9 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The international community must strengthen its resolve to help victims of terrorism and give them a voice, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as he introduced four victim representatives at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

“Still too often, there are gaps in addressing the needs of survivors and their families,” the Secretary-General said, following his Symposium on “Supporting Victims of Terrorism”, which included the participation of 18 survivors of terrorist attacks and 10 experts from around the world.  “Still too often, victims are registered only as numbers and not as human beings that bear witness to stories of immense injustice.  Still too often, we pay more attention to the voices of terrorists than those of their victims.”

Accompanying Mr. Ban were Ashraf Al-Khaled, whose wedding in Amman, Jordan, was devastated by bombers in November 2005; Ingrid Betancourt, a politician and activist who was released in July after six years of captivity in Colombia; Chris Cramer, former President of CNN International, who was held by a separatist group in Iran’s London Embassy in 1980; and Laura Dolci, a United Nations staff member whose husband, Jean-Selim Kanaan, died in the 19 August 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

“Terrorism diminishes you as a human being; it certainly diminished me,” Mr. Cramer said, pointing out, however, that his experience had allowed him to try to change the way in which journalists covered stories on terrorism.  More than 1,000 media workers had died over the past five years and safety concerns had to increase.  Journalists also needed to develop greater sensitivity in their coverage of victims and to take shock and trauma into account.

Describing the carnage that had wracked his wedding, where 27 guests, including his father and parents-in-law, had all been killed, Mr. Al-Khaled proposed that, not only survivors, but all civilians be empowered to fight terrorism, since they were its targets.  Civilians around the world should unite in that struggle.

Emphasizing the isolation of survivors, Ms. Dolci said they led a kind of double life because the effects of tragedy remained with the survivors even as they went about their lives.  “My child is the only child in his preschool in Geneva who’s lost his father, blown up in pieces…but it has to be shared.”  Victims had come to share their experiences and reclaim their violated rights.  A “declaration of rights of terror victims” was called for.

“It is most important to stress that, when we talk about victims of terrorism, we’re talking about human suffering.  We are not statistics, we are not numbers, we are people who suffer,” Ms. Betancourt said, pledging her continued commitment to help those still suffering, particularly her fellow hostages who were still held in Colombia.  It was to be hoped that the Symposium would lay the groundwork for a status that could help protect the victims of terrorism and allow them to be heard.

Asked whether he supported the granting of a recognized international status for victims, the Secretary-General said he would certainly discuss that and all specific proposals resulting from the Symposium with his advisers and bring them to the attention of Member States.  The declaration of rights was a good idea.

To a questioner who asked if the Symposium was a “back-door” way to discuss a controversial issue, he replied that all Member States agreed that terrorism must be eradicated, even though they had not been able to achieve a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention.  There were 16 international legal instruments that could be fully utilized.

Asked about solutions to terrorism, Ms. Betancourt said it was necessary to appeal to humanism and love, as revenge and hatred were not the answer.  Dialogue with terrorists should never be ruled out, as that was the basic way in which humans solved problems, and it was often a way to save lives.  At the same time, it was important to bring to justice anyone who committed a crime, particularly horrendous crimes constituting terrorism.

Mr. Ban agreed that dialogue was always important in resolving crises, although, when it came to terrorism, one could not make general rules on tactics, which must be considered on a case-to-case basis.

Asked about the Israeli soldier held in Gaza, Ms. Betancourt said she knew what he and his family were going through, and called for “globalized” efforts to help such victims.  Wide support from high officials in various countries had been important in her own case.

Responding to a suggestion that the group of victims was not truly representative because it did not include victims of State terror, the Secretary-General said such victims were discussed at the United Nations under other categories; under existing legal instruments they were not considered victims of terrorism.  The United Nations was an intergovernmental body that must be neutral in its formulations.  There was certainly no intention to exclude victims from any country.

Mr. Al-Khaled added that, even if groups had been neglected, the Symposium was a start towards putting consideration of victims on the right track and getting other instruments against terrorism moving.

Ms. Dolci pleaded with correspondents to emphasize the inclusiveness of the victims, considering their wide geographical sweep and very varied situations, rather than dwelling on those whom they felt were excluded.  The opening of the Organization’s doors to marginalized people had begun a process that had grown from that point to encompass indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities.

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For information media • not an official record