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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Second UN high Level Conference on Counter terrorism

29 June 2021

Countering and Preventing Terrorism in the Age of Transformative Technologies: Addressing the Challenges of the New Decade


Session III -- Upholding Human Rights and Promoting Gender Responsiveness while Countering Terrorism in the Age of Transformative Technologies

Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

29 June 2021

Distinguished panellists,



I am pleased to address this important event and thank the UN Office of Counter Terrorism for inviting me.


I congratulate the Governments of Spain and Oman for their leadership throughout the seventh review of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, concluded last week after intensive negotiations. I thank them particularly for the open and transparent process and for engaging civil society actors.

The Strategy recognizes that human rights must be the fundamental basis for all counter-terrorism efforts. Simply put, it is impossible to prevent or counter terrorism without a human rights-based and gender sensitive approach – at the political, legal and legislative, policy, programmatic and operational levels.

Allow to me reiterate the obvious: counterterrorism measures that are not rooted in human rights and rule of law are counterproductive. Evidence of the last two decades suggests that such measures perpetuate the cycle of violence.

We remain committed to working with all Member States and UN partners to ensure the integration of human rights across all Strategy pillars and programmes.


When the 7th review began a few months ago, my Office identified a number of priority areas, including protection of civic space and the use of information and communications technologies in counter terrorism. It is essential that the Strategy is implemented with full protection of civic space, respecting the freedoms of opinion and expression, offline and online.

Digital technologies have made public participation easier and have enabled previously excluded players to access information and contribute to debates. Artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities have many beneficial applications. But the power these tools hold also brings risks that are increasingly apparent.

While emerging technologies have the potential to counter terrorism, they can be misused by terrorist groups to incite discrimination, hatred, and violence. Some States also use new technologies and platforms to undermine human rights and curb freedom of expression, sometimes under the pretext of countering terrorism.

In counter terrorism contexts, there are multiple threats to human rights in the online space -- from internet shutdowns to content removal to the blocking or taking down of websites and services; from hacking to weakening of encryption to limit privacy and freedom of expression.

Current approaches to online content governance and moderation often rely on overbroad and ambiguous definitions of terrorism and violent extremism and related terms. That leads to hasty removal or moderation processes that often lack transparency and accountability

In addition, understanding the way companies make decisions about what user content to display what to prioritize and what to take down is crucially important for people across the globe. That includes what content may be deemed by companies as violently extremist or terrorist. More transparency in relation to these practices is key.

As other business sectors, tech companies have human rights responsibilities, as detailed in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. My Office is working on guidance, which aims to support technology companies, Member States, and the entire UN system on how to ensure that artificial intelligence for counter-terrorism is applied in full compliance with human rights. The forthcoming analysis may also serve to inform policy discussions between these stakeholders on the applicable standards for the use of artificial intelligence in counter-terrorism.

Access to encryption and anonymity tools are essential for protecting the safety, security and rights of all people online, including human rights defenders and journalists. They also protect against cyberattacks by terrorists and criminals. Measures that weaken available digital security tools render communications networks more vulnerable to attack and undermine the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

The use of technology and the exchange of information play a key role in preventing terrorism but the collection, analysis and sharing of data raise important considerations on how best to protect the right to privacy, freedom of expression and ensure non- discrimination.

The UN Special Rapporteurs on contemporary forms of racism and on counter terrorism and Human Rights have highlighted how new technologies, and how they enable data collection in particular, often perpetuates old stereotypes and may have disproportionate impacts on minorities and women.

States should review their surveillance laws, policies and practices to ensure their full conformity with international human rights law, including the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination.

To conform with international human rights law, all secret surveillance systems must function under the review of an independent oversight body. Steps should be taken to ensure that effective and independent oversight regimes and practices are in place, with attention to the right of victims to an effective remedy.


Community representatives, non-governmental organizations and free media all make important contributions to the efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism—from identifying conditions conducive to the rise of terrorism and effectively addressing them to building trust through dialogue and partnerships with communities. Yet peaceful protestors, political opponents, dissenters, human rights defenders and journalists continue to be labelled as 'terrorists', and have faced harsh sanctions for engaging in activities which are protected under international human rights law. This often takes a heavy toll on women rights defenders and LGBTI people.

Ensuring that communities and civil society organizations participate in identifying peaceful and sustainable solutions will enable more effective and sustainable measures to prevent and counter terrorism, both offline and online, and without fear of retaliations. Special efforts must be devoted to ensuring that the views of women and young people are included. That will ensure decisions and policies reflect the needs of society and safeguard against some of the possible harms of counter-terrorism measures.

My Office is committed to supporting all efforts in this regard -- including to ensure the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy is implemented by the UN in line with the Secretary-General's Call to Action for Human Rights and the UN Guidance Note on the Protection and Promotion of Civic Space.

Thank you.