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Guterres says terrorists, hate groups exploiting COVID-19 to advance objectives

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday said terrorists and hate groups were seeking to exploit difficulties associated with COVID-19 to push their agenda.

Guterres stated this in his remarks at the opening session of the UN Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week.

“Psycho-social, economic and political stresses associated with COVID-19 have risen dramatically,” he noted, saying terrorists must not be allowed to exploit those “fissures and fragilities”.

“It is too early to fully assess the implications of COVID-19 on the terrorism landscape.

 “But we know that ISIL, Al-Qaida, their regional affiliates, as well as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups, seek to exploit divisions, local conflicts, governance failures, and grievances to advance their objectives.

 “ISIL is continuing its efforts to reassert itself in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic.

“Thousands of foreign terrorist fighters battle in the region, seek to engage in conflict elsewhere, or linger in temporary detention while their family members remain stranded.

 “The pandemic has also highlighted vulnerabilities to new and emerging forms of terrorism, such as misuse of digital technology, cyberattacks, and bioterrorism,” he said.

Noting that terrorism, like the novel coronavirus, had no regard for national borders, the UN Chief said it could only be defeated collectively.

 He urged nations to “harness the power of multilateralism to find practical solutions”.

To this end, he highlighted five areas to guide future actions by nations in the field of counter-terrorism.

First, he called on nations to sustain the tempo in the fight against terrorism.

This, according to him, includes continued investments in national, regional, and global counter-terrorism capabilities, “especially for countries most in need of assistance”.

 Second, Guterres suggested that the international community should closely monitor “evolving terrorist threats and evolving trends”, and be innovative in its responses.

 “That means ensuring we have the right technology, tools, and concepts to stay ahead of terrorists.

 “Third, counter-terrorism responses must always be gender-sensitive – recognizing the violent misogyny at the heart of so many groups – and protect and promote human rights.

 “Counter-terrorism laws and security measures cannot be an excuse to shrink civic space, curtail freedom of association, and deny other fundamental rights.

“Full compliance with international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law is essential.

“The fight against terrorism must uphold these values or without which we will never succeed,” he said.

 The Secretary-General called for international collaboration in repatriating foreign nationals, especially women and children, from camps in Syria and Iraq, where COVID-19 risk is “worsening already dire security and humanitarian conditions”.

He further called for concerted efforts to check the spread of “terrorist narratives through pandemic-sensitive, holistic approaches”.

Lastly, Guterres underscored the need for enhanced information sharing “to learn from the experiences and good practices of others in the COVID-19 security landscape”.

“The UNs’ Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact framework has helped enhance coordination and coherence in the delivery of UN technical assistance and capacity-building to the Member States.  

“Quality capacity-building assistance to the Member States will remain an important pillar of the United Nations counter-terrorism work.

“We must commit to doing more and better. As in every other area of our mission, our work will be assessed by the difference we make in people’s lives,” he submitted.

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