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Thanks to the organizers for the opportunity to speak at this special meeting. This 20th anniversary is no reason to celebrate, given the horrible cause, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that led to the adoption of landmark resolution 1373 and the building of the UN Counter-Terrorism architecture that followed.
Anniversaries, however, provide an opportunity to take a step back, to evaluate our actions, and to draw our lessons learned, in order to build a successful way forward. And since we obviously haven’t succeeded in eliminating international terrorism in the last 20 years, we have to be honest with ourselves in that exercise.
This exercise is a complex one and deserves time and effort, in the CTC but also beyond; it is a task for all of us in the international community, one which is always aggravated by current events – like in these days when we need to find ways to ensure Afghanistan will never become a safe haven for terrorism again. Let me just highlight four crucial points:
There is no doubt that a “hard security” approach is by no means sustainable and effective; and the call for a “comprehensive approach to counter-terrorism” has become a dictum in many of our statements. We need to make sure that this is not just hollow words; that means we must get better at understanding and tackling the root causes of radicalization, the underlying grievances terrorists draw on.
It also means we need to broaden our views and include the many facets of terrorism, terrorist ideologies and terrorist narratives. As an example in this regard, I want to thank again Mexico for organizing the arria meeting on gender stereotypes, masculinities and gender inequalities in July, which put a highlight on one important aspect we haven’t explored enough in the past.
Prevention also means that the state, its institutions and actors must not be part of the problem by fueling the grievances that terrorists exploit. Governments have to act responsibly, based on our international obligations, the values and principles enshrined in international law, in particular international human rights and international humanitarian law.
At this point I want to reiterate again, as we have done before, that counter-terrorism must never, ever, serve as a pretext for human rights violations.
The threat landscape has evolved and changed in the last 20 years; while Al Qaida and Da’esh remain a major global terrorist threat, others are increasingly emerging on the international level;
We see a surge in right-wing violent extremism and terrorism, gaining additional traction in times of the pandemic. We must not make the mistake of ignoring those developments until it is too late, but rather use the expertise we built in the last 20 years to counter emerging threats.
We need to analyze the shortfalls of the established CT practices and measures and correct them. One example is the negative impact CT measures can have on the delivery of humanitarian assistance, carried out by humanitarian actors based on humanitarian principles. Cases of those usually unintended consequences have sufficiently been documented (we have heard from the ICRC today on this matter) and it is now on us to take steps to remedy this deficiency – e.g. by introducing humanitarian carve outs in CT regimes, to make sure our measures are not hurting the ones that are there to help.
Luckily, we are capable of correcting our own actions, as was proven by the establishment of the office of the ombudsperson for the Al-Qaida and ISIL / Da’esh sanctions committee, which significantly improved the respect for the rule of law and due process – two crucial aspects for credible, fair, and effective CT measures.
There are limits to what governments and state actors can do, so we need to cooperate with a wide range of actors in order to be sustainably successful in our counter-terrorism efforts.
We would have wished for more civil society briefers in today’s meeting throughout the different sessions, to share their assessment of the last 20 years of UN CT work. It is hard to improve, if not impossible, if you stay in a self-referential system and don’t listen to outside voices.
Meaningful engagement with and inclusion of civil society is an indispensable part of both the exercise of drawing the lessons of the last 20 years, and on our way forward.