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The African Union’s work supporting victims of terrorism

Interview with Ambassador Francisco Madeira

This interview is the first of a series commemorating the one year anniversary of the United Nations Victims of Terrorism Support Portal. The Portal serves as a platform for information on issues pertaining to victims of terrorism. It expresses international solidarity with victims of terrorism and their families around the world. 

The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) interviewed Ambassador Francisco Madeira (ACM), Special Representative of the African Union for Counter-Terrorism Cooperation and Director of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (CAERT) on the work the African Union is doing to support victims of terrorism and their families including the work they are doing with the United Nations, as well as the challenges it faces in this endeavour.

The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT): Could you please describe the work that the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism of the African Union is doing related to victims of terrorist acts and their families?

Ambassador Francisco Madeira (ACM): Our Centre plays an important role in guiding the African Union’s counter-terrorism efforts. It works within the wider African Union counter-terrorism framework and interacts closely with the relevant body and institutions.

When it comes to the issue of victims of terrorism we recognize that while the victims pay the highest price in terms of bearing the brunt of a terrorist activity, the victims of terrorism are quite often than not forgotten, and their needs almost completely neglected.

Our current approach focuses on advocating for the needs and rights of victims of terrorism in all related forums. We are providing a platform for the victims, to tell their stories and interact with national authorities, the media and all those concerned.

Our aim is to sensitize and mobilize Member States and the international organizations on these issues and generate the required knowledge and momentum to translate the overall objectives into actions on the ground.

UNCCT: How is the African Centre working with civil society groups to support and assist victims of terrorist acts and their families?

AFM: Since the creation of the African Union a number of policy frameworks for engagement between the African Union Member States and civil society organizations were developed. Currently, as we work towards advocating for support to victims  of terrorism we aim at utilizing the existing policy framework to establish forums and networks of victims and their associations. 

We encourage [victims] to keep associated, we encourage them to have people that can speak on their behalf before the different meetings of the African Union.

The African Victims Symposium that we held in October last year here at the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism was the first step to bring the issue onto the agenda of the African Union and to provide a forum for engagement between the AU,  Member States and  victims of terrorism. 

The Symposium was a great success, it identified a number of thematic issues and set forth recommendations for future actions in support of  victims, including on enhancing the criminal justice response to support the victims of terrorist acts as well as psychological and economic support and assistance to the victims and their families.

UNCCT: How do you see the role of the United Nations in supporting greater coordination and partnership with the African Union and other regional bodies and enable victims to influence policies on victims’ issues?

AFM: The UN has an instrumental role to play in all aspects of the implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. We are very glad to have the UN participated in the AU symposium last October here at the CAERT, at the African Centre to speak about related initiatives undertaken at the international level. We hope that he UN can intensify its efforts on the continent by sensitising Member States and providing forums for interactions with civil society and the relevant state institutions.

The UN can also play an important role in directing support from the international community to facilitate capacity building to Member States in enhancing their criminal justice response system to support victims of terrorism and in developing national legislation and plans against terrorism.

We are working with the United Nations Counter Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) to develop a Counter-Terrorism Strategy for the Central African region in Africa and develop another Counter-Terrorism Strategy for the Southern African region of Africa. We have a very clear view, in the Plan of Action that we are going to develop in Southern Africa will include a chapter where we deal with prevention and also deal with Victims of Terrorism.

UNCCT: The UN Victims of Terrorism Support Portal serves as a resource hub for information on issues related to victims of terrorism. How can AU Members better leverage and use this resource in the service of victims of terrorism and their families?

AFM: The Portal can provide an important learning tool for policy makers, law enforcement and civil society, on how  they can response to the needs of victims of terrorism and develop responsive policies and practices.  

I encourage the UN to promote the use of the Portal as they are already doing, to continue to do that and ensure that it also response to the particular contexts of developing countries. The UN should continue be proactive and outreach to these countries to make maximum use of this portal.

UNCCT: How do you see the role that victims can play in providing a counter-narrative against terrorism?

AFM: More often than not innocent civilians are the primary target of terrorist acts depriving them of their most fundamental human right to life and physical integrity. Regrettably we often know of these victims in terms of  numbers only.

It is important that we always remember that these are real lives; these are people; these are family members; these are law abiding citizens; dignified people. Persons who have contributed to the betterment of their societies.

We must refocus the spotlight to [the victims] and give a face, a voice and a name to the number to show that everyone and every life counts.

We should also recognize that these are not merely helpless victims. Many of them have demonstrated that despite what they have been through they refuse to accept that the calamity that had befallen them is a representation of humanity. They had the courage and will to take something so tragic and create from it hope that has affected many more lives than their own.

This is a very strong counter-narrative against terrorism. Their stories can have a deep impact, because they are able to humanize the individual that terrorist perceive as the enemy. Victims narratives could reinforce the condemnation of the methods terrorist use to carry out their objectives.

Whenever we can, victims should therefore have a role to play in all media outreach and community engagement efforts and at preventing terrorism and recruitment. These should be done in full respect of their privacy and without the risk of exploitation.

UNCCT: What are the biggest challenges that the region will face to support and show solidarity with victims of terrorism, their families and their communities and how does  the Centre anticipates addressing them?

AFC: The circumstances of victims of terrorism differ from one place to the other, from one context to the other and the African Union Member States are not all at the same level of development. Some Member States have  more capacity to respond to this situation and others do not.

Many African countries who are under the threat of terrorism are also facing very serious economic difficulties that prevent them from providing sufficiently for their citizens and this is a very serious challenge. 

We have thus seen that over the past years the majority of victims of terrorist acts in Africa were already victimized by pre-existing conditions of poverty and under-development. These are communities that live in remote areas with limited access to economic opportunities, basic health services, security and justice. This further exacerbates the challenges faced by national governments in responding to the particular needs of victims within these communities. We must therefore recognize that many States genuinely can’t afford to build the capacity needed to assist the victims of terrorism in their countries. 

Here comes the role of the AU, our Centre and the international community at large; to support national governments to  successfully implement their economic development and poverty alleviation policies and programmes, while also putting in place the required systems to assist the victims and their families. This must also include  enhancing the criminal justice system and its response to victims. 

These challenges are real and it would take a long time before we can reach where we need to get to but there are not insurmountable. I believe that with the required political will and clear policies, determination and lot of hard work we can fully make a difference.