Header image for news printout

Opening remarks by Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the “International Counter-Terrorism Focal Points Conference on Addressing Conditions Conducive to the Spread of Terrorism and Promoting Regional Cooperation”

Geneva, 13 June 2013 

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be with you today to address this important topic. I would like to thank Minister Burkhalter, Vice-President of the Swiss Federal Council, as well as CTITF Chairperson Feltman, for their kind invitation to this conference.

As Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has said, ‘nothing can justify terrorism – ever. No grievance, no goal, no cause can excuse terrorist acts. At the same time, we must remove the conditions that feed the problem. Terrorism festers where conflicts are endemic … and where human rights, human dignity and human life are not protected and impunity prevails.’

If we are to succeed in this objective and prevent acts of terrorism, we need to better understand and address the conditions in which violent extremism may flourish, as well as to respond effectively when such abhorrent acts do occur. This must include a deeper appreciation of the linkages between a lack of respect for human rights and the conditions conducive to terrorism.

Factors which can contribute to such conditions may span a range of human rights violations. They include violations related to prolonged, unresolved conflicts; ethnic, national and religious discrimination; political exclusion; socio-economic marginalization; and the failure of good governance. These may all contribute to laying the groundwork for hatred, and radicalize individuals who may go on to commit acts of terrorism.

At the same time, every effort must be made to ensure effective human rights-compliant criminal justice responses to terrorism. The prosecution of perpetrators of terrorist acts, in compliance with human rights law, is critical to both preventing and combating terrorism.

In short, a comprehensive approach, firmly grounded in respect for international human rights standards, is the only effective means to counter terrorism.

In this regard, the adoption by the General Assembly of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in 2006 was a watershed. Through the Strategy, all Member States agreed to a holistic, integrated approach to addressing terrorism effectively, with human rights and the rule of law as its fundamental basis. This is not solely a question of legitimacy. It is also a question of effective prevention. The repeated re-affirmation of the Strategy by the General Assembly is testament to its continued relevance.

This conference provides an important opportunity for us to reassert the Global Strategy and redouble our efforts towards its effective implementation.


We know from experiences at national level that protecting human rights and ensuring respect for the rule of law contribute to countering terrorism, notably by creating a climate of trust between States and those under their jurisdiction. Fostering tolerance and solidarity within a society is a means of avoiding conditions conducive to violent extremism.

Yet actual practice in many States reveals a persistent false dichotomy, in which the protection of human rights continues to be seen either as incompatible with effective counter-terrorism strategies, or, at best, an aspiration to be set aside in the face of more pressing security imperatives.

Time and again, my Office has received allegations of grave violations of human rights that have taken place in the context of counter-terrorist operations.

These have included extrajudicial killings, unacknowledged detention, and enforced disappearances, as well as torture. Repressive measures have been employed, using the pretext of counter-terrorism, to stifle the voices of human rights defenders, journalists, minorities and indigenous peoples. Concerns have been expressed over surveillance regimes adopted by some States without adequate safeguards to protect individuals’ right to privacy.

Such practices can give rise to rage and despair — a sense of injustice and persecution that is dangerously corrosive of the values that bind a nation together. If our goal in countering terrorism is to provide for the security of individuals and preserve the rule of law, such practices are also counterproductive.


The clearest expression of the human rights standards relevant to countering terrorism lies in the legally binding international human rights instruments to which a large number of States are parties. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances. As part of a holistic and effective counter-terrorism strategy, I strongly encourage States to include the ratification and implementation of all international human rights treaties. Ratifying these treaties, and reflecting them unambiguously in national legislation, gives the State credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the community, and provides clear, internationally accepted baselines for State conduct. 
With international human rights law as our guide, my Office assists Member States in their efforts to adopt and implement counter-terrorism strategies that are compliant with their international legal obligations and coherent with international human rights standards, and therefore more effective.

These efforts include current, practical capacity-building initiatives in the areas of justice, security and law enforcement.

As Chair of the CTITF Working Group on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, OHCHR is engaged in a number of initiatives aimed at supporting domestic and regional capacity-building efforts towards enhanced protection of human rights in the context of counter-terrorism. 

First, we have finalized a series of regional expert workshops on ensuring the right to fair trial and due process in the context of countering terrorism. These workshops have underscored the importance of engagement at the regional level, both in order to address the challenges that arise in specific regional contexts and to promote regional cooperation – an issue that will, appropriately, be the subject of further discussions here at this conference.

Second, we continue to develop our series of Basic Human Rights Reference Guides, which aim to provide clear and practical guidance on human rights-compliant counter-terrorism measures in selected areas.

Third, we are implementing a project on human rights training and capacity-building for law enforcement officials who are involved in counter-terrorism-related activities.

These, I feel, are vital and practical ways to ensure that human rights norms are retained as clear and positive guidance in the legitimate fight against terrorism.


The Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy acknowledges the wide range of stakeholders that have a part to play in its implementation. This includes the critical role of civil society in countering extremism, promoting dialogue, defending human rights and enhancing social cohesion. Yet in some cases, measures adopted by States to counter terrorism have restricted the operational space, or otherwise limited the ability of civil society organisations to carry out their important work.

States should be encouraged to recognise the important role that civil society can play in strengthening democracy and supporting the achievement of security objectives. Efforts should focus on the creation of an enabling environment, including through the adoption of legislation protecting the space afforded to civil society organisations.

I look forward to the discussions here on how better to support civil society organisations and enhance their engagement in the development and implementation of national and regional counter-terrorism strategies.

In closing I would like to say a few words about victims of terrorism.

Without hearing the voices and recognising the dignity of victims of terrorism, the international community’s response to terrorism is incomplete.

Addressing the human rights of the victims of terrorism is essential, not only to assist victims to rebuild their lives, but also to help reduce tensions in society that might themselves result in conditions conducive to recruitment to terrorism. Ultimately, this requires acknowledgement of their losses and recognition, in practice, of their rights to reparation, truth and justice, and their right to live free of fear and with the support they require.

The prevention of terrorism is our joint responsibility, towards both the past and the potential future victims of these terrible atrocities. Prevention is best achieved, not by countering violence with violence but through strategies that comply with human rights and the rule of law.

I look forward to your deliberations and to our continuing progress in this difficult, yet crucial struggle.

Thank you.