LONDON: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned governments Thursday to remember their rights obligations when tackling terrorism – and rounded on the media for ‘demonising’ minorities.
Modern terrorism has become “an unprecedented threat to international peace, security and development”, but policies to tackle it “can be misused and abused”, he said.
“They can actually make us less safe, by undermining good governance and the rule of law,” he told students at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
“Counter-terrorist policies may be used, and are being used, to suppress peaceful protests and legitimate opposition movements; to shut down debate; to target and detain human rights defenders, and to stigmatise minorities,” Guterres added.
The former Portuguese prime minister, who took over as United Nations chief on January 1 after a decade as the body’s head of refugees, argued this could ultimately prove ‘counter-productive’. “The majority of those that went into terrorist actions come from countries where human rights are violated. And that violation is sometimes the trigger,” he added.
Guterres also warned that terror attacks were straining ties in many communities, “amplified by the 24-hour news cycle, social media and cynical political manipulation”. “We all have a responsibility to base our narratives on facts, and to avoid doing the terrorists’ work for them by demonising and stigmatising certain group,” he said.
“In some countries, the majority of terrorist plots and attacks are perpetrated by right-wing extremist groups. And yet the media focuses far more on attacks by immigrants or members of ethnic and religious minorities”, Guterres added, also pointing out that the targeting of refugees who had fled terrorism was “a horrible distortion of their plight”.
The secretary-general said global development and investment in education and social programmes could help counter some of the myriad threats. “Terrorism thrives when disenfranchised people meet nothing but indifference and nihilism,” he added.
The UN estimates there were at least 11,000 terror attacks in more than 100 countries last year, leaving more than 25,000 people dead. The vast majority occurred in developing countries, with three-quarters of the deaths were recorded in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and Somalia.