Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks at the United Nations High-Level Conference on Counter-Terrorism, in New York on 28 June.
I am pleased to welcome you all to the first‑ever global High-Level Conference of heads of counter-terrorism agencies of the Member States of the United Nations.
Terrorism and violent extremism undermine international peace and security. They divide communities, exacerbate conflicts and destabilize entire regions. They hamper our efforts to promote and protect human rights and are an obstacle to sustainable development. This complex global challenge has reached unprecedented levels. It affects every country here today.
When I conceived this conference, my goal was clear — to improve international cooperation and information-sharing, and to build new partnerships that can find practical solutions.
Today, the front line against terrorism is increasingly in cyberspace. Terrorists are exploiting social media, encrypted communications and the dark web to spread propaganda, recruit new followers and coordinate attacks. The military defeat of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in Iraq and Syria last year means foreign terrorist fighters are on the move, returning home or relocating to other theatres of conflict.
While some may be disenchanted and ready to renounce violence, others remain determined, passing on expertise from the battlefield, recruiting new followers and carrying out attacks. Homegrown terrorists are also testing the capacities of domestic security and intelligence agencies. There has been a shift towards less sophisticated attacks against softer targets that are more difficult to detect and prevent.
So, as the threat from terrorism continues to evolve, we must adapt and learn lessons from what works and what does not. Our response needs to be as agile and multifaceted as the threat. The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and related resolutions provide a comprehensive framework.
The review of the Strategy this month, under the auspices of the President of the General Assembly and the Permanent Representatives of Finland and Jordan, has given us an opportunity to consider where we need to refocus our efforts. The top priority is that we must work together.
The transnational nature of terrorism means we need multilateral cooperation. We must strengthen the capacities of our counter-terrorism structures and institutions. And we must complement our counter-terrorism efforts in the security realm with concerted efforts to identify and address the root causes. We must build the resilience and cohesion of our societies. Communities and the State need to be joined with the common purpose of rejecting terrorist ideologies and challenging those who espouse them.
This means Governments adopting a comprehensive and inclusive approach, involving all parts of society. It means starting at the grass roots, where families and local communities are at the front line of efforts to protect vulnerable people from succumbing to pernicious ideologies. It means increasing our support to civil society organizations, who make a unique and invaluable contribution to tackling terrorism and preventing violent extremism. I am pleased that many of them will join us tomorrow.
And it means engaging women and young people so that they can play meaningful roles in developing, monitoring and implementing counter-terrorism policies and programmes. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the reasons we are here.
I see six goals for this Conference. First: to strengthen the international counter-terrorism cooperation. The international community has come a long way since the adoption of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy 12 years ago. We have an international framework to address terrorism defined by the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, 19 global conventions and protocols and many regional instruments.
But, this framework is not enough. Implementation needs to be prioritized and backed up by strong political will and resources. It is time for a new era of information-sharing to build on the good work being done in different regions of the world by a range of partners. There are many recent examples of terrorist plots that have been foiled through the sharing of information between different security services. I know there are already many coalitions and networks to share critical information to detect, identify, disrupt and prosecute terrorists.
But, there is much more that can be done to expand these networks and ensure information is shared in a lawful, consistent, timely and secure way, especially in the regions most challenged by terrorism.
Second goal: I hope the conference leads to a renewed and sustained focus on preventing terrorism. Over the past several years, the international community has mostly been focused on countering terrorism and responding to attacks. Principled military and law enforcement measures are indispensable if we are to be effective in protecting the lives of citizens.
But, terrorism will not be defeated by military means alone. We need to combine both “counter” and “prevent”. This means focusing our efforts on the underlying conditions that cause some people to be lured by terrorism. No one is born a terrorist, but we know that factors such as prolonged unresolved conflicts, lack of the rule of law, human rights abuses, poverty, lack of opportunities and socioeconomic marginalization can all play a part in transforming ideas and grievances into acts of terrorism. So, preventing and resolving conflicts and promoting the rule of law and social and economic progress are our first lines of defence.
Third goal: I hope this conference underlines the fundamental importance of fully respecting human rights while tackling terrorism. Terrorism is fundamentally the denial and destruction of human rights. Terrorist groups share an agenda of authoritarianism, misogyny and intolerance. Their actions and beliefs are an affront to the values of the United Nations. The fight against terrorism must uphold those values, or it will never succeed.
Fourth goal: the Conference should underline the need to make a strategic investment in young people to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism. Youth are our hope and our future. We need to harness the positive energy of young people by increased investment in education and employment opportunities. We also need to empower them by giving them the tools they need to combat oppressive extremist narratives, xenophobia and hate speech. And our counter‑terrorism measures must also reflect their views and concerns.
But, it is a sad fact that most new recruits to terrorist organizations are between 17 and 27 years old. Terrorist groups exploit the tendency in young men and women to look for a sense of purpose that feels unique and distinct from the social norm. While the vast majority of young people present no risk, some are drawn to terrorism because of a lack of hope or feelings of economic or cultural marginalization. Terrorist recruiters exploit these grievances. That is why we must intensify our efforts to address them.
Fifth goal: let this conference shine a light on the tragic human cost of terrorism. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, wounded or traumatized by terrorism. I welcome the decision to hold the first annual International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the victims of terrorism on 21 August. We have an obligation to uphold the rights of victims, to seek justice and ensure they have a voice. And we must offer practical, emotional and psychological support to the survivors of terrorism so that they can rebuild their lives. These include the children of foreign terrorist fighters, who will have to live with this stigma as they grow up.
Sixth goal: I hope this conference will strengthen the role of the United Nations in assisting you to tackle terrorism. The United Nations has a unique international convening role. We can help find multilateral solutions to complex global problems. And we can help to deliver principled, effective and coordinated counter-terrorism strategies through our capacity building support to Member States and through mobilizing much-needed resources.
Terrorism is a grave and complex threat. Ending it demands that we work together flexibly, intelligently and openly. I look forward to hearing the results of your deliberations.