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Uniting Against Terrorism: Recommendations for a global counter-terrorism strategy

The UN Secretary-General has issued this report recommending steps to combat terrorism globally.

I find this language particularly compelling:

"In order to constrict the pool of those who may resort to terrorism, we must make absolutely clear that no cause, no matter how just, can excuse terrorism. This includes the legitimate struggle of peoples for self-determination. Even this fundamental right defined in the Charter of the United Nations does not excuse deliberately killing or maiming civilians and non-combatants. At the 2005 World Summit, Member States united for the first time to strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.?

The report is available at


I. Introduction

II. Dissuading groups from resorting to terrorism or supporting it

A. Terrorism is unacceptable
B. We must address conditions conducive to exploitation by terrorists

III. Denying terrorists the means to carry out an attack

A. Denying financial support
B. Denying access to weapons, including weapons of mass destruction
C. Denying access to recruits and communication by countering terrorist use of the Internet
D. Denying terrorists access to travel
E. Denying terrorists access to their targets and the desired impact of their attacks

IV. Deterring States from supporting terrorist groups

V. Developing State capacity to prevent terrorism

A. Priority areas
B. Providing proper resources to counter terrorism
C. Promoting United Nations system-wide coherence in countering terrorism

VI. Defending human rights in the context of terrorism and counter-terrorism

VII. The road ahead

Annex I. Inventory of United Nations counter-terrorism activities

Annex II. Status of universal instruments related to the prevention and suppression of international terrorism

The Report notes among other things that "terrorism is unacceptable:"

II. Dissuading groups from resorting to terrorism or supporting it

7. In Madrid, I said that the United Nations, Member States and civil society must join forces to dissuade disaffected groups from choosing or supporting terrorism as a tactic. We must reinforce the inexcusability and unacceptability of terrorism, while working to address the conditions that terrorists exploit. We know that dwindling support from their constituencies has led several terrorist groups to go "out of business". We must therefore work to drive a wedge between terrorists and their immediate constituencies. We must prevent moderates from becoming militant extremists and militant extremists from becoming terrorists.

8. There has been ongoing discussion among Member States about whether terrorism can be traced to certain so-called "root causes". For the purposes of moving forward on an operational strategy to counter terrorism I hope that Member States will recognize that terrorists acts do not occur in a social or political vacuum. Let us agree, however, that there is no excuse for terrorism and that all terrorism is unacceptable. But let us also agree that we must address conditions conducive to exploitation by terrorists.

A. Terrorism is unacceptable

9. The United Nations should project a clear, principled and immutable message that terrorism is unacceptable. Terrorists must never be allowed to create a pretext for their actions. Whatever the causes they claim to be advancing, whatever grievances they claim to be responding to, terrorism cannot be justified. The United Nations must maintain the moral high ground in this regard.

10. Groups use terrorist tactics because they think those tactics are effective, and that large numbers of people, or at least those in whose name they claim to act, will approve of them. Our key task, therefore, is to reduce the appeal of terrorism among potential constituencies. In order to constrict the pool of those who may resort to terrorism, we must make absolutely clear that no cause, no matter how just, can excuse terrorism. This includes the legitimate struggle of peoples for self-determination. Even this fundamental right defined in the Charter of the United Nations does not excuse deliberately killing or maiming civilians and non-combatants. At the 2005 World Summit, Member States united for the first time to strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.

11. I urge political leaders to make more consistent use of the United Nations and other forums, through a culture of genuine multilateralism, to reinforce the message that terrorism can never be justified. The condemnation by the Security Council of terrorist acts, including at the level of Heads of State and Government, will continue to be crucial in this regard. Along the same lines, condemnations of terrorism by the General Assembly, especially at the level of Heads of State and Government, are particularly powerful as they carry the united message of all the world's Governments. I also urge regional organizations to use every opportunity to condemn terrorism, including at regional summits.

12. I further call on all Member States to become parties to and implement the 13 universal instruments related to the prevention and suppression of international terrorism, which, apart from their considerable practical significance, emphasize that the international community does not tolerate terrorist activities and is prepared to fight them. I also urge Member States to conclude, as soon as possible, a comprehensive convention on international terrorism, which will send a strong signal of international unity and strengthen the moral authority of the United Nations. All Member States should also fully implement Security Council resolutions on counter-terrorism, in particular resolution 1267 (1999) and its successor resolutions, resolutions 1373 (2001) and 1540 (2004).

13. One of the most powerful ways in which we can make clear that terrorism is unacceptable is to focus our attention on its victims, and ensure that their voices are heard. Our goal should be to reduce the appeal of terrorism by reclaiming the sanctity of the civilian and according justice, dignity and compassion to victims.

14. The United Nations is especially conscious of this aspect, having lost beloved colleagues to a terrorist attack in Baghdad three years ago. The Organization can and should promote international solidarity in support of victims, including by exploring the possibility of providing assistance to the victims of terrorist acts and their immediate families. I urge States to put in place a system of assistance that would promote the rights of victims and their families, by doing everything possible to reintegrate them into society and to facilitate their transition back to a dignified and fruitful life. Upon request, the relevant United Nations entities can help States to develop such a system, including by assisting with draft legislation for consideration.

15. But we must remember that victims are not simply those directly affected by terrorist attacks. Victims also include the many indirectly affected by political, economic and social dislocation. The most vulnerable in our societies are disproportionately affected by these dislocations, as they have no safety net. This is especially true in developing countries.

16. Because terrorism affects us all, we all must be involved in countering it. In this regard, civil society and religious leaders have a key role to play. Civil society has conducted impressive campaigns against landmines, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, the recruitment of child soldiers and impunity for war crimes. I would like to see an equally powerful global campaign against terrorism. I applaud the Club of Madrid, the independent grouping of former Heads of State and Government dedicated to strengthening democracy around the world, for organizing in 2005 an international conference on the role of democracy in countering terrorism. I am also heartened by new, transnational initiatives, such as the Citizens against Terror network, which was born out of civil society participation in the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security held at Madrid in March 2005.

17. Such a global campaign will need to be waged at the international, regional and local levels, focusing on the plight of victims and stressing other concrete negative impacts of terrorism, from the severe economic toll to the setback of development efforts to the erosion of the rule of law. Mass media have a vital contribution to make in drawing public attention to the consequences of terrorism and its impact on victims and the assistance available to them, with due concern for the right of privacy and taking into account the danger of re-traumatization.

18. A civil society campaign will need to work to convince those with genuine grievances that there exist alternative, non-violent strategies, and that these have in most cases proved more effective. Recent history offers numerous examples of non-violent opposition movements leading to significant change. Such success stories deserve to be highlighted more.

19. The United Nations can assist in the development of a civil society campaign, for example through the "culture of peace" initiative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I will also establish a focal point within the Secretariat to support a coordinated effort among civil society groups dealing with terrorism issues.

B. We must address conditions conducive to exploitation by terrorists

20. Any comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy must include a long-term component addressing conditions conducive to exploitation by terrorists to create or increase their power base. Yet none of these conditions can excuse or justify terrorist acts. Nor should such a long-term component distract us from the many important short-term measures we can adopt to prevent and counter terrorism. Even if these conditions remain constant, terrorist activity may escalate, decline or disappear. I urge research institutions around the world to invest further work in the study of the underlying dynamics of terrorism.

21. The United Nations and the international community should address the following conditions which may be conducive to exploitation by terrorists:

1. Extremist ideologies and dehumanization of victims

22. Terrorism depends on the denial of the humanity of its victims. Extremist and exclusionary ideologies that dismiss the worth and dignity of others, and portray them as subhuman and worthy of extinction, are essential tools of mobilization and recruitment. Such extremist ideologies fan a culture of violence and intolerance and increase support for terrorist groups among constituencies.

23. The United Nations has well understood the danger of those who spread extremist world views. Those who commit genocide and atrocities are also those who deny the humanity of others. The Security Council has undertaken an important effort with its resolution 1624 (2005), which aims, inter alia, at preventing the subversion of educational, cultural and religious institutions by calling upon Member States to prevent and criminalize within their territories the incitement of terrorist acts, in accordance with respective obligations under international human rights law.

24. Here, too, civil society will need to play a prominent role, by countering hypernationalistic and xenophobic messages that glorify mass murder and martyrdom. Just as the media cycle is exploited by terrorists every day, we need to take on the challenge to match their narrative of hate with the narrative of victims; the narrative of communities divided and broken by terrorist acts; the narrative of courage of those who risk their lives going about their daily business; the narrative of the values for which the United Nations stands.

25. Mass media may also wish to study the experiences of those countries that have adopted voluntary codes of conduct for journalists covering terrorism, including, for example, bans on interviewing terrorists. The United Nations stands ready to work with journalists' associations and press freedom organizations on this issue, including by convening an international conference to facilitate consideration of this topic, if so desired. In turn, Member States must give due attention to the need for measures to promote the safety and security of journalists.

26. The United Nations can also help to arrange highly visible constructive dialogues between respected representatives from different religions to counter terrorist groups' portrayal of parts of the globe as being engaged in an epic struggle between good and evil, and to reinforce the fact that the killing of civilians is antithetical to all religions. By the same token, we must be vigilant against the defamation of religions. I am encouraged by the initiative on the Alliance of Civilizations, and eagerly await its final report.

27. Finally, the United Nations should promote religious and ethnic tolerance through education, by helping States to provide all their citizens with an education that encourages free thought, tolerance and enlightened moderation as an alternative to militancy and extremism.

2. Violent conflict

28. Many terrorist groups have emerged in the context of local or regional violent conflicts, some of which serve as a rallying cry for terrorist leaders in faraway regions. Prolonged unresolved conflicts in particular often create conditions conducive to exploitation by terrorists and as such must not be allowed to fester, however intractable they might seem. In addition, suicide terrorism campaigns often occur in the context of foreign occupation or perceived foreign occupation. It follows that successful conflict resolution efforts and attention to issues arising in the context of foreign occupation or perceived occupation can help to reduce the prevalence of terrorism in the long term.

29. The United Nations has a long history of working to prevent and resolve armed conflict. The Human Security Report 2005 [1] identified a dramatic 40 per cent reduction in armed conflicts since 1992 and attributed the achievement in part to increased United Nations peacekeeping, prevention and peacebuilding activities. Our peacekeeping resources are unique in the world and must be continually strengthened. With regard to prevention, the Department of Political Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for example, have undertaken a joint programme entitled "Building National Capacity for Conflict Prevention". I commend such joint initiatives, and urge the relevant United Nations entities to continue to assist States in developing early warning systems and indicators of possible outbreaks of local or regional violent conflict.

30. Similarly, the United Nations, through my good offices and supported by the Department of Political Affairs, has built a strong record in mediating civil conflicts. As the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change pointed out in its report, there have been more negotiated settlements of civil wars in the last 15 years than in the previous 200 years. But as the Panel also pointed out, both good offices diplomacy and mediation by the United Nations can be improved and strengthened. I therefore warmly welcome recent moves to strengthen the United Nations conflict mediation capacity, including through the creation of a mediation support unit in the Department of Political Affairs, which will help to identify best practices and backstop mediation efforts in the field.

31. Once a peace agreement is concluded, we must ensure that it is implemented. At present, nearly 50 per cent of countries that have emerged out of civil wars revert to violence within five years. This is unacceptable, and led to the creation by Member States of a Peacebuilding Commission with the task of ensuring sustainable peace for societies emerging from conflict. I applaud this initiative and urge Member States to follow through by approving and providing a solid financial and organizational foundation for the Peacebuilding Support Office and the Peacebuilding Fund.

3. Poor governance, lack of civil rights and human rights abuse

32. Terrorism often thrives in environments in which human rights are violated and where political and civil rights are curtailed. Indeed, terrorists may exploit human rights violations to gain support for their cause. Persecution and violent government crackdowns often radicalize opposition movements. The absence of non-violent channels to express discontent and pursue alternate policies may lead some groups to resort to violent means and terrorism.

33. Past cases show that Governments that resort to excessive use of force and indiscriminate repression when countering terrorism risk strengthening the support base for terrorists among the general population. Such measures generally invite counter-violence, undermine the legitimacy of counter-terrorism measures and play into the hands of terrorists. I therefore call on Governments to avoid excessive use of force and to comply with international human rights law.

34. The United Nations plays an important role in promoting good governance, the rule of law and human rights. I urge UNDP to scale up the good governance assistance it is already conducting to support economic and social development, with a view to integrating concerns about terrorism into democratic governance programming. I also applaud the decision taken by Member States at the World Summit to create a Human Rights Council, and to increase the operational capacity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). I urge Member States to support the High Commissioner's efforts to build human rights capacity throughout the world.

4. Religious and ethnic discrimination, political exclusion and socio economic marginalization

35. Exclusion or discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or religious belief, and the failure of many countries to integrate minorities or immigrants, create grievances that can be conducive to the recruitment of terrorists, including feelings of alienation and marginalization and an increased propensity to seek socialization in extremist groups. This seems to be particularly true of young people, especially second-generation immigrants, in some developed countries, who see themselves as outsiders lacking equal opportunities. I urge countries with multicultural societies to reflect on their policies of integration.

36. Exclusion based on ethnic origin, religion or national origin is often compounded by political, as well as economic and social exclusion. On the social and economic side, particular attention should be paid to youth unemployment. Globally, young people are three times as likely to be unemployed as adults. In some countries, youth unemployment rates remain entrenched and of worrying proportions. Taken together these various types of exclusion can combine to produce a volatile mix. Marginalization, alienation and the resulting sense of victimization can propel extremism, which can in turn facilitate exploitation by terrorists.

37. The United Nations, through its development of norms and through its increasing operational capacity to address development and humanitarian concerns as well as security, political and human rights issues, can play a crucial role in helping countries to address various types of exclusion. We must pursue our development and social inclusion agendas for their own intrinsic importance, all the while knowing that if we succeed at improving inclusion and opportunity for those marginalized, there can be a very positive side effect with respect to combating terrorism.

1. Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century, published for the Human Security Centre, University of British Columbia, Canada (New York, Oxford University Press, 2005)

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