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March 10, 2005
The Secretary-General, United Nations
Keynote address to the Closing Plenary of the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security
Why have you invited me to speak here? Because terrorism is a threat to all states and to all peoples, which can strike anytime, anywhere.
It is a direct attack on the core values the United Nations stands for: the rule of law; the protection of civilians; mutual respect between people of different faiths and cultures; and peaceful resolution of conflict.
So of course the United Nations must be at the forefront in fighting against it, and first of all in proclaiming, loud and clear, that terrorism can never be accepted or justified, in any cause whatsoever.
By the same token, the United Nations must continue to insist that, in the fight against terrorism, we cannot compromise on the core values I have listed. In particular, human rights and the rule of law must always be respected. As I see it, terrorism is in itself a direct attack on human rights and the rule of law. If we sacrifice them in our response, we are handing a victory to the terrorists.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Since terrorism is clearly one of the major threats that we face in this century, it is only right that it received close attention in the report, “A More Secure World — Our Shared Responsibility”, produced by the High-level Panel that I set up to study global threats and recommend changes in the international system.
The Panel asked me to promote a principled, comprehensive strategy. I intend to do that. This seems to me a fitting occasion to set out the main elements of that strategy, and the role of the United Nations in it.
There are five elements, and I shall call them the “five D’s”. They are:
- first, to dissuade disaffected groups from choosing terrorism as a tactic to achieve their goals;
- second, to deny terrorists the means to carry out their attacks;
- third, to deter states from supporting terrorists;
- fourth, to develop state capacity to prevent terrorism;
- and fifth, to defend human rights in the struggle against terrorism.
The United Nations has already, for many years, been playing a crucial role in all these areas, and has achieved important successes. But we need to do more, and we must do better.
Let me start with the first D: dissuading disaffected groups from choosing terrorism as a tactic.
- Groups use terrorist tactics because they think those tactics are effective, and that people, or at least those in whose name they claim to act, will approve. Such beliefs are the true “root cause” of terrorism. Our job is to show unequivocally that they are wrong.
- We cannot, and need not, redress all the grievances that terrorists claim to be advancing. But we must convince all those who may be tempted to support terrorism that it is neither an acceptable nor an effective way to advance their cause. It should be clearly stated, by all possible moral and political authorities, that terrorism is unacceptable under any circumstances, and in any culture.
- The United Nations and is Specialised Agencies played a central role in negotiating and adopting twelve international anti-terrorism treaties. Now the time has come to complete a comprehensive convention outlawing terrorism in all its forms.
- For too long the moral authority of the United Nations in confronting terrorism has been weakened by the spectacle of protracted negotiations. But the report of the High-Level Panel offers us a way to end these arguments. We do not need to argue whether States can be guilty of terrorism, because deliberate use of armed force by States against civilians is already clearly prohibited under international law. As for the right to resist occupation, it must be understood in its true meaning. It cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians.
- The Panel calls for a definition of terrorism which would make it clear that any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act. I believe this proposal has clear moral force, and I strongly urge world leaders to unite behind it, with a view to adopting the comprehensive convention as soon as possible.
- Not only political leaders, but civil society and religious leaders should clearly denounce terrorist tactics as criminal and inexcusable. Civil society has already conducted magnificent campaigns against landmines, against the recruitment of children as soldiers, and against allowing war crimes to go unpunished. I should like to see an equally strong global campaign against terrorism.
- Finally, we must pay more attention to the victims of terrorism, and make sure their voices can be heard. We at the UN are especially conscious of this, having lost beloved colleagues to a terrorist attack in Baghdad two years ago. Last October the Security Council, in its Resolution 1566, suggested an international fund to compensate victims and their families, to be financed in part from assets seized from terrorist organizations, their members and sponsors. This suggestion should be urgently followed up.
I will now turn to the second D: denying terrorists the means to carry out their attacks. That means making it difficult for them to travel, to receive financial support, or to acquire nuclear or radiological material.
- Here the United Nations has already made important contributions. The UN Convention on the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism has been in force for three years. And the Security Council has long since imposed travel and financial sanctions against members of Al Qaida and associated entities. But we must do more to ensure that those sanctions are fully enforced.
- We also need effective action against money-laundering. Here the United Nations could adopt and promote the eight Special Recommendations on Terrorist Financing produced by the OECD’s Financial Action Task Force.
- Perhaps the thing that it is most vital we deny to terrorists is access to nuclear materials. Nuclear terrorism is still often treated as science fiction. I wish it were. But unfortunately we live in a world of excess hazardous materials and abundant technological know-how, in which some terrorists clearly state their intention to inflict catastrophic casualties. Were such an attack to occur, it would not only cause widespread death and destruction, but would stagger the world economy and thrust tens of millions of people into dire poverty. Given what we know of the relationship between poverty and infant mortality, any nuclear terrorist attack would have a second death toll throughout the developing world.
- That such an attack has not yet happened is no excuse for complacency. Rather, it gives us a last chance to take effective preventive action.
- That means consolidating, securing, and when possible eliminating potentially hazardous materials, and implementing effective export controls. Both the G8 and the UN Security Council have taken important steps to do this, and to plug gaps in the non-proliferation regime. We need to make sure these measures are fully enforced, and that they reinforce each other. I urge the Member States of the United Nations to complete and adopt, without delay, the international convention on nuclear terrorism. And I applaud the efforts of the Proliferation Security Initiative to fill a gap in our defences.
My third D is the need to deter states from supporting terrorist groups.
- In the past the United Nations has not shrunk from confronting states that harbour and assist terrorists, and the Security Council has repeatedly applied sanctions. Indeed, it is largely thanks to such sanctions that several states which used to sponsor terrorists no longer do so.
- This firm line must be maintained and strengthened. All states must know that, if they give any kind of support to terrorists, the Council will not hesitate to use coercive measures against them.
The fourth D is to developing state capacity to prevent terrorism.
- Terrorists exploit weak states as havens where they can hide from arrest, and train or recruit personnel. Making all states more capable and responsible must therefore be the cornerstone of our global counter-terrorism effort. This means promoting good governance and above all the rule of law, with professional police and security forces who respect human rights.
- The United Nations has already done a lot in this area. The Security Council, in its resolution 1373, required every state to take important steps in preventing terrorism. The Counterterrorism Committee follows how well states are implementing that resolution.
- But many poor countries genuinely cannot afford to build the capacity they need. They need help. The new Counter-Terrorism Directorate will assess their needs, and develop a comprehensive approach to technical assistance.
- Every state must be able to develop and maintain an efficient criminal justice system. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is experienced at this work and is prepared to do more.
- The United Nations Development Programme focuses increasingly on questions of governance, which we all now realize are decisive for development. And our Electoral Assistance Division is increasingly called on to assist countries with elections — often at turning-points in their history, as recently in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Burundi. I hope Member States will now build on this work, as President Bush suggested to the General Assembly last September, by supporting a fund to help countries establish or strengthen democracy.
- Terrorist groups find it easiest to recruit among people with a narrow or distorted view of the world. We must therefore help states to give all their citizens a modern education that encourages scientific inquiry and free thought. UNESCO has done much good work in this area, but more needs to be done.
- Few threats more vividly illustrate the imperative of building state capacity than biological terrorism, which could spread deadly infectious disease across the world in a matter of days. Neither states nor international organizations have yet adapted to a new world of biotechnology, full of promise and peril. There will soon be tens of thousands of laboratories around the world capable of producing designer bugs with awesome lethal potential.
- All experts agree that the best defence against this danger lies in strengthening public health. The World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak and Response Network, working on a shoe-string, has done an impressive job monitoring, and responding to, outbreaks of deadly infectious disease. But in the case of an overwhelming outbreak — natural or man-made — it is local health systems that will be in the front line; and in many poor countries they are inadequate or non-existent. We need a major initiative to build such systems.
Last, but far from least, the fifth D — we must defend human rights.
- I regret to say that international human rights experts, including those of the UN system, are unanimous in finding that many measures which States are currently adopting to counter terrorism infringe on human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- Human rights law makes ample provision for strong counter-terrorist action, even in the most exceptional circumstances. But compromising human rights cannot serve the struggle against terrorism. On the contrary, it facilitates achievement of the terrorist’s objective — by ceding to him the moral high ground, and provoking tension, hatred and mistrust of government among precisely those parts of the population where he is most likely to find recruits.
- Upholding human rights is not merely compatible with a successful counter-terrorism strategy. It is an essential element in it.
- I therefore strongly endorse the recent proposal to create a special rapporteur who would report to the Commission on Human Rights on the compatibility of counter-terrorism measures with international human rights laws.
That completes my brief summary of the most important elements of a comprehensive strategy to fight terrorism.
All Departments and Agencies of the United Nations can and must contribute to carrying out this strategy. I am creating an implementation task force, under my office, which will meet regularly to review the handling of terrorism and related issues throughout the UN system, and make sure all parts of it play their proper role.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Tomorrow morning we shall commemorate, in deep sorrow, and in common with the whole of Europe — indeed, the whole world — the 192 innocent people who were so brutally, inexcusably murdered in the terrorist attack here in Madrid exactly one year ago. We shall affirm our solidarity with their families and friends; with almost two thousand other, equally innocent, people who were injured by the explosions; and with the Spanish people, who have suffered so much from terrorism over the past 30 years, but have remained true to their democratic convictions.
At the same time, we will remember the victims of 11 September 2001, and those of other terrorist attacks in Dar-es-Salaam, Nairobi, Tel Aviv, Bali, Istanbul, Riyadh, Casablanca, Baghdad, Bombay, Beslan — indeed, all victims of terrorism everywhere, no matter what their nationality, race or creed.
Some injuries can be healed with the passage of time. Others can never heal fully — and that applies especially to the mental anguish suffered by the survivors, whether wounded in body or, by the loss of their loved ones, in spirit.
To all victims around the world, our words of sympathy can bring only hollow comfort. They know that no one who is not so directly affected can truly share their grief. At least let us not exploit it. We must respect them. We must listen to them. We must do what we can to help them.
We must resolve to do everything in our power to spare others from meeting their fate.
Above all, we must not forget them.
Thank you very much.
Complete audio of the conference
- The Secretary-General, United Nations
- Audio Archive (English) [23 min., 5 MB, MP3]