Press Conference on 'Innovative Policies to Advance Security Governance'

22 January 2009

Press Conference on 'Innovative Policies to Advance Security Governance'

22 January 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


A Headquarters press conference this afternoon described for journalists the aims of an international conference seeking to share good practices, promote dialogue and introduce innovative approaches and new perspectives in the fight against terrorism.

Speaking to the press about the conference on “Innovative policies to advance security governance”, which has drawn some 80 delegations at United Nations Headquarters, were Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning; Sandro Calvani, Director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI); Kerry Kennedy, Emeritus President, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation of Europe; and Francesco Cappe, Head of UNICRI’s Security Governance/Counter-Terrorism Laboratory.

According to the UNICRI website and a note to correspondents, the conference, hosted by the Turin-based United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, is to showcase recent activities of the United Nations Security Governance/Counter-Terrorism Laboratory, which was launched by the Institute in May 2008.  The event presents an opportunity for an overview of some of the main activities developed by the Laboratory, including those in the area of radicalization, urban and major event security, cooperation between public and private sectors for the protection of vulnerable targets, and prevention of the illicit trafficking of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material.

Director of the Laboratory, Mr. Cappe, said that, during the meeting, UNICRI would launch two important partnerships:  one with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on assisting cities in developing strategies for improving urban security; and the other with the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation on activities for dialogue and innovative communication, with the new UNICRI Centre in Lucca, Italy.

Mr. Orr said that UNICRI was one of the United Nations research centres that brought in new actors and partnerships and allowed the Organization to broaden the base of support for its security and counter-terrorism efforts.  The Institute had also been actively involved in the work of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force.  There was a need for civil society, the private sector and Governments to really address the threat of terrorism and, this morning, he had moderated a session, where Ms. Kennedy had shared the podium with a representative of Microsoft.  “This kind of innovation, this kind of entrepreneurial spirit within the United Nations system is very welcome,” he said.

Regarding the activities of UNICRI, Mr. Calvani said that the Research Institute provided an open forum for debate among officials, academicians and civil society.  It was important that the Institute went “beyond ideology”, testing new ideas in an effort to determine “what works or not”.  Some of the major goals of that 40-year-old organization included advancing security, serving justice and building peace.

Among other things, the Institute had recently launched a new magazine, Freedom from Fear, which sought to present innovative thinking on security, seeking to test out new ideas and create consensus, he said.  UNICRI was funded through extra-budgetary funds, which was a guarantee of good quality:  “If we produce products of good quality, member countries and foundations will fund it.”

Responding to a question about the experience in fighting terrorism, Ms. Kennedy said that “what does not work is trying to address terrorism by calling it the global war on terror”.  That strategy buttressed the same extremists it was designed to defeat.  What did work was a three-pronged approach, seeking to ensure global action, proceed lawfully and consistently with values, and enhance human rights.  Some positive steps could be taken to increase understanding of the rule of law and human rights instruments, so people had access to ways to change their Government in peaceful ways.

As to why the “war on terror” did not work, she said that terrorists were criminals, who targeted innocent civilians.  “Calling this the war on terror makes them sound like warriors, and we don’t want to make heroes out of criminals,” she said.  Also, in much of the Muslim world, the war on terror was seen as a code for the war on Islam, and that undermined anti-terrorist efforts and increased suspicion of the motives.  Also, due to the failure to clearly define the notion of terrorism, Governments had labelled “whatever they don’t like as a terrorist threat to national security”.  As a result, in various places, journalists, free trade unionists, women’s rights advocates and even “shepherds from the wrong tribe” had been picked up and thrown in jail and labelled terrorists.

Asked about the way forward, she stressed the need to agree on the definition of terrorism.  She was hoping that with the new United States administration that might happen.  With the new head of the United Nations, countries could come together and work on that issue, with assistance from UNICRI.  It was also important to stop lumping various groups, with different motivations and visions, together.  One should look at each one to determine how to deal with it.

Regarding the definition of terrorism, Mr. Orr added that Governments had “agreed on a lot” and the comprehensive convention had been all but written, with the exception of the definition.  Some of the remaining legal questions related to the notion of State terrorism, which some accepted and others did not; as well as a definition of who was a terrorist or an unlawful combatant.  Many difficulties were linked to the conflict in the Middle East.

However, the absence of a definition did not stop the international community from being able to act.  The fact remained that there were 16 international legal instruments that defined terrorist acts and, therefore, there was a strong legal basis on which to proceed.  “Would we prefer an even stronger legal basis?” he said.  “Absolutely.”  “But, we are not going to be paralyzed by the fact that we have not completed every aspect of the legal definition.”  In fact, “rather than getting hung up on what Governments can’t agree on, we are focusing on what they can agree on”.

To several questions regarding today’s decree by President Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, Ms. Kennedy said that it was a very important development, from the perspective of a human rights NGO [non-governmental organization], that had worked over the past seven years to close Guantanamo and stop the use of torture.  The decision set the country on the right path and started to change the reputation of the United States, bringing back the moral compass of the country.

Mr. Orr added that human rights were very clearly at the centre of the United Nations Global Anti-Terrorism Strategy.  When a major Government took the kind of moves that had been announced by the President of the United States, that showed “leadership by doing what we at the United Nations both recognize and applaud, because we need all Governments to do what they have signed up to under the Global Anti-Terrorism Strategy”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.