United Nations Member States must take practical steps to implement their commitments to promote and protect the rights of terrorism victims so that they can help create a global culture against the scourge, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a historic forum today.
Speaking at UN Headquarters in New York before the Secretary-General’s Symposium on Supporting Victims of Terrorism, the first event of its kind, Mr. Ban stressed that terrorism is a global phenomenon, capable of striking at any ethnic, religious or national group.
“It attacks humanity itself,” he said, adding that “it is for the sake of humanity that we must create a global forum for your voice and listen to you, the victims.”
Eighteen victims of terrorist attacks and 10 experts from across the world are participating in the day-long symposium, which follows the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy – adopted unanimously by Member States in 2006 – that, among other measures, urged an end to the dehumanization of terrorism victims.
Under the strategy, countries committed themselves to consolidating their systems of assistance to promote the needs of victims and their families and facilitate the normalization of their lives; to promoting international solidarity in support of victims; and to protect victims’ rights.
“Today we must strive to give practical meaning to these commitments,” said Mr. Ban, calling for an open dialogue on the issue between governments, the UN, civil society and victims.
The Secretary-General praised the victims of terrorism for their strength and courage in advocating against the menace.
“Your stories of how terrorism has affected your lives are our strongest argument why it can never be justified. By giving a human face to the painful consequences of terrorism, you help build a global culture against it… You deserve support and solidarity. You deserve social recognition, respect and dignity. You deserve to have your needs addressed.”
Last Friday the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution renewing the commitment of UN Member States to the strategy and expressing a willingness to advance further on implementing it.
Assembly President Srgjan Kerim told the symposium that “it was precisely the human suffering, the senseless violence, the haunting stare of victims that spurred us to action.”
He said the international community can show its solidarity with victims by “unequivocally and continuously” condemning all acts of terrorism, regardless of their motivation.
“We must not leave any doubt that these acts are criminal and reprehensible,” he added.
Mr. Kerim said the UN can and must be used to harmonize international efforts against terrorism, starting with individual Member States sharing with each other their successes and experiences.
The 18 victims taking part today are intended to be a microcosm of victims worldwide, and include Ingrid Betancourt, who was recently released from six years in captivity in Colombia, and Ashraf Al-Khaled, whose wedding in Amman, Jordan, was marred by terrorist bombings in November 2005.
“Still too often there are gaps in addressing the needs of survivors and their families,” he said. “Still too often victims are registered only as numbers and not as human beings that bear witness to stories of immense injustice. Still too often we pay more attention to the voices of terrorists than those of their victims.”
Ms. Betancourt said she hoped the symposium would lay the ground for ensuring that victims of terror are truly heard by the wider world.
“When we talk about victims of terrorism, we are talking about human suffering,” she said. “It is not statistics. We are not numbers. We are a people who suffer.”