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UN Conference on the Human Rights of Victims of Terrorism, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

11 Feb 2016 - 15:56


Distinguished delegates,      

Ladies and Gentlemen,

"Far too many victims of terrorism all over the world have suffered in silence, a neglect that compounds their trauma and wounds. Victims of terrorism can count on the solidarity of the United Nations."

Terrorists have attacked, on several occasions, the United Nations itself, and we, too, have many victims among our colleagues who we commemorate and mourn.

In this solidarity expressed by the Secretary-General, I would like to ask you for a minute of silence to commemorate the many men, women and children who have lost their lives and loved ones due to terrorist acts.


Thank you.

The Secretary-General’s words also remind us of our double duty: to make the voices of victims heard; and to ensure that their human rights are fully respected.

But there is a third dimension that I would like to stress and address: with their courage and commitment to saving others from experiencing the same suffering, victims of terrorism are the strongest, most sincere and most convincing allies we have in preventing others from being lured to terrorist and violent extremist groups.


Voices of Victims

It is all too rare that we hear the voices of victims. In the recently released documentary “Je suis Charlies”, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Corinne “Coco” Rey shares a most tormented testimonial: Visibly upset, she recounts how the two gunmen first approached her, recognising her and calling her by name before forcing her to punch in the security code that would lead them to her unsuspecting colleagues.

“They said, ‘No jokes, no jokes,’” she says, recalling how they identified themselves as al Qaeda. “That’s when I thought I was going to die. I put my hands behind my head. I was panicking. That’s when it dawned on me, after coming upstairs, that it could all end right there. It was the first time I heard a gunshot. Nothing at all like the movies. Just “tak-tak”.

I would like to encourage all of us to ensure that the views and needs of victims of terrorism, especially the young and the vulnerable, are not forgotten.  Their welfare must be at the heart of our efforts.

The UNCTITF Inter-Agency Working Group on Victims of Terrorism has been working hard on a number of activities to realise the Secretary-General’s commitment to victims of terrorism. 

And the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) has made victims of terrorism a priority in its five-year Programme of Work. The launch of the UN Victims of Terrorism Support Portal by the Secretary-General last year highlighted his conviction and dedication to support victims of terrorism in a practical way. Already the Portal has reached approximately 60,000 people last year. The Centre is currently developing media training for victims to strengthen their voice in countering the narrative of violent extremists.


Human Rights of Victims

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Terrorist groups are flouting international human rights and humanitarian law. On the basis of the information that we are getting from many theatres around the world, some of the activities reported may well even constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is our responsibility that the human rights of all affected by terrorism are fully respected.

Today, we will be discussing the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. This report provides us with a solid basis to strengthen support for the rights of victims, and I would like to thank Mr. Ben Emmerson for his important work. The recommendations acknowledge that we still have a long way to go to recognize victims’ rights, and that protecting these rights can be facilitated by strengthening national policies, practices and procedures.  

We will be exploring existing legislation on victims. Just like victims of crime, we need to strengthen the existing legal framework to take into account the specific needs of victims of terrorism. We must also strengthen national mechanisms that assist victims with the appropriate medical, psychological and legal services. 

We also need to do better in addressing victims’ needs in criminal justice processes, with appropriate confidentiality and witness protection measures in place, and through establishing coherent and multidimensional responses to reparations. 

I know that with your active participation today, this Conference will create momentum for change in all these areas, and I hope that we can translate our deliberations into practical actions at the national and global level.


Victims as Allies in Prevention

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Through their unique experiences, victims can bring a perspective that can shape the debate, counter hateful narratives both at the community level and on online forums, and influence attitudes which can assist in reaching out to marginalised and at-risk communities.

Many victims have shown that they want to be engaged, and we must do more to help them to help us to devise responses to narratives and thus prevent terrorist and violent extremist groups attract additional followers. If the unspeakable horrors and false promises of these groups are exposed by those who sadly have first-hand experience, potential followers will be able to draw informed conclusions. And thereby the sorrow and suffering victims endured will serve the common good and hopefully also contribute to their own healing. 

Moreover, it is critical that the international community take a holistic approach when combatting terrorism. We must act earlier and we must be inclusive.

For these reasons, the Secretary-General has just launched a Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which places an emphasis on protecting and supporting victims of terrorism. It seeks to address the drivers of violent extremism through more than 70 recommendations at the national, regional and global levels.

The Plan of Action recommends that each Member State adopt a National Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism. National laws, policies and procedures need to take into account and adapt to strengthening the rights of victims.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we look forward to commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy this year, we should be proud that there is universal agreement on the importance of support and assistance to victims of terrorism.

However, we are only at the beginning. We will need your strong support during the deliberations of the fifth outcome review resolution of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy to ensure that victims will have a central role in all our strategies, so that we can build on previous commitments to victims, their families and communities.

Now more than ever, victims of terrorism and violent extremism need to be engaged. They are our allies. Member States, the United Nations and the entire international community have the privilege and responsibility to work with them to save succeeding generations from similar suffering.

Thank you.