Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, briefs the Security Council meeting on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

Strengthen Multilateralism to Combat Global Terrorism, Says UN Counterterrorism Chief

Although the pandemic has posed one of the greatest challenges since the UN’s founding 75 years ago, Vladimir Voronkov, head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) closed a week of events devoted online to countering the scourge, by echoing the Secretary-General in stating the “need to keep up the momentum” in countering the global threat of terrorism.

Setting out key conclusions of the discussions, the counter-terrorism chief spoke of the need to invest in strategic preparedness to build societies able to cope with global challenges, including terrorism.

The UN official also underscored the importance of strengthening multilateralism and international cooperation, calling the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact, “a dynamic platform” to enhance coordination in delivering UN technical assistance to Member States.

Pointing out that “all events underscored the need to fully respect human rights and the rule of law in the fight against terrorism”, he maintained that this was not just the UN’s fourth pillar, but integral to the entire UN global counter-terrorism strategy.

“Much more is needed to translate this into practice…to ensure that measures to counter terrorism do not shrink civic space or hinder humanitarian activities”, upheld the counter-terrorism chief.

To this end, he shared his plan for a regional high-level conference on human rights and counter-terrorism when the COVID-19 context allows.

Cross-border consequences

The UNOCT chief stressed that the threats posed by bio and cyber terrorism have “consequences that span across borders”.

“Pandemics magnify these threats, putting additional pressure on emergency response and security structures, and increasing the risk of weaponization by non-State actors”, he highlighted, lauding the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, designed to help address this.

While protecting freedom of expression, the participants emphasized the need to prevent terrorist misuse of social media and the Internet, further unleashed by COVID-19 pandemic-fueled hate speech and xenophobia.

“These efforts must be underpinned by strong partnerships between governments, tech companies and civil society, and a strategic communications approach with credible voices and positive messages to counter terrorist narratives”, said the UN counter-terrorism chief.

Foreign fighters

Meanwhile, he relayed the “grave concerns” of participants regarding foreign terrorist fighters who remain at large, citing women and children with suspected links to UN-listed terrorist groups who are stranded in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

“I urge Member States to take swift action regarding their nationals to meet their international obligations and prevent this issue being used to radicalize future generations”, spelled out Mr. Voronkov.

He also flagged the importance of better understanding how “terrorists prey differently on women and men to incite and recruit, the range of roles women and men play in both terrorism and counter-terrorism, and the differentiated impact of terrorism and counter-terrorism on women and men, also in this pandemic environment”.

Remaining vigilant

The UNOCT chef said that the week’s discussions would feed into the first Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism, scheduled for next year.

In closing, he underlined the need to remain vigilant and united; anticipate the evolving threat posed by terrorists; and adjust our responses to changes from the pandemic.

Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week drew over 1,000 participants with representatives from 125 Member States and over 150 from international and regional organizations, 200 from UN entities and 80 from civil society and the private sector.

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