the Yazidi women and girls of Iraq, to young boys coerced into atrocious acts.
Fourth, we must place greater attention to the general inequalities and stereotypes that drive terrorist groups. Regardless of the religious and philosophical ideology of these groups, one common element of their agendas is a subjugation of women and girls. In parts of the world, they are being sold into sexual slavery to finance terrorist groups and sexual violence itself is used as a tactic of terror.
Fifth, prevention also means winning the fight on [the] Internet. Terrorists are losing physical ground in Syria and Iraq, but gaining virtual ground in cyberspace. Beating them will require coordinated and determined global action. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube have launched an anti‑terror partnership, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, aimed at thwarting the spread of extremist content online. This is a start.
We need to keep the momentum. I welcome recent advances in this area by the British, French and Italian Governments, at the United Nations General Assembly. We will never be able to prevent terrorists from communicating entirely. But, we must make this as difficult as possible.
Number three, upholding human rights and the rule of law is the surest way to prevent a vicious circle of instability and resentment. Terrorist groups, including Da’esh and Al‑Qaida, thrive in conflict zones — Iraq, Syria and Libya most notably. Violations of international humanitarian law are correlated with protracted conflict and radicalization.
I therefore call on all parties to conflict, with a deep sense of urgency, to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights in situations of armed conflict. Taking all precautions to avoid civilian casualties, giving full access to humanitarian assistance, running detention centres in accordance with the status of prisoners of wars, prohibiting torture — all these measures — talk to who we are.
But, it is not only about our values. It is also about efficiency. Those rules have been codified in the nineteenth century to prevent the suffering of war victims in modern conflict. Henry Dunant was instrumental, but lawyers from the United States, with the Lieber Code in 1863, the Russian Federation, with the Martens Clause, the United Kingdom, France and many other countries all contributed. They go far beyond regulating the conduct of war on the battlefield. They ensure that lasting peace and reconciliation will be possible.
Facing threats of an unprecedented nature, States are scrambling to enhance efficiency of their counter‑terrorism legislation. Heightened vigilance and targeted surveillance are essential, if we are to disrupt terrorist networks, track their activities and target their finances.
But, without a firm basis in human rights, counter‑terrorism policies can be misused and abused. They can actually make us less safe, by undermining good governance and the rule of law.
As I said earlier, terrorism is fundamentally the denial and destruction of human rights and the fight against terrorism will never succeed by perpetuating the same denial and destruction. This raises very difficult questions. How Governments can take preventive security measures without undermining due process and legal safeguards? How can they adapt judicial systems to make them more prepared in face of imminent threats? What legal safeguards should control state surveillance? How can we ensure an effective border control while re‑establishing the full integrity of the refugee protection regime?
I firmly believe that the principles of international criminal law offer a unifying framework. A great Italian thinker during the Age of Enlightenment, Cesare Beccaria, laid the groundwork for those principles in 1764. He said there should be no punishment without a law — the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law — and that punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed. Those principles are reflected in international human rights conventions. They remain as relevant as ever.
Unfortunately, counter‑terrorist policies may be used — and are being used — to suppress peaceful protests and legitimate opposition movements, to shut down debate, to target and detain human rights defenders and to stigmatize minorities. Such measures do not contribute to lasting peace. Instead, they may contribute to lasting instability and resentment, generating chaos. I reiterate that societies based on respect for human rights and with economic opportunities for all represent the most tangible and meaningful alternative to the recruitment strategies of terrorist groups.
Fourth, we must win the battle of ideas. We should never shrink from pointing out the cynicism and errors of terrorism. At a new “heart of darkness”, we should build a new Age of Enlightenment. When terrorists portray violence as the best way of addressing inequality or grievances, we must answer with non‑violence and inclusive decision‑making. When terrorists claim to be punishing people they accuse of betrayal or exploitation, we must point to robust judicial systems and legal accountability.
We must address messages of hate with inclusivity, diversity, the protection of minorities and vulnerable people. We need to invest in social cohesion, education and inclusive societies where diversity is perceived as a richness, not a threat, and where everybody feels that his or her identity is respected and that they fully belong to the community as a whole.
Political, religious and community leaders must fulfil their responsibilities in promoting a culture of tolerance and mutual respect. Fighting bigotry and patriarchy, standing up for free media and the right to dissent, promoting the rule of law, demanding accountability and justice — the brave activists and civil society organizations that take on these issues — are keeping us all safer.
De‑radicalization can work. Repentant terrorists should understand that this change is possible and we must pay attention on how they turn their back to their false ideals. Teachers, academics, social workers are on the front line and they also protect us. I acknowledge and honour their contribution and I urge everyone with influence to support them.
Fifth, and finally, we must lift up the voices of the victims of terrorism. Some of our best guides are the victims and survivors of terrorist attacks, who consistently call for accountability and results — not blanket measures or collective punishments.
I welcome the decision of the General Assembly to establish an International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the victims of terrorism to be observed every year on 21 August. I pay tribute to the communities around the world that are showing resilience in response to terrorist attacks. They are countering violent extremism every day in their homes, schools and places of worship.
Here in the United Kingdom, the entire city of Manchester came together earlier this year in an inspiring example of solidarity and unity. In London, your mayor, Sadiq Khan, described terrorism as “an assault on our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect”.
We must resist the stereotyping and seeing vast communities as monoliths if we are to develop effective ways to fight this menace. Stereotypes have many sources, including the media. We all have a responsibility to base our narratives on facts and to avoid doing the terrorists’ work for them by demonizing and stigmatizing certain groups.
In some countries, the majority of terrorist plots and attacks are perpetrated by right‑wing extremist groups. And yet the media focuses far more on attacks by immigrants or members of ethnic and religious minorities.
Refugees fleeing conflict are frequently targeted. It is a horrible distortion of their plight to accuse victims of terrorism of the crime they have just fled.
We are failing in our duty when we refuse to support all those affected by terrorism: the communities, victims, survivors and their families. These groups constantly remind us that without a criminal process, there is no possibility of justice. When we respect the human rights of victims and provide them with support and information, we reduce the lasting damage done by terrorists to individuals, communities and societies.
Earlier this year, I sat in a tent in Kabul talking to some of the victims of terrorism. The women I met had been forced from their homes by a wave of bombings. They had lost everything. They told me of their will to return home, to rebuild their lives and get their children back into school, as soon as peace and security were re‑established. They had not lost their faith in our common humanity. They kept hope alive and we must do the same.
We cannot allow terrorism to challenge the fundamental principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter, national constitutions and international law. The foundations of our global order are the strongest protection we have against this scourge. We can only win this fight by upholding the dignity and worth of human person.
Principles, however, will not be enough. I call on world leaders to lead. And I want to tell them that beyond security measures, we need education and social cohesion and respect for human rights. That is how young people keep from false illusions afar and become clear thinking and enlightened citizens.
We have work to do and I urge you all to join. Thank you very much.