II. Impact of violent extremism
- Violent extremism undermines our collective efforts towards maintaining peace and security, fostering sustainable development, protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law and taking humanitarian action.
A. Peace and security
- Violent extremist groups are contributing significantly to the cycle of insecurity and armed conflict affecting many regions of the world. Al-Qaida and its affiliates have sought to intimidate Governments into changing their policies through virulent propaganda campaigns and by staging spectacular attacks. The latest iteration of violent extremist and terrorist groups, ISIL in particular, has transformed the challenge further: benefiting from existing armed conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic and instability in Iraq and in Libya, its members have managed to take over large swaths of territory and “govern” it according to their rules. They are mobile, well armed, tech-savvy and well organized. History has shown that volatile security situations and conflicts tend to be further exacerbated by “proxy” wars. Regional and international actors bear a particular responsibility for assisting countries in strife in returning to peace. I therefore welcome the recent constructive initiatives taken in the context of the International Syria Support Group, working in concert with the Security Council to promote a comprehensive solution to the crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic.
- In seeking to supplant existing States and erase established borders, ISIL and Boko Haram are undermining state authority and destabilizing not just the territories most directly concerned, but also the surrounding regions. In Mali, terrorists came close to destroying the basic state structure, thereby affecting the stability of a country and of an entire region. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups continue their activities in northern Mali with spillover effects in neighbouring countries. They put the presence and activities of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) at risk. As I noted in a recent report (S/2015/366), terrorist groups are also benefiting from transnational organized crime. Some violent extremist groups have developed connections with transnational organized crime to increase their financial resources. They generate significant revenues from human trafficking and the slave trade, trafficking in antiquities, and the illicit sale of oil. Many of these groups are also involved in kidnapping for ransom.
- It is critical that in responding to this threat, we recognize that violent extremists aim at provoking States into overreacting, and then exploit ill-conceived government action for their own propaganda ends. In killing 77 people in 2011, the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik was explicitly aiming at destabilizing Norway’s tolerant society by dividing local communities and provoking an overreaction. The obligations that Member States have undertaken in line with international law, including human rights instruments, provide a sound framework within which to respond to such attacks.
B. Sustainable development
- Countries struggling to cope with widespread violence have fared poorly in reaching the Millennium Development Goals which have shaped the development agenda over the last 15 years. Violent extremism aggravates perceptions of insecurity and can lead to repeated outbreaks of unrest which compromise sustained economic growth. In establishing the Sustainable Development Goals to guide our work over the next 15 years, Member States warned that violent extremism threatens to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades. By exploiting development challenges, such as inequalities, poverty and poor governance, violent extremism further exacerbates these grievances and thereby creates a vicious cycle of decline which affects marginalized groups in particular. Moreover, considering education a particular threat to the spread of their ideologies, terrorists have targeted young people, in particular girls, for their pursuit of a modern education as the path to a better life for themselves and their families and better societies. The kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria, in April 2014; the killing of students by Al-Shabaab in Garissa, Kenya, in April 2015; and the attack by Tehrik-i-Taliban on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, in December 2014, are just some of the most egregious recent examples of the threat of violent extremism.
- Violent extremists are also disrupting the day-to-day work of development actors, including United Nations development agencies and United Nations country teams, which are trying to help Member States eradicate poverty, and reduce social inequalities and exclusion. As a consequence, United Nations field personnel and peacekeepers have been targeted.
C. Human rights and the rule of law
- Violent extremists pose a direct threat to the enjoyment of human rights, ranging from the right to life and the right to liberty and security of person, to freedom of expression, association, and thought, conscience and religion.
- There is credible information indicating that terrorists and violent extremist groups like ISIL and its affiliates may have committed serious violations of international law, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. These groups also violate the rights of women and girls, including through sexual enslavement, forced marriages and encroachment on their rights to education and participation in public life. In areas where ISIL and other terrorist and violent extremist groups currently operate, it appears that religious communities, and women, children, political activists, journalists, human rights defenders and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community are being systematically targeted, abducted, displaced and murdered. Torture, and sexual and gender-based violence, are also reportedly widespread. Items and sites of great historical, religious and cultural significance are being wantonly destroyed in violation of the protection afforded to the cultural heritage under international humanitarian law.
- A lack of accountability in conflict areas is contributing to an increase in these atrocious crimes. Impunity and injustice create an environment of insecurity and helplessness, undermining conflict mediation and resolution efforts, including political transitions. We need to end impunity for all those committing violations and crimes, including crimes under international law. At the same time, we must be vigilant in ensuring that Member States’ efforts to address violent extremism are respectful of the rule of law and in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law, as well as international humanitarian law, if applicable. Certain rights are non-derogable even in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.
D. Humanitarian action
- At the end of 2014, the world was facing a situation where the number of forcibly displaced persons was the highest on record, a situation to which violent extremism was a significant contributing factor. It is not just the volume of displaced persons that is alarming, but also the rapid increase in their numbers, which has risen 40 per cent, from 42.5 million to 59.5 million in just three years. Internally displaced persons and refugees, particularly children, are at an increased risk of forced recruitment, including by violent extremist groups.
- Violent extremist groups actively interfere with the provision of international humanitarian assistance, including food and vital medical aid, to populations in need by limiting the access of humanitarian actors to the areas controlled by those groups, or by seizing relief supplies. In situations of armed conflict, violent extremists routinely disregard the traditional protection, enshrined in international humanitarian law, accorded to humanitarian actors in conflict zones. As a result, many humanitarian workers have become targets themselves: 329 aid workers were killed, injured or kidnapped in 2014. While violent extremists groups are not the only actors using these despicable tactics, their growing influence is a significant contributory factor to the challenging operating environment confronted by humanitarian organizations.