As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the world’s health systems, economies and local communities, UN Secretary General António Guterres on Monday highlighted how the pandemic has laid bare vulnerabilities to “new and emerging forms of terrorism”, such as cyberattacks, bioterrorism and the misuse of digital technology.
While the coronavirus has put the international community in the crosshairs of a crisis like no other since the founding of the United Nations 75 years ago, Guterres noted that “like the virus, terrorism does not respect national borders”.
“It affects all nations and can only be defeated collectively,” he said, opening the second annual gathering of UN and international experts known as Counter-Terrorism Week, held virtually this year, with a call to “harness the power of multilateralism to find practical solutions”.
Acknowledging that it is “too early to fully assess the implications of COVID-19 on the terrorism landscape”, the UN chief told the first of series of virtual interactive discussions on strategic and practical challenges of countering terrorism during a global pandemic that ISIL, Al-Qaeda, neo-Nazis and other hate groups “seek to exploit divisions, local conflicts, governance failures and grievances to advance their objectives”.
Guterres highlighted five areas to guide counter-terrorism, beginning with keeping up the momentum. “This includes continuing to invest in national, regional and global counter-terrorism capabilities, especially for countries most in need of assistance,” he said.
Evolving terrorist threats and trends must also be closely monitored and met with innovative responses that have not only the right technology, tools and concepts to stay ahead of terrorists but that are gender-sensitive and recognize that violent misogyny lies at the heart of many groups.
“Full compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law is essential, the UN chief stated, adding, “the fight against terrorism must uphold these values or it will never succeed”.
His fourth point flagged the need to tackle the spread of terrorist narratives through pandemic-sensitive, holistic approaches, and he said that non-State actors must not be allowed to exploit the “fissures and fragilities” of rising psycho-social, economic and political stresses, related to the coronavirus.
Throughout the upcoming discussions, victims’ voices will be heard to help prevent violent extremism and build inclusive, resilient societies, said the UN Secretary General.
And finally, he stressed the importance of strengthening information sharing to learn from the experiences and good practices of others in the COVID-19 security landscape, saying that “quality capacity-building assistance to Member States will remain an important pillar” of UN counter-terrorism work.
In conclusion, Guterres said that as the discussions over the coming week will feed into next year’s High-Level Counter-Terrorism Week – including the seventh biennial review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the second Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States, and the inaugural Congress of Victims of Terrorism – the UN will remain “fully committed to advancing our common struggle against terrorism and upholding our common values”.