UN Secretary General expresses concerns over “new and emerging forms of terrorism” during global health crisis

Felicity Salina, International Law Officer

UN Secretary General, António Guterres, spoke about the peace and security implications of the coronavirus pandemic at the 1st Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week last Monday. Officially kick starting the event, the former Portuguese Prime Minister encouraged States in his opening speech to “harness the power of multilateralism to find practical solutions” to the looming threat of terrorism.

The UN Counter-Terrorism chief, Vladimir Voronkov, noted that terrorist attacks and fatalities have been steadily declining ever since the heyday of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Nevertheless, he noted that States must remain on guard as terrorist groups are likely to feed off rampant instability, which many countries are experiencing. Such groups are using “innovative tactics and tools […], many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic”. These tactics, according to Guterres, include the misuse of digital technology, cyber-attacks, and bioterrorism.

The Secretary General also outlined five points that may guide States in countering terrorism. The steps start with investing in global counter-terrorism capabilities at all levels, particularly for countries most in need of assistance. Next, monitoring evolving threats and trends, whilst also acknowledging that many terrorist groups are intrinsically related to violent misogyny, and to have the technology, tools, and concepts that are gender-sensitive to stay ahead of them. Additionally, of key importance is fully complying with international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law in enforcing counter-terrorism laws and security measures, as well as suppressing the spread of terrorist narratives through “pandemic-sensitive, holistic approaches” to prevent the exploitation of “fissures and fragilities” of crises caused by the virus by terrorist. Lastly, Guterres highlighted the need to strengthen information sharing to learn from the experiences and good practices of others in the COVID-19 security landscape.

“Like the virus”, he stressed, “terrorism does not respect national borders”. The UN is guaranteed to remain “fully committed to advancing our common struggle against terrorism and upholding our common values”.

Earlier this year, the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED), in accordance with its mandate enshrined in UNSC Resolution 2395 (2017), published a paper which provides a brief analysis on the short-term and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on terrorist and countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, as well as the interlink between COVID-19 response plans and counter-terrorism policies.

Read the paper here: https://www.un.org/sc/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CTED-Paper%E2%80%93-The-impact-of-the-COVID-19-pandemic-on-counter-terrorism-and-countering-violent-extremism.pdf.