UN counter-terrorism chief urges continued vigilance against ‘real’ ongoing threat
Despite important strikes against terrorism over the past two decades, including in bringing perpetrators to justice and disrupting additional attacks, countries cannot afford to let down their guard, the UN’s counter-terrorism chief told a virtual meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday.
“Terrorist activity has shown that we must remain extremely vigilant: the threat remains real and even direct for many States”, Vladimir Voronkov said, speaking from New York.
He warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified the need for action, as terrorists take advantage of the crisis to exploit new technologies and linkages with organized crime groups.
“Terrorists have sought to exploit disruptions arising from COVID-19. They have sought to benefit from the setbacks to the development and human rights agendas, riding on the wavetops of polarization and hate speech amplified by the pandemic,” he said.
“The threat has become even more difficult to prevent, with low-cost, low-tech attacks against soft targets by so called lone wolves.”
Two decades of global cooperation
The Security Council convened the ministerial-level meeting to review global cooperation in combatting terrorism in the 20 years since members unanimously adopted a resolution following the September 11 attacks against the United States.
Resolution 1373 called for criminalizing terrorism financing, and for greater information sharing by States, among other measures. The Council also established a Counter-Terrorism Committee to monitor its implementation.
Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of a special political mission that assists the Committee, known as CTED, outlined how the terrorist threat has evolved during this period, which spans the “dramatic rise” of ISIL, or Daesh, in Iraq and Syria, and its subsequent territorial defeat.
She said its “destructive legacy” will continue to occupy the global agenda, as victims and survivors seek justice and countries work to address the problem of foreign terrorist fighters who associated themselves with the extremist Islamist group.
Right-wing terrorism a concern
Meanwhile, ISIL affiliates have sprung up in other parts of the world, including in parts of Asia and Africa, and other challenges have emerged.
“The proliferation of extreme right-wing, or racially and ethnically motivated, terrorism is also a cause of increasing concern”, said Ms. Coninsx, the CTED Executive Director.
“And countering use of the Internet and other virtual platforms by terrorist groups for recruitment, financing, and planning purposes will also remain a priority, as will continued efforts to counter terrorism financing.”
Civil society partnership
Promoting deeper engagement with civil society groups is another area for action, according to Fatima Akilu from Nigeria.
The former civil servant left Government in 2015 to form the Neem Foundation, which has designed numerous programmes to respond to the Boko Haram insurgency in the north and in the Lake Chad Basin region.
Ms. Akilu said non-governmental organizations are in the unique position of being able to advise the authorities on counter-terrorism while also providing evidence that can inform related policies.
“If invited, we can help build the capacity of States to prevent terrorism, especially in the areas of negotiation, rehabilitation, reintegration, services for women and girls, as well as adherence to human rights norms”, she told ambassadors.
Mr. Voronkov, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism, also stressed the need for better engagement with civil society, but also with youth, the business sector, and the scientific community.
He called for boosting international cooperation against terrorism, and for renewed commitment to address underlying factors that drive its spread, while underlining the role of the Security Council in ensuring global unity against this persistent threat.
“Your voice is critical to emphasize that preventing and countering terrorism is necessary to facilitate decisive progress on the interlinked peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights agendas,” he said.