Secretary-General calling Terrorism All-out Assault on Civilization Itself
31 January 2024
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the meeting of the Global Counter-Terrorism Compact, in New York on 24 January:
Thank you for coming together here at the United Nations Headquarters.
Now this building, and our Organization, represent humanity’s highest ideals. Peace, dialogue, development, human rights and collaboration. Terrorism represents the polar opposite of these ideals.
No one is immune from this global threat. Today’s meeting focuses on a clear and present danger to a continent -- but also to our world.
In just a few short years, Africa has become a global epicentre of terrorism. This growing inferno is engulfing millions of Africans. This includes women and girls, who are deeply vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence.
Across the continent, Da’esh, Al-Qaida and their affiliates are exploiting local conflict dynamics and fragilities to advance their agendas, while shredding the social fabric of entire countries with the blades of violence, mistrust and fear.
In Somalia, Al-Shabaab is under pressure, but far from defeated. In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, terrorists continue targeting civilians, while expanding their areas of operation. Terrorism remains an active threat in northern Mozambique. Across the Sahel, the increased hostilities between terrorist groups fighting for control over territory and trafficking are creating nothing short of a hell on Earth for the innocent people caught in between. And the threat is rapidly spreading to coastal countries, as seen in Benin and Togo.
A disturbing pattern is clear. Community by community, terrorist groups are extending their reach. Growing their continental networks with more fighters, funding, and weapons. Forging ties with transnational organized crime groups. And spreading fear, misery and hateful ideologies through cyberspace.
In every case, civilians are paying the highest price. But in the end, all of humanity pays.
Each terrorist threat, each violent, extremist attack undermines our shared efforts to build and maintain peace, development and stability in Africa.
Terrorism is an all-out assault on civilization itself. We need to fight this inferno now, before it spins out of control.
Across Africa, we see a number of positive examples of Member States and subregional organizations stepping up to counter terrorism and violent extremism. This includes the Lake Chad Basin’s Multinational Task Force to counter Boko Haram. It includes the African Union’s Transition Mission in Somalia. And it includes the efforts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Rwanda to tackle terrorism in northern Mozambique.
We ourselves are working closely with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and others on prevention, legal assistance, investigations, prosecutions, reintegration and rehabilitation, and human rights protection -- including our support for countries as they implement the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
We are also helping to support the victims and survivors of terrorism so that they and their families heal from all they’ve endured.
Another sign of important progress is the unanimous adoption by the UN Security Council of resolution 2719 (2023) on the financing of African Union-led peace support operations.
From the very start of my mandate, I have repeatedly called for a new generation of peace [support] operations -- including peace enforcement and counter-terrorism operations -- led by regional partners, notably the African Union, with a Security Council mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, supported by guaranteed funding, including through UN assessed contributions.
African-Union-led peace support operations authorized by the Security Council will now have access to funding from UN assessed contributions not exceeding 75 per cent of their annual budgets -- with the remaining amount to be jointly mobilized from the international community as extra-budgetary resources, with all viable options considered in the event of significant shortfalls in resource mobilization.
These are all important steps. But we need urgent action, on a much larger scale [than] we’ve seen to date.
I want to highlight two essential anchors of our approach in our fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
First -- our efforts must be anchored in sustainable, inclusive development.
Terrorism finds its home in fragility and instability.
Isolation, inequalities, limited access to school, lack of job opportunities, eroding trust in Government, institutions and the rule of law, human rights abuses and perceptions of impunity -- together, these conditions are conducive to the spread of terrorism. We need to end this vicious cycle.
The New Agenda for Peace puts a new emphasis on prevention. It connects the dots between investing in development, building strong governance structures and justice systems that people can trust, and creating sustainable peace.
And second -- our efforts must be anchored in human rights.
Terrorism represents a denial of human rights. We cannot fight it by repeating the same denial.
Too often, counter-terrorism measures are misused or have unintended outcomes when put into practice and lead to human rights abuses. This is a recipe for resentment, deep grievances, and further death and destruction.
Our collective response to terrorism must be grounded in the principles that define our shared humanity -- respect for human rights, the rule of law and the pursuit of peace.
And it must be grounded in strategies that reflect marginalized and vulnerable communities.
For example, women and girls are often the first -- and worst -- affected by terrorism.
Despite differences in ideology, many terrorist groups have one strategy in common: the patriarchal subjugation of women and girls and outrageous acts of violence against them.
From the Chibok girls of Nigeria, to the Yezidi women and girls of Iraq, recent years have seen horrifying examples of sexual abuse and violence, and even outright slavery -- including women sold to finance terrorist activity.
We must focus our counter-terrorism priorities and strategies on this important issue, which cuts to the heart of our commitment to the human rights of all people, including the safety and freedom of women and girls.
Africa, to me, is the home of hope -- a continent bursting with potential, ready to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century. But this potential can only be realized by vanquishing the shadow of terrorism that is rapidly spreading across the continent. We do not have a moment to lose.
For Africa, for Africans and for the world we share -- let’s continue standing together and forging new solutions to lift this shadow, once and for all.