Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the high-level dialogue on implementing the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia, in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, today:
It is a pleasure to take part in this high-level dialogue on implementing the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia. I am grateful to the people and Government of Turkmenistan for their warm welcome. I particularly thank Turkmenistan for hosting the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, which this year marks its tenth anniversary.
In November 2011, your five countries adopted the Ashgabat Declaration and the Joint Plan of Action for the Implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia. This was the first regional initiative of its kind. It reflected your countries’ commitment to jointly addressing and defeating the scourge of terrorism, with the support of the United Nations. This plan of action has become an example for others around the world and stands out as an impressive display of collective action, leadership and political will. We are here today to review implementation, assess progress and forge the path ahead.
We know that the spread of terrorism and violent extremism are threats to global peace, stability and development. Acts of terrorism make protracted conflicts even more difficult to resolve. At the same time, terrorist organizations have become increasingly transnational, enabling and inspiring attacks and radicalizing individuals, particularly youth, outside conflict zones. These attacks have led to a tragic loss of life and other forms of damage. They also represent a direct assault on the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For all these reasons, preventing violent extremism and countering terrorism is deeply rooted in the renewed United Nations focus on prevention and sustaining peace. We will only succeed in effectively addressing this transnational threat if we develop multilateral solutions, and if we are cognizant of the need to frame these efforts within our broader commitments to respect human rights and promote gender equality.
To move this agenda forward, I recently presented a proposal to the General Assembly — to create a new Office of Counter-Terrorism headed by an Under-Secretary-General. This reform will provide stronger leadership, enhance coordination and coherence across the system, strengthen capacity-building support, mobilize political will and build robust partnerships to ensure a balanced implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
I thank your Governments for your support. While Central Asia has been largely spared large terrorist attacks, the wider neighbourhood has of course been deeply affected by prolonged and unresolved conflicts. This has heightened the acute and growing regional threat posed by terrorism and violent extremism. In addition, extremist organizations are actively seeking to recruit citizens of Central Asia. The presence of such fighters in the ranks of terrorist and extremist movements, including in Afghanistan and the Middle East, poses a threat not only internationally, but also in these fighters’ homelands.
Through regional cooperation guided by the Joint Plan of Action, your countries have had a unique opportunity to address common concerns and identify good practices. These include actions on issues such as countering the financing of terrorism, enhancing border security, fostering dialogue with religious institutions and leaders, and highlighting the role of the media in addressing terrorism and violent extremism.
New professional networks have been created across the region to build knowledge and expertise that supports the implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. In many communities, women have taken the lead as true agents of change. I commend you for the progress that you have achieved in recent years. I also encourage you to step up efforts, in line with the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and United Nations General Assembly resolutions.
I join the General Assembly in encouraging your countries to consider implementing the recommendations included in the United Nations Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. This Plan focuses on seven strategic priorities, including dialogue and conflict prevention; respecting human rights and the rule of law; education, skills development and employment facilitation; and engaging women and youth. Central Asia has the opportunity to show global leadership by developing national and possibly a regional plan of action to prevent violent extremism. The United Nations continues to stand ready to assist in these efforts.
As the threat of violent extremism grows around the world, it is critical to ensure that attempts to prevent or curtail violent extremism do not backfire. That means we need policies that are not only strong, but smart. Policies that limit human rights only end up alienating religious and ethnic communities who would normally have every interest in fighting extremism. As a result, such policies could effectively drive people into the hands of terrorists.
It is therefore absolutely essential to ensure that initiatives to prevent and curtail violent extremist tendencies fully comply with international human right standards. Our efforts must encompass all segments of society, particularly those who have suffered structural discrimination and marginalization.
An active, inclusive, vibrant and free civil society is also a critical cornerstone of a comprehensive response. Upholding the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in this region are fundamental to countering the threat that violent extremism poses. Acknowledging and respecting people’s dignity and rights — including their frustrations and critical opinions — helps to combat extremism by building social cohesion and a sense of the common good. In a participative environment, civil society is a partner to the State.
As we move forward, the United Nations is seeking to share good practices through South-South counter-terrorism cooperation. In this context, I welcome the recent financial commitment made by Kazakhstan to the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre. As we look ahead together, the United Nations is eager to exchange ideas, listen to your priorities and determine how we could best support you. I look forward to continuing our work together in this important area, not only for the people of your countries and the region, but for the entire world.
Thank you for your commitment.