Terrorism: the scourge of the 21st century

UN Málaga

Not even the pandemic has stopped terrorists.  The International Observatory for the Study of Terrorism (OIET) warns that in 2020, 2,350 terrorist attacks took place worldwide in 39 countries and caused 9,747 deaths. 

In the midst of the pandemic declaration, the number of attacks rose 52% and the number of victims increased by 5%, with Afghanistan becoming the main pole with 3,959 victims; the Afghan country accounts for 40% of the deaths caused by terrorism in the world. 

That year there were also deaths from attacks in: Nigeria (1. 463 people); Burkina Faso (799); Mali (624); Niger (380); Cameroon (355); Mozambique (353); Chad (299); Iraq (292); Syria (272); Congo (252); Somalia (209); Pakistan (148); Egypt (72); Philippines (63); India (51); Kenya (42); Thailand (26); Tanzania (20); Ivory Coast (12); Yemen (11); Libya (8); Algeria (8); France (7); Indonesia (6); Austria (3); United Kingdom (3); Tunisia (3); Russia (2); Canada (1); Bangladesh (1); Germany (1); Switzerland (1) and Morocco (1).

The same Observatory revealed that in 2021 there were 2,193 attacks with 9,603 victims in 36 countries, with West Africa alone accounting for 475 of the events and 44% of the victims. 

The map of last year's attacks was as follows: Afghanistan (599); Burkina Faso (319); Mali (281); Nigeria (173); Iraq (134); Cameroon (129); Niger (115); Syria (94); Congo (61); Somalia (59); Mozambique (47); Pakistan (40); Egypt (26); Thailand (23); India (20); Philippines (15); Kenya (11); Chad (6); Ivory Coast (6); Yemen (5); Libya (4); Uganda (4); Benin (3); Tunisia (2); Indonesia (2); Algeria (2); Tanzania (2); Sudan (2); France (2); Maldives (1); Germany (1); New Zealand (1); Norway (1); United Kingdom (1); Saudi Arabia (1); Togo (1).

For António Guterres, head of the United Nations Organisation (UN), the fight against terrorism must be guaranteed by the rule of law itself because it is "a moral and legal obligation" for the protection of human rights. 

In Malaga, during his participation via streaming at the inauguration of the High Level International Conference on Human Rights, Civil Society and the Fight against Terrorism, the head of the UN endorsed the fact that preventing radicalisation benefits the whole of civil society.

"This global threat must be stopped. We have bodies like Daesh-ISIS or Al-Qaeda that continue to expand in Africa; terrorism has taken root in Afghanistan and extremist groups are also on the rise and they act with sexual violence. Xenophobia, racism and intolerance are on the rise," Guterres warned. 

The Secretary-General said that a huge joint effort is needed to fight this scourge through education and inclusion by removing gender barriers.

Speaking at the same forum, Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office, reiterated the need to protect human rights and civil society, which is always the main victim. 

The presence of Voronkov, a Russian national, at the Palacio de Ferias y de Congresos in Malaga prompted an extensive security operation that was so exaggerated that the press inside the venue could not move freely without being accompanied at all times by a security agent. 

The UN official highlighted the essential work of donor countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the European Union (EU) whose contributions enable the implementation of programmes aimed at protecting human rights through the fight against terrorism. 

"Terrorists seek to undermine confidence in oneself, in the power of institutions, to create confusion, which is why it is very necessary for countries to exchange positions and strategies to be united," Voronkov stressed. 

José Manuel Albares, Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs, also took part in the same event in the Spanish city, before an auditorium full of international participants - 90 delegations - from organisations linked to terrorism and human rights.

"The diversity of the issues addressed is a true reflection of the comprehensive nature of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy during the seventh review, which was co-facilitated by Spain and adopted by consensus by the General Assembly in June last year," he informed the audience.

In this space, participants analysed aspects such as support for victims and survivors of terrorism, the role of UN counter-terrorism programmes and the efforts of civil society to prevent and combat it. 

In the words of Albares, Spain is with the countries that have suffered from terrorism and with its victims "because Spain has also suffered from it" and that is why it feels so close to them.

"We are interested in the protection of people's human rights: of men, women and children through actions against terrorism, that is why we believe in respecting the law. Terrorists seek to terrorise societies, they want to infect us and attack our democracies and institutions as well as our values," the diplomat was convinced.

Under this level of commitment, a United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office will operate in Madrid and one of its purposes will be to create a network of victims. 

There is a concern to fight against radicalisation, and to this end, there is talk of creating objectives such as teaching the values of tolerance, peace and inclusion through sport. 

For the Spanish government, this office is of great strategic value in the face of its greatest flank of vulnerability: the Sahel and other parts of Africa that are becoming terrorist nests with Daesh-ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other jihadist and extremist groups. 

According to Albares, terrorism remains a phenomenon that affects societies very directly and is a real threat. It is so sensitive that the issue will be present at the NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June.

The Chancellor recalled that, although Daesh and jihadist terrorism have been reduced in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq, the possibility of Islamic authoritarianism in Afghanistan has reappeared with the Taliban, and is primarily present in Africa: "Let us not forget that the Global Counter-Terrorism Index places the Sahel as the epicentre of jihadist terrorism".

According to the EU, in 2011 between 4,000 and 5,000 citizens left European territory to join the fighting ranks of terrorist groups such as ISIS-Daesh in Syria and Iraq. 

From 2016 onwards, the phenomenon of return began to occur, with many of these volunteer fighters returning to the European cities from which they left. The EU estimates that at least 30 per cent have already returned.

Next September, the UN will hold the First Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism and a movement is being organised to create a large network of victims' associations.

"As a moral and legal obligation and a strategic imperative, we must put human rights where they belong: at the heart of the fight against terror," said UN chief Guterres.