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6 July 2020

Violent Extremism Does Not Pause for Global Pandemic, United Nations Warns, Urges States to Mount Unified Response, as Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week Begins

NEW YORK, 6 July (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism) ‑ Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week kicked off today, with discussions focused on the strategic and practical challenges of countering terrorism during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Organized by the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, this initiative provides a platform for collective reflection on the implications of COVID-19 on Member State counter-terrorism priorities, and on United Nations efforts to assist Governments in tackling this scourge at national, regional and international levels.  Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week also takes place as the United Nations celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary, reflecting on the “world we want and the United Nations we need”.

Opening the high-level session, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that, “like the virus, terrorism does not respect national borders:  It affects all nations and can only be defeated collectively.  So, we must harness the power of multilateralism to find practical solutions.”

He warned that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al-Qaida and their regional affiliates, as well as neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups “seek to exploit divisions, local conflicts, governance failures and grievances to advance their objectives”.  The pandemic has compounded existing challenges, he said, including the fate of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters and their families, detained in camps in Syria and Iraq.  It has also exposed vulnerabilities to new and emerging forms of terrorist activity, including bioterrorism and cyberterrorism.

Mr. Guterres urged Member States to maintain momentum in the fight against terrorism and to be innovative in their responses, protecting and promoting human rights at all times.  “We must commit to do more and better,” he said.  “As in every other area of our mission, our work should be assessed by the difference we make in people’s lives.”

Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week encompasses 10 webinars and interactive discussions, during which more than 1,000 representatives from Member States, United Nations entities, international and regional organizations, civil society and the private sector will address a range of topics in the context of COVID-19 across all four pillars of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

These topics include bioterrorism and cyberterrorism, high-risk threats and trends, the plight of victims of terrorism, flagship United Nations counter-terrorism programmes, human rights and counter-terrorism, ending terrorist financing, youth-led initiatives to build resilient societies, and the role of civil society and the media in countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism conducive to terrorism.  The Week will also include the launch of a virtual exhibition showcasing the work of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre – a global capacity-building centre of excellence serving Member States and the international community.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, stressed that, although the number of terrorist attacks and fatalities has declined since ISIL/Da’esh first emerged, terrorism remains a major threat to international peace and security, with some groups extending their reach into new areas.  He highlighted recent United Nations efforts to assist Member States and international actors in effectively addressing terrorism and reiterated the Organization’s commitment to continue such work in the context of COVID-19.

Mr. Voronkov noted that the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, along with 42 United Nations entities and partners participating in the Global Counter-Terrorism Compact, are implementing more than 300 counter-terrorism capacity-building projects around the world, benefitting 72 countries through a global and comprehensive approach.

The high-level opening session also included statements by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, European Union Commission Vice-President; Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations; Kais Kabtani, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations and Chair of the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee; Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); Fabrizio Hochschild Drummond, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary; Åsa Regnér, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); and John Frank, Vice-President for United Nations Affairs at Microsoft.  (Quotes from their statements below.)

This dynamic exchange of views will feed into the 2021 High-Level Counter-Terrorism Week, which will be held during the seventy-fifth session of the General Assembly and include among its activities:  the seventh biennial review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the Second Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of the Member States, and the Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism.

For more information, visit:  www.un.org/counterterrorism/2020-counter-terrorism-week, or contact:  gerardl@un.org.  Follow on Twitter @UN_OCT and through the Week’s key hashtags:  #VirtualCTWeek #UNCCTExpo #UNiteToCounterTerrorism.

Additional Quotes

Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, European Union Commission Vice President:

“We need to stay vigilant, as new social and political grievances caused by the economic downturn will provide fertile breeding ground, both in the streets and online.”

“None of us can fight terrorism alone.  The EU will continue to strengthen its partnerships with the leading global actors, first and foremost with the United Nations.”

Richard Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations:

“Fighting a pandemic and fighting terrorism have much in common.  Both require policies that promote prevention, protection and resilience — and to succeed, collective effort.”

Kais Kabtani, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations, Chair, Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee:

“With global attention focused on pandemic-related challenges, terrorist groups are seeking to capitalize on the situation by undermining State authority and launching new attacks.”

“Moving forward, the international community must work together to develop responses to counter terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism that are based on a comprehensive and integrated whole-of-society approach, place human rights and gender responsiveness at the forefront, and promote equality, human dignity and pluralism.”

Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:

“Assistance must further address prevention of radicalization to violence in prison settings, which are acutely vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 and which represent a potential breeding ground for terrorists.”

Fabrizio Hochschild Drummond, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary:

“Where we cut corners and violate human rights or operate outside the rule of law, there is a risk of exacerbating distrust and subsequent extremist activity, rather than curtailing it.”

Ăsa Regnér, Deputy Executive Director, UN-Women:

“…as in all emergencies, there are challenges and opportunities.  For example, the COVID-19 response is an opportunity to reset counter-terrorism and prevention of violent extremism interventions by recognizing and valuing the role women play at the local level during crisis and emergencies, and improving inclusivity of women in emergency plans [and] decision-making processes.”

John Frank, Vice-President for United Nations Affairs, Microsoft:

“As we think about the opportunities and challenges of building back better, I want to encourage us all to think about how we can get the best from multilateral cooperation, and how we can find new ways to engage all parts of societies with multi-stakeholder initiatives.  While it’s important for Governments to talk with other Governments, and businesses to talk with other businesses, and civil society groups to talk with other civil society groups, we can all be more productive and effective if we cooperate together.”

For information media. Not an official record.