Counter-terrorism conference in Malaga: inclusion, human rights and civil society at the heart of the discussions


“As a moral duty, a legal obligation and a strategic imperative, let us put human rights where they belong: at the heart of the fight against terrorism,” António Guterres said in a video message.

The two-day high-level international conference is jointly organized by the United Nations Office for Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and Spain.

It is the first face-to-face meeting of the UN dedicated to human rights and civil society in the fight against terrorism and takes place against the backdrop of the proliferation of the terrorist threat throughout the world.

violation of human rights

The meeting brings together Member States, international organizations, civil society representatives and human rights defenders “for a robust and practical exchange” on how to formulate human rights-compliant responses to terrorism and the rule of law as well as to ensure that civil society can meaningfully engage in counter-terrorism efforts.

“This gathering reflects a central truth. Terrorism is not just an attack on innocent people. It represents a widespread attack on human rights,” the Secretary-General said.

The threat is growing and global, he added, citing examples such as the continued expansion of Da’esh and al-Qaida in Africa, and the resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan.

The UN chief spoke of how extremist groups prey on women and girls with gender-based violence, including sexual violence, while terrorists also use technology to “spread and export lies, hatred and division at the push of a button”.

At the same time, xenophobia, racism and cultural and religious intolerance are accelerating.

Reaffirm Core Values

Mr. Guterres warned that at the same time, global responses to terrorism can make the situation worse.

“In the name of security, humanitarian aid is often blocked – increasing human suffering. Civil society and human rights defenders are silenced, especially women. And survivors of terrorism and violence are left without the support and access to justice they need to rebuild their lives,” he said.

The Secretary-General called for reaffirming the commitment to fundamental values, including investing in health, education, protection, gender equality and justice systems accessible to all.

This must also include safeguarding humanitarian action, respecting international law, and “opening the door for civil society – and women in particular – to engage meaningfully in efforts to fight against terrorism “.

Ensuring long-term efforts

In his speech, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), Mr. Vladimir Voronkov, underlined that “the fight against terrorism contributes to the protection of human rights, but only if human rights are protected while fighting terrorism”.

Furthermore, he added that the violation or abuse of human rights only plays into the hands of terrorists, as they seek to provoke heavy-handed and indiscriminate responses from the security forces.

“Terrorists do so in order to undermine public confidence in the ability of governments to protect their own citizens. This is why a human rights-based approach does not seek to undermine or defeat counter-terrorism initiatives,” he said.

“On the contrary, it is essential to ensure effective, long-term and sustainable counter-terrorism efforts.”

Intentional theme diversity

The opening session of the conference is to be followed by a high-level ministerial segment and several thematic sessions focusing on human rights, the rule of law and principled humanitarian action in the context the fight against terrorism; support for victims and survivors of terrorism; strengthening civil society efforts to prevent and combat terrorism; and the role of the United Nations counter-terrorism architecture.

The Spanish Foreign Minister argued that the diversity of conference themes “is a true reflection of the holistic nature of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy” whose seventh revision was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly in June of last year.

“We have high hopes for this conference,” said José Manuel Albares Bueno.

The high-level conference should lead to an outcome document drawn up by UNOCT and Spain, in consultation with civil society.

It builds on a series of workshops and side events, organized by Spain and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, to to accelerate global momentum and international commitment to the balanced implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

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