In recent years, one of the most significant developments in counter-terrorism has been the territorial win over Daesh in Syria and Iraq. The efforts were successful thanks to the cooperation of over 78 partners of the Global Coalition against Daesh. Daesh’s defeat followed a four year stranglehold over territories in Syria and Iraq. However, according to the recent Pentagon report, the threat of Daesh has resurfaced in both Iraq and Syria. According to the report, “despite losing its territorial “caliphate,” Daesh solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria this quarter.” This development is not unexpected. Territorial defeat does not mean defeat of the underlying ideology that gave rise to the Daesh campaign of terror.
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Terrorism continues to be one of the biggest global challenges to peace and security despite the fact that there appears to be some progress in addressing it. Indeed, the 2018 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) suggests that deaths from terrorism decreased by 27% from 2016 to 2017. 94 countries improved their scores on the GTI, while 46 deteriorated. Among others, Afghanistan had more deaths from terrorism than any other country in 2017, overtaking Iraq. Daesh remained the deadliest terrorist group in 2017, even though deaths attributed to the group fell by 52% from the prior year. Egypt and Somalia had the largest increases in deaths from terrorism, with deaths increasing by 123% and 93% respectively.
On August 21, the UN commemorates the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to Victims of Terrorism, a day that is meant to “honor and support the victims and survivors of terrorism and to promote and protect the full enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The UN day was established to ensure that any efforts at addressing the issue of terrorism place the victims (and survivors) at their heart. Further and similar steps are to follow.
This year’s commemoration, the second of this kind, is focused on the resilience of victims and their families, especially, “how they have coped and what they have done to transform their experiences to aid healing and recovery as well as become stronger and more united against terrorism.” On August 20, the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Permanent Mission of Cameroon hosted an event at United Nations Headquarters to launch a documentary centered around the challenges faced by victims of Boko Haram in Cameroon. The UN Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Group of Friends of Victims of Terrorism will launch a photographic exhibition on August 21 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The exhibition portrays the personal journey and experience of resilience of survivors.
The victim-centered approach is gaining more and more attention. And rightfully so.
At the launch of the group of friends of victims of terrorism, in New York in June 2019, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that the UN was advancing support to victims “through a global program specifically tailored to enhancing the voices of victims and ensuring comprehensive support” and “through improved coordination of assistance to justice systems to help countries fight against impunity and seek justice for victims of terrorism in a manner consistent with international law.” Nonetheless, he added that there were several challenges faced globally that have a significant effect on the issue of terrorism. Among others, “a new regulatory landscape on victims needs to be developed” and “there must be more room for the meaningful engagement of civil society actors — and greater commitment to the human rights of victims in national laws and policies.”
Guterres emphasized that “combating terrorism requires all of us to work together through the prism of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy to address the threat of terrorism and violent extremism in a comprehensive and balanced manner.”
This is why in June 2020, the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism will be organizing its first global Victims’ Congress during the “UN counter-terrorism week.” The Victims’ Congress is meant to provide for better engagement with the victims and survivors working together on strategies focused on combating acts of terrorism and providing for better assistance to address their needs. Details about the Victims’ Congress are yet to be disclosed.
Victims and survivors must be at the heart of any efforts to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism. Such work must be commended and encouraged. More actors, whether international mechanisms, states, non-state actors, must be involved in this project to ensure that no victim or survivor is left out.