Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Aqaba Process virtual meeting on COVID-19 response, in New York on 2 September:
I want to begin by thanking His Majesty King Abdullah II, a committed messenger for peace, for convening this important meeting.
The Aqaba Process has been instrumental in enhancing global cooperation in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. And as you have outlined today, it can play a key role in promoting unity and aligning thinking on how to tackle COVID-19 and building a better future for all.
The pandemic is more than a global health crisis — it is a game-changer for international peace and security. It has exposed the fragility of humankind and laid bare systemic and entrenched inequalities that are testing the resilience of societies. It has thrust geopolitical challenges and hard security threats back into the spotlight. It is exacerbating grievances, undermining social cohesion and fuelling conflicts — and therefore also likely to act as a catalyst in the spread of terrorism and violent extremism.
The world has entered a volatile and unstable new phase. The warning lights are flashing. Supply chain disruptions, protectionism and growing nationalism are causing significant tensions in international relations. Rising unemployment, food insecurity and the devastating effects of the climate emergency could escalate into political unrest. Domestic violence against women has spiked to alarming levels.
A whole generation — over 1 billion students — has seen its education disrupted. Many young people are experiencing a second global recession in their short lives. They are worried and disillusioned by their prospects in an uncertain world. They feel left out, and their interests neglected.
People are losing faith in political leaders and an epidemic of online misinformation has run rampant, providing a breeding ground for xenophobia, hate speech and dangerous narratives. Terrorists are exploiting the social and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to radicalize and recruit new followers. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists are stirring up division and polarization in the wake of the virus and protests around the world.
The pandemic has also highlighted vulnerabilities to new and emerging forms of terrorism, such as bioterrorism and cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. The world faces grave security challenges that no single country or organization can address alone. There is an urgent need for global unity and solidarity. That was a key message from the Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week that the United Nations held in July. Participants called for a reinvigorated commitment to multilateralism to combat terrorism and violent extremism.
Yet, the lack of international cooperation to tackle the wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic has been startling. Many Governments have retreated into a narrow understanding of national self-interest and a transactional approach to sharing information and resources. Others have resorted to repressive responses that do not respect human rights and the rule of law and undermine the very foundation of peaceful and resilient societies. There are growing manifestations of authoritarianism, including limits on the media, freedom of expression and shrinking of civic space.
But, it does not have to be like this. We must not return to the status quo ante. We need to build a better tomorrow with a new, inclusive and more effective multilateralism, based on the values of the United Nations Charter, which remains on its seventy-fifth anniversary as valid as ever. We need enhanced informationsharing and technical cooperation between countries and regions to prevent terrorists exploiting the pandemic for their own nefarious goals. We need to put people first in our fight against terrorism and protect and empower the most vulnerable.
We need to think long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes. This includes upholding the rights and needs of victims of terrorism, who have been severely affected by the disruption and uncertainty of recent months. And this includes addressing the issue of the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters and their dependents, especially women and children, to their countries of origin.
The risk of COVID-19 is exacerbating the already dire security and humanitarian situation in the camps in Syria and Iraq — we cannot ignore our responsibilities and leave children to fend for themselves and at the mercy of terrorist exploitation.
Today’s meeting confirms my deep conviction that we can still get back on track before it is too late. The window of opportunity is closing so we must seize the moment. I am confident that the Aqaba Process under the leadership of His Majesty will continue to strengthen international counter-terrorism cooperation, identify and fill capacity gaps and address evolving security threats associated with the pandemic. I highly appreciate these efforts in support of multilateralism. You have the full support of the United Nations in this important cause.