The need to bring the various counter-terrorism activities of the United Nations system into a common framework and to elaborate a comprehensive, global counter-terrorism strategy was first proposed by the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. In its December 2004 report, the Panel drew attention to the need to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight terrorism that addresses factors that facilitate terrorism, and strengthens the capacity of States and the rule of law, while also promoting fundamental human rights. The Panel called on the United Nations to take a leading role in promoting such a comprehensive strategy.

Secretary-General proposes five-pillar strategy

Photo of UN Building New York

Leading up to the 2005 September Summit, and using the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the Madrid train bombings, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, acting on the recommendations of the High-level Panel, launched his proposals for a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy in a speech in Madrid. His proposed strategy identified five key elements as basic pillars: dissuading groups from resorting to terrorism; denying terrorists the means to carry out an attack; deterring states from supporting terrorist groups; developing state capacity to prevent terrorism; and defending human rights in the context of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

With the proposed elements, the Secretary-General offered a vision, for the UN system and beyond, of a comprehensive and effective approach to terrorism that allowed for preventive, as well as operational, actions and incorporated short-, mid- and long-term measures. It was a framework to help sustain the political will of Member States to maintain the fight against terrorism on the global agenda. At the same time, it was also a practical framework to effectively assist Member States in their national, regional and global counter- terrorism efforts.

2005 September World Summit

At the World Summit in September 2005, Member States agreed for the first time on a clear and unqualified condemnation of terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes." World leaders, in the Outcome Document that was adopted at the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly held on 14-16 September 2005 also agreed to make every effort to reach agreement on a common definition of terrorism and finalize a comprehensive convention on combating international terrorism.

During their September Summit, world leaders welcomed the elements of the strategy put forward by the Secretary- General. They also asked the General Assembly to further develop the elements with the aim of promoting comprehensive, coordinated and consistent responses at the national, regional and international level to counter terrorism.

Secretary-General updates his strategy recommendations

Responding to the call of the 2005 September Summit Outcome, the Secretary-General further refined and updated his counter-terrorism strategy proposals. On 2 May 2006 he released his Report - Uniting against Terrorism: recommendations for a global counter-terrorism strategy -- to the plenary of the General Assembly. The recommendations further developed and refined each strategic pillar, while detailing the United Nations' existing activities for action and suggesting measures to strengthen and improve its work. The Report identified practical means for the United Nations to help improve Member States' individual and collective capacity to fight terrorism.

General Assembly adopts the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Using the Secretary-General's recommendations as a basis for discussions, Member States on 11 May 2006 began consultations on formulating a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy in line with the commitment they made at the 2005 September Summit. Those consultations resulted in a unique consensus agreement to adopt the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy on 8 September 2006.

General Assembly biennial review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy

On 8 September 2010, the General Assembly conducted the second biennial review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. In a resolution adopted by consensus, the Member States reiterated strong and unequivocal condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, “by whomever, wherever, and for whatever purposes.”

The resolution reaffirmed the primary responsibility of Member States in implementing the Strategy, which was adopted in 2006 and remains the strategic framework and practical guidance on joint international efforts to counter terrorism. It also recognized further the need to enhance the important role the United Nations, including the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, played, along with other international and regional organizations, in facilitating and promoting coordination and coherence to that end at national, regional and global levels.

The Member States also reaffirmed support for the Strategy’s four pillars: tackling the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism; preventing and combating terrorism; building States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system in that regard; and ensuring respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.