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Saudi Arabia: Resumption of executions for drug offences ‘deeply regrettable’, UN rights office says

Spokesperson Liz Throssell said executions have been taking place almost daily over the past two weeks, following the end of a 21-month official moratorium. 

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“The resumption of executions for drug-related offences in Saudi Arabia is a deeply regrettable step, all the more so coming just days after a wide majority of States in the UN General Assembly called for a moratorium on the death penalty worldwide,” she told journalists in Geneva. 

17 executions to date 

Since 10 November, Saudi Arabia has executed 17 men for what were termed drug and contraband offences, with three taking place on Monday. 

Those executed to date were four Syrians, three Pakistanis, three Jordanians, and seven Saudis. 

As executions are only confirmed after they take place, OHCHR does not have information on how many people may be on death row in the country. 

Halt imminent execution 

However, Ms. Throssell said they have received reports that a Jordanian man, Hussein abo al-Kheir, may be at imminent risk. 

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had previously taken up his case and found that his detention lacked legal basis and was arbitrary.  The rights experts also noted grave concerns relating to his right to a fair trial. 

“We urge the Saudi Government to halt al-Kheir’s reported imminent execution and to comply with the Working Group’s opinion by quashing his death sentence, releasing him immediately and unconditionally, and by ensuring that he receives medical care, compensation and other reparations,” she said. 

Against international norms 

Ms. Throssell stressed that imposing the death penalty for drug offences is incompatible with international norms and standards.  

“We call on the Saudi authorities to adopt a formal moratorium on executions for drug-related offences, to commute death sentences for drug-related offences, and to ensure the right to a fair trial for all defendants, including those charged with such offences, in line with its international obligations,” she said. 

🇸🇦#SaudiArabia: The resumption of executions for drug-related offences is a deeply regrettable step. We call on the authorities to adopt a formal moratorium on executions for drug-related offences. https://t.co/E1mfkIvlSB
#EndDeathPenalty https://t.co/ucN4iD1yn4

UNPOL ready to tackle global peace, security and development challenges 

He outlined some of the greatest challenges to global peace, security and development, which include expanding conflicts in high population areas, expansion of transnational organized crime and violent extremism. 

The UN Peacekeeping chief also highlighted growing climate and cyber insecurity risks and greater demand for comprehensive national capacity-building and police reform, saying there was an increasing need for “unique and specific policing responses”.  

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“We must therefore work collectively to ensure the United Nations Police (UNPOL) are properly prepared, equipped and resourced to address them”, he underscored. 

Key priorities 

Mr. Lacroix outlined a strategic direction for UN policing in serving and protecting people where ‘blue helmets’ are stationed, beginning with Action for Peacekeeping, particularly in the areas prioritized within what the UN has designated as A4P+.  

This includes coherent political strategies that deploy varied resources and leverage support to influence the political direction towards stability and good governance in country’s with peacekeeping missions.  

Strengthening these synergies lies at the heart of the second priority, which is greater strategic and operational integration across missions.  

The third priority, focuses on capabilities and mindsets, aligning pre-deployment training with the mandated tasks of each Formed Police Unit within missions. 

Fourth, is to ensure the highest levels of accountability for peacekeepers, which will improve safety and security. 

UNPOL would continue to underline “zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse through enhanced pre-deployment and in-mission training” as a fifth priority, Mr. Lacroix said.  

Turning to strategic communications, the sixth priority, he said UN Police is working to amplify it presence, including through new engagement on large social media platforms such as LinkedIn, as well as community-oriented policing and awareness-raising activities.  

And finally, in line with the seventh A4P+ priority, UNPOL will continue to improve cooperation with host countries during transitions.

Women and peace 

Meanwhile, the Women, Peace and Security agenda is infused in all aspects of A4P+ and “remains the foundation for improving our overall effectiveness”, he assured the Council.  

Gender-responsive policing efforts ensure that the security needs of women, men, girls and boys are considered, including through a robust network of gender advisers and police gender focal points, the peacekeeping chief said.  

He noted that UNPOL has already achieved its gender parity targets for 2025, and that women now head five of nine police components in UN peacekeeping operations.

Following an attack in the Bandiagara region of Mali, United Nations Police (UNPOL) are patrolling the area by foot and in vehicles.
UN Photo/Gema Cortes

Following an attack in the Bandiagara region of Mali, United Nations Police (UNPOL) are patrolling the area by foot and in vehicles.

Instrument for peace 

Describing A4P+ as the UN’s vehicle to strengthen peacekeeping, Mr. Lacroix said that through it, “we are better placed to address today’s challenges to peace and security and, ultimately, to improve the lives of the people we serve’. 

In closing he expressed gratitude to the Council for its ongoing support, including its contributions of highly qualified police personnel to serve for peace with the United Nations. 


    As #UNPoliceWeek opens, I want to thank all @UNPOL officers who are #ServingForPeace in our @UNPeacekeeping missions. From strengthening the rule of law to training security institutions, they provide host states with the means to better protect their communities. #A4P https://t.co/yagVf7pkW5

    UNPOL facts 

    • From it first deployment in 1960, to its current presence in DR Congo, tens of thousands of police officers from over 130 countries have worked to protect populations, strengthen the rule of law, and build the foundations for effective and accountable policing that serve host-State populations. 

    • With a current authorized strength of 10,000 serving on the frontlines in 16 UN peace operations globally, they occupy a unique role among the world’s police forces. 

    • By helping host-States maintain law and order, protect civilians, and engage with local populations through community-oriented policing, UN Police have helped pave the way for some of the largest UN peacekeeping missions through the decades, including in Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Liberia, and Timor-Leste. 

    South Sudan 

    Via videolink, Christine Fossen, Police Commissioner for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) assured that the protection of civilians remains “at the heart of what we do” and mutually reinforces its mandate to support to the implementation of the peace agreement, build capacity with the local police, and create conditions conducive to deliver humanitarian assistance. 

    “UNMISS has largely transitioned from a Mission anchored in static protection to one that is focused on mobility and meeting protection needs where they are greatest”, she said, adding that it is working toward political engagement to, among other things, help secure free and fair elections in December 2024. 

    Moreover, UNPOL is doubling down on its protection efforts, including through participating in “whole-of-Mission efforts” through dialogue, engagement and support for political solutions to end conflicts.  

      DR Congo 

      Mody Berethe, Police Commissioner of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), asserted that UNPOL is contributing to peacekeeping mandates, including through training, managing human resources, and building investigation-related capacity. 

      The Commissioner also spoke of the benefits of capacity building to counter impunity, especially organized crime, and she said specialized police teams have garnered much community-level trust. 

      Cambodia: In visit to genocide museum, UN chief warns of the dangers of hate and persecution

      Mr. Guterres was speaking at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, memorial site of the infamous S-21 interrogation and detention centre under the bloody regime, which lasted from 1975 to 1979.

      ‘An essential reminder’

      It is estimated that up to 18,000 people from across Cambodia were brought to the facility, located in a former secondary school in the heart of the capital.  

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      Only a few survived.

      “Tuol Sleng is an essential reminder. Its bloodstained bricks and tiles are a warning to us all: This is what happens when hatred runs rampant. This is what happens when human beings are persecuted, and human rights are denied,” said Mr. Guterres.

      Forced labour and executions

      The Secretary-General was at the Museum  to pay tribute to all the victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality throughout Cambodia.

      The regime followed a radical ideology rooted in different communist beliefs and politics. Religion, traditions, and deep-rooted family relations were forbidden.

      People were forced to leave major cities to work in agricultural communes in the countryside.

      Institutions such as schools, pagodas, industries and factories were destroyed, and intellectuals, professionals and monks were killed.

      Overall, nearly two million people, roughly a quarter of the population, are thought to have died during these years of forced labour, starvation, torture and execution.

      Photographed, interrogated and killed

      People brought to Tuol Sleng were photographed and many were tortured, for example to extract false confessions that they were secret agents of the United States government. 

      Prisoners were detained, interrogated and killed, or taken to another site on the outskirts of the capital called Choeung Ek, one of the many “killing fields” where mass executions were carried out.

      Most of the rooms at Tuol Sleng have been kept in the same condition as they were when the Khmer Rouge were ousted by invading Vietnamese troops.

      “The suffering that took place within these walls is horrific and shocking. The stories of survival and resilience are moving and inspiring,” the Secretary-General remarked. 

      UN Secretary-General António Guterres views documents maintained by the Archives of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the site of the Khmer Rouge’s infamous Security Prison S-21.
      Nick Sells

      UN Secretary-General António Guterres views documents maintained by the Archives of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the site of the Khmer Rouge’s infamous Security Prison S-21.

      Pledge to never forget

      Mr. Guterres thanked the Museum for its extraordinary work to raise awareness of the atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge, as part of efforts to ensure they can never happen again.  
      He recalled that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia have held regime leaders accountable for these crimes and provided a voice to victims and survivors. 

      “Their voices are more important than ever, at a time when hate speech, abuse, discrimination and harassment are on the rise in every corner of the world,” he said.

      Uphold inclusion and dignity

      The UN chief stressed that preserving the memory of those who suffered and died at Tuol Sleng will help to prevent atrocities from being repeated. 
      “I promised to tell the story that I heard from one of the survivors to my granddaughters and I’ll tell them to convey that story to their grandchildren. It is essential that the memory of what happened here is never lost,” he said. 
      “By learning to recognize the first warning signs of genocide and other atrocity crimes, and honouring the values of inclusion and dignity, we can lay the foundations for a future in which such horrors can never happen again.”

      The Secretary-General was in Cambodia to address the latest meeting between the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), held last Friday in the capital.

      He will next head to Bali to attend the G20 summit, which begins on Tuesday.

      The UN chief travelled to the region from Egypt, host of the COP27 UN climate change conference which concludes on Friday.

      At Tuol Sleng today, I paid tribute to the victims & survivors of the atrocity crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia.

      With hate speech & discrimination on the rise in every corner of the world, remembering those who suffered is more important than ever. https://t.co/N1iqxFx6Jj

      Delivering justice for Libya not ‘Mission Impossible’, Security Council hears

      “If we are willing to forge new partnerships…look at new ways of working together…[and] coalesce around human values…we can do much better in delivering justice for the people of Libya and hopefully that will assist in a wider hope for sustainable peace”, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan told the ambassadors via video link.

      Recounting his experiences over the last few days, he stressed that “we need to do better” and be more relevant.

      Mr. Khan explained that he’d seen victims from all parts of Libya, from Benghazi to Derna, including detention victims from the Jura, Musoke and Chimera.

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      Tarhunah landfill

      He recalled a two-hour drive out of Tripoli, to a place called Tarhunah where people live in inhumane conditions and spoke of “poor souls who were executed” and farms “that became mass graves”.

      Along with deep fears, dead dogs and goats made it an “extremely difficult technical task” to clear away mounds of rubbish to find bodies “that had been thrown in as a result, it seems, of crimes within the court’s jurisdiction”.

      While applauding the courageous work of Libyan forensic experts, the ICC prosecutor noted that although 250 bodies have been recovered to date, far fewer have been identified.

      Being relevant

      At a different location, he spoke to other victims and survivors, including one man who lost 24 family members, and another 15.

      A mother gave a dignified but compelling account of what she had witnessed in “the type of heartbreak” that only a survivor can tell.

      Echoing long-held feelings concerning what the international community is doing and when the ICC will deliver justice, Mr. Khan said, “there is fatigue in Libya”.

      Noting that 2011 “is long time ago”, he acknowledged that “we need to make sure that we are seen to be relevant”.

      Partnerships pay-off

      There is fatigue in Libya – ICC Prosecutor

      Victims want the truth, they want their voices to be heard, and they want allegations to be determined by independent and impartial judges, the ICC prosecutor upheld.

      And he argued against allowing the sentiment that impunity is inevitable to become pervasive.

      Mr. Kahn said that good progress has been made on transparency and measurable objectives because of the partnerships being built.

      “For the first time since 2011, I can report a regular presence by the staff of my office in the region. In the last reporting period…there’s been 20 missions to six countries in which a variety of evidentiary material has been collected”, said Mr. Khan.

      He said that partnerships have already begun paying dividends, detailing that last month, the Joint Investigative Team allowed the transfer of three individuals from Ethiopia to the domestic courts in Italy and the Netherlands.

      “This shows the consistency…[that] the International Criminal Court is not an apex court. It is a hub and we need to work together to make sure there is less space for impunity and greater efforts. Accountability”, spelled out the ICC prosecutor.

      Karim Khan (on screen), Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), briefs the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Libya.
      UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

      Karim Khan (on screen), Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), briefs the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Libya.

      Moving forward

      “Libya is a key stakeholder. We are in Libya. This country is owned by Libya. The overwhelming crimes are against Libyans. And this partnership that we’re trying to refocus and build, and foster is absolutely pivotal if we’re to move things forward”, continued the ICC justice.

      While acknowledging that “cooperation is not perfect”, he believed that collectively, “we can move things forward”.

      “It’s really not about power. It’s not about the powerful”, underscored Mr. Khan.

      It is about those who want the very basics, to live in peace, and when they’ve suffered loss, to know what happened.

      They also need “a modicum of justice” – not as a value or idea, but rather “felt by the Libyan people”.

      Click here to watch the session in its entirety.

      📺 Watch: #ICC Prosecutor #KarimAAKhanKC addresses @UN Security Council from Tripoli on the situation in #Libya ⬇️

      Türkiye: UN experts call for end to harassment of human rights defenders

      “We have documented many cases where counter-terrorism legislation and other criminal provisions have been used to harass, arrest, detain and convict civil society actors in Türkiye, including Dr. Fincancı, on spurious grounds”, the experts said in a statement.

      Blurred charges

      On 26 October, Ms. Fincancı, who helped develop UN reference standards on the investigation and documentation of torture cases, known as the Istanbul Protocol, was arrested at her home on unclear grounds.

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      Her detainment is believed to be in retaliation for her publicly calling for investigations into the alleged use of chemical weapons and associated deaths involving the Turkish military.

      “Dr. Fincancı’s arrest appears part of a deliberate pattern of applying counter-terrorism legislation to discredit human rights defenders and organizations and interrupt their vital human rights and medical work”, they added.

      Undermining freedoms 

      These types of attacks aim to shrink safe civic space, undermine the rule of law, and encroach upon fundamental freedoms and democratic values, according to the Human Rights Council-appointed Special Rapporteurs.

      Human rights defenders and medical practitioners’ ability to speak truth to power must be protected”, underscored the independent experts, stressing that exposing human rights violations is “one of the cornerstones of democratic societies”, and that exercising rights of freedom of expression and association, are “protected rights under international human rights law”.

      “Detention pending investigation beyond an initial period of interview is an exceptional measure and must be subject to judicial authorization as to its continuing lawfulness and proportionality”, they reminded. 

      Call to Türkiye

      The Special Rapporteurs urged the Turkish authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release Ms. Fincancı as well as other civil society actors detained for politically motivated purposes.

      They also advocated for access to fundamental safeguards and the protection of defenders mental and physical integrity – both in and outside of detention.

      Fulfilling obligations

      Since 1988, Türkiye has been a party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

      After ratifying, States parties are obliged take all measures to prevent torture and similar ill-treatment or punishment, and to investigate and prosecute related crimes.

      Threats of arrest and imprisonment and judicial intimidation cause high levels of distress and anxiety, which could amount to psychological inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, in violation of international law.

      And in 2003, Türkiye ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention.

      Call to take action

      The UN experts have expressed their views on this case with the Government of Türkiye and requested the authorities to immediately take interim measures to protect the mental and physical integrity of Dr. Fincancı and to end the judicial harassment of those who defend the rights of others.

      Special Rapporteurs are mandated to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work. 

      Click here for the names of the Special Rapporteurs who have signed the statement.

      🇹🇷#Türkiye: UN experts call for the immediate release of anti-torture expert Sebnem Korur Fincancı, & urge authorities to stop using counter-terrorism legislation to intimidate human rights defenders.

      👉https://t.co/8HKMRhNZgA https://t.co/se05787QvS

      Intimidated, jailed, abused: Threats against journalists harm us all, warns UN chief

      This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.   

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      The Secretary-General underscored the importance of a free press, which he said is vital to a functioning democracy, exposing wrongdoing, navigating our complex world, and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the blueprint for a more just, equitable and greener future. 

      “On this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, let us honour our media workers, and stand up for truth, justice and human rights for all,” he said. 

      Unsolved murders 

      Despite their critical role, more than 70 journalists have been killed this year alone. 

      “Most of these crimes go unsolved. Meanwhile, a record number of journalists are incarcerated today, while threats of imprisonment, violence, and death keep growing,” said Mr. Guterres. 

      Furthermore, a surge in disinformation, online bullying and hate speech, particularly against women journalists, is contributing to the stifling of media workers around the globe. 

      “Intimidation through the abuse of legal, financial and other means, is undermining efforts to hold the powerful accountable. These trends threaten not only journalists, but society as a whole,” he added. 

      Patricia Monreal Vázquez has been a journalist since 1996.
      UNIC Mexico/Antonio Nieto

      Patricia Monreal Vázquez has been a journalist since 1996.

      Mexico: Violence and silence 

      Mexico is among the most dangerous places to be a journalist. 

      Eighteen have been murdered so far this year, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which maintains an online database on judicial enquiries into journalist killings worldwide. 

      Patricia Monreal Vázquez has been reporting for more than 25 years, and covers issues related to human rights, gender, and electoral and political issues. She is based in Morelia, capital of the western state of Michoacán. 

      Ms. Monreal said violence against journalists has worsened since 2006, which is when the first cases of journalist disappearances began. 

      “And this began to discourage, to silence, to generate self-censorship in the media,” she said.  ” A total of 14 colleagues were murdered from 2006 to date and six are missing.  And nobody has been detained here in Michoacán in any of these cases, except for one.” 

      ‘Even death is not enough’ 

      She believes that this situation, together with adverse working conditions and the lack of development opportunities, have affected the quality of journalism because survival comes first.  

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      “Yes, there is an inhibiting effect, especially at the regional level, and media outlets are being closed due to threats,” said Ms. Monreal. 

      “It is a very complex situation because it involves families,” she continued, citing the 2017 kidnapping and murder of Salvador Adame, director of a local TV station, as an example. 

      “He had already been buried, and still the following year his family was expelled from their home. Even death is not enough.” 

      Groundbreaking action plan 

      A decade ago, countries endorsed the UN action plan which aims to protect journalists, prevent crimes against them, and pursue their perpetrators.  

      “This groundbreaking document was adopted to acknowledge the vital work journalists do – for example when they report on conflicts and crises, or when they inquire into the workings of power and investigate corruption and other forms of injustice – as well as the risks they face when doing this,” said Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General. 

      Much progress has been made since the plan’s adoption, she reported, with concrete measures implemented at the national, regional and global levels.   

      UNESCO has also played a part, including through training nearly 36,000 judicial, law enforcement and security officials on issues such as freedom of expression and the security of journalists, including online. 

      However, “journalists continue to be killed at an alarming rate”, said Ms. Azoulay.  UNESCO data reveals that 955 journalists have lost their lives over the past decade, and 2022 has been the deadliest year since 2018. 

      In war and peace 

      Ms. Azoulay called for renewed commitment to protecting journalists everywhere, and at all times

      “This means in situations of conflict and crisis, of course, and UNESCO is supporting journalists in Ukraine and Afghanistan, for instance.  It also means in times of peace – for that is when most journalists have been killed in recent years,” she said. 

      The UNESCO chief further called for stepping up efforts online, where new forms of violence have surfaced, especially targeting women, with three in four women journalists having experienced online harassment. 


      A surge in disinformation, online bullying & hate speech – particularly against women journalists – is impeding the work of the media.

      Governments must do more to protect journalists & stand up for truth, justice & human rights.

      Some journalists never return home or to their newsroom after covering a story.

      Today we are making this reality visible to society.

      2 November is the International Day to #EndImpunity for Crimes against Journalists.

      https://t.co/MPbxNE3Sox #MakeImpunityVisible https://t.co/FuhZkwR4Jo

      Afghanistan: Opium cultivation up nearly a third, warns UNODC

      Opium cultivation in Afghanistan – latest findings and emerging threats, is the first report on the illicit opium trade since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021.

      The authorities banned all cultivation of opium poppy and all narcotics under strict new laws, in April 2022.

      Opium is the essential ingredient for manufacturing the street drug heroin, and the class of medical prescription opioids which millions rely on for pain medication worldwide. Opioids have also been increasingly abused, causing widespread addiction issues in countries such as the United States.

      This year’s harvest was largely exempted from the decree, said UNODC, and farmers in Afghanistan must now decide on planting opium poppy for next year amid continued uncertainty about how the Taliban will enforce the ban.

      Sowing of the main 2023 opium crop must be done by early November this year.

      Opiate limbo

      “Afghan farmers are trapped in the illicit opiate economy, while seizure events around Afghanistan suggest that opiate trafficking continues unabated,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly, launching the new survey.

      “The international community must work to address the acute needs of the Afghan people, and to step up responses to stop the criminal groups trafficking heroin and harming people in countries around the world.”

      According to UNODC findings, cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan increased by 32 per cent over the previous year, to 233,000 hectares – making the 2022 crop the third largest area under cultivation since monitoring began.

      Opium harvest in a poppy field in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. Raw opium is cooked before being suitable for smoking. Photo: IRIN/Manoocher Deghati
      Photo: IRIN/Manoocher Deghati

      Opium harvest in a poppy field in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. Raw opium is cooked before being suitable for smoking. Photo: IRIN/Manoocher Deghati

      Hub in Helmand

      Cultivation continued to be concentrated in the southwestern parts of the country, which accounted for 73 per cent of the total area, and registering the largest crop increase.

      In Helmand province, one-fifth of all arable land was dedicated to opium poppy cultivation.

      Income triples

      Opium prices have soared following the announcement of the cultivation ban in April. Income made by Afghan farmers from opium sales more than tripled, from $425 million in 2021 to $1.4 billion in 2022.

      The new figure is equivalent to 29 per cent of the entire 2021 value of the agricultural sector. In 2021, the farm-gate value of opiates was only worth some nine per cent of the previous year’s agricultural output.

      However, the increase in income did not necessarily translate into purchasing power, the UNDP survey notes, as inflation has soared during the same period, with the price of food increasing by 35 percent on average.

      Yields down

      Following a drought at the start of this year, opium yields declined from an average of 38.5 kilogrammes per hectare (kg/ha), in 2021, to an estimated 26.7 kg/ha this year, resulting in a harvest of 6,200 tons – 10 per cent smaller than in 2021.

      The 2022 harvest can be converted into 350-380 tons of heroin of export quality, said UNDP, at 50-70 per cent purity.

      Traffickers plough on

      Seizure events collected by UNODC´s Drugs Monitoring Platform suggest that opiate trafficking from Afghanistan has been ongoing without interruption since August 2021. Afghan opiates supply some 80 per cent of all opiate users in the world.

      UN counter-terrorism body backs innovations to fight digital terror

      Ahead of the two-day meeting, the Committee Chair, Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj of India, spoke to UN News about how terrorists are exploiting social media, mobile payment systems, 3D printing, and other technological developments. 

      Highlighting the impact on society, she said their “easy accessibility, affordability and almost universal outreach, have unlocked an immense opportunity for mankind, while also exposing vulnerable users to actors with nefarious agendas.” 

      Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj of India and Chair of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, briefs journalists at a press conference.
      UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

      Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj of India and Chair of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, briefs journalists at a press conference.

      Spreading terrorist propaganda 

      Ms. Kamboj explained how “the rampant use of social media for terrorist purposes to spread terrorist propaganda”, was particularly exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

      Terrorist groups took advantage of young people’s increased presence online during the crisis “to spread their propaganda and distorted narratives to recruit and raise funds for terrorist purposes,” she said. 

      Beyond the Internet and social media, other innovations that benefit society – such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and synthetic biology – are also sparking concerns because they can potentially be used for terrorist aims. 

      Attacks involving unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), such as drones, are now being reported in many conflict zones, further complicating their legitimate use. 

      Two sides of the same coin 

      Ms. Kamboj expects that at the meeting, UN Member States and experts from the private sector, academia, and civil society, will discuss best practices to “share information to detect and prevent acts of terrorism, bring perpetrators to justice, and to support victims of terrorism.” 

      This interview has been edited and condensed for publication. 

      UN News: What inspired the theme for this special meeting? Are there any figures showing the increased use of new technologies by certain groups, or were there any specific incidents that sounded the alarm over the relevance of these new methods? 

      Ruchira Kamboj: The use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes is an issue of increasing concern. Member States already face a significant and growing threat from the exploitation of the Internet and social media platforms to facilitate a wide range of terrorist activities.  

      Terrorists are taking advantage of online spaces to build networks, procure weapons and garner logistical and financial support. 

      Further issues of concern are the use of emerging payment methods – such as pre-paid cards and mobile payments, or virtual assets and online funding methods such as crowdfunding platforms – for terrorist purposes. There is also the potential for use of emerging technologies to include unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology, self-driving cars, and 3D printing, to further terrorist aims. 

      We have to remember, of course, that technology is used for good. Many of the technologies I just mentioned are also incredibly useful tools and communication services used by a large percentage of the global population.  

      The Security Council has focused attention on addressing new technologies in a number of counter-terrorism resolutions focused on law enforcement and border control, aviation security, and the protection of critical infrastructure and soft targets. 

      The Council’s most recent resolution on counter-terrorism, Resolution 2617 of December 2021, specifically refers to other emerging technologies, giving notice to the increasing threat posed by their use for terrorist purposes. In this resolution, the Council notes with concern the increasing global misuse of UAS by terrorists to conduct attacks and acknowledges the need to balance fostering innovation and preventing misuse of use as its applications expand. 

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      UN News: What are the main results that the meeting hopes to achieve? 

      Ruchira Kamboj: The special meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss how new technologies are currently exploited for terrorist purposes, as well as how the terrorist threat from this exploitation is likely to evolve and grow as new technologies are developed and taken up by all kinds of users. 

      The discussions would additionally focus on ways in which States and other relevant actors can strengthen their engagement and cooperation with each other in countering the use of new and emerging technology for terrorist purposes, including the financing of terrorism. 

      As ever, when examining terrorism and counter-terrorism responses, human rights and gender dimensions are crucial components of the conversation. 

      A key result is to understand how States are responding to these evolving threats in a manner that complies with their human rights obligations, and to encourage all our partners to ensure that human rights are respected as we seek to keep pace with ever-evolving technologies. 

      UN News: What are the Committee’s main recommendations for Member States to assess the issue of new tech and terrorism? 

      Ruchira Kamboj: The use of new and emerging technologies to prevent and counter terrorist activities can be a very effective and powerful tool if employed while fully respecting international human rights law. The purpose of the meeting is to learn from the experience of Member States how to strike the right balance. 

      UN News: Will discussions also examine how other sectors, such as financial markets and private companies, can take action to mitigate the issue? 

      Ruchira Kamboj: The answer to that is a ‘yes’. The special meeting will provide an opportunity for participants to focus on what steps could be taken to further develop and utilize public-private partnerships, explore safety by designing good practices, and create oversight, transparency and accountability mechanisms. 

      We are especially looking to hear from our private sector, academia, and civil society partners what initiatives they are working on in this regard. 

      Private sector actors as well as Member States have also increased the use of digital technologies to identify, prevent and halt the financing of terrorism via online methods.  When used responsibly and consistent with international law, technology can facilitate data collection, processing and analysis, and help actors identify and manage terrorist financing risks more effectively and closer to real time. 

      The practices of data pooling and collaborative analytics can help financial institutions better understand, assist and mitigate money laundering and terrorism financing risks. There are also a number of positive uses for UAS to counter the movement of terrorists across borders, thwart terrorist operations, and secure public spaces and major events. 

      There are also a number of technologies being deployed to prevent UAS from being used for terrorist purposes. 

      UN News: Considering the assessments done by the Committee, what are the most harmful impacts on civilians of the use of these new methods, especially with regard to social media? 

      Ruchira Kamboj: Easy accessibility, affordability, and almost universal outreach of new and emerging technologies, on the one hand, have unlocked immense opportunities for mankind, while on the other hand has also brought them together in a close-knit environment, particularly exposing vulnerable users to actors with nefarious agendas.  

      For example, during the pandemic, the heightened online presence of youth has been exploited by terrorist groups to spread their propaganda and distorted narratives to recruit and raise funds for terrorist purposes. 

      We have seen rampant use of social media for terrorist purposes to spread terrorist propaganda. So, the easy access, availability, affordability, and universality of new and emerging technologies have impacted every section of society. 

      On the other hand, extensive application of counter-terrorism measures has also raised serious concerns. 

      Experience has shown that indiscriminate use of technologies to counter terrorism can alienate populations and negatively affect violent extremism and counter-terrorism efforts. The UN consistently promotes a holistic, all-of-society and comprehensive approach to address the many challenges that arise around countering terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism online. Civil society organizations, academia and private sector entities have important roles to play in this regard. 

      UN News: Given the current scenario, is the Committee optimistic that the Security Council will reach a final agreement?  

      Ruchira Kamboj: Well, there is not necessarily any final agreement to be reached when it comes to preventing the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes. 

      Given the trajectory of technological development driven by science, curiosity, profit and users, there is no obvious end in sight to what could be created. And that means there is no predictable end stage for what we do on the evolving terrorist landscape as any technology has the potential to be misused.  

      Each member of the Security Council and its Counter-Terrorism Committee is committed to an approach to countering terrorism that respects the rule of law in compliance with their obligations under international law. 

      And to that end, the Committee and the Council remain seized of the issue and will continue to operate to fulfill the mandates as given under the various Security Council resolutions on counter-terrorism. 

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      Horrific Thailand nursery attack prompts swift international condemnation

      More than 35 people have been killed, according to news reports, many of them children, said the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

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      “UNICEF condemns all forms of violence against children. No child should be a target or witness of violence anywhere, anytime”, said a statement released by the agency.

      According to the authorities, the attacker – reportedly a former police officer – killed himself after targeting people with a gun and knife at a centre in Nong Bua Lamphu province.

      He reportedly fled the scene, after shooting and stabbing his victims, before killing himself and his family, following a major police operation to hunt down the attacker.

      ‘Learning spaces must be safe havens’

      In its statement, UNICEF said that early childhood development centres, schools and all learning spaces “must be safe havens” for youngsters to learn, play and grow.

      The UN agency sent messages of sympathy to the families of the victims and issued an appeal for people to refrain from posting or forwarding images and videos of the attack, “as this may further negatively impact children, victims’ families, and their loved ones.”

      UNICEF chief, Catherine Russell, said in tweet that “we grieve with the families who have lost loved ones in this senseless attack.”

      Attack on education itself

      The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, also issued its deepest condolences to the families of the victims.

      “Attacks on schools, students and educators, are attacks on rights to education”, the agency tweeted. “No-one should be a target.”

      UNICEF is saddened and shocked by the tragic shooting incident at an early childhood development centre in Thailand’s northern province of NongBuaLamphu. UNICEF condemns all forms of violence against children. No child should be a target or witness of violence anywhere, anytime. https://t.co/Vw41DxnZa5

      Nearly half of world’s terror victims are African, with organised crime increasingly entrenched

      UNODC chief Ghada Waly said there were around 3,500 victims of terrorist acts in sub-Saharan Africa last year, nearly half of those recorded worldwide.

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      The vast Sahel region in particular has become home to some of the most active and deadly terrorist groups, and it is essential to gain more understanding of the links between organised crime and terrorism, through rigorous data collection, she added.

      The evidence is there that the illegal exploitation of precious metals and minerals such as gold, silver and diamonds, are fuelling the extremists with significant sources of income, and benefitting the groups that control extraction, and trafficking routes.

      She said based on UNODC research, “we have established that illegally mined gold and other precious metals are being fed into the legitimate market, providing huge profits for traffickers.”

      Wildlife trafficking has also been reported as a possible source of funding for militias, she added, with the illegal trade in ivory alone generating $400 million in illicit income each year.

      Millions exploited

      With a population of around 1.3 billion, almost 500 million Africans were living in extreme poverty during 2021, she told ambassadors.

      “This criminal exploitation strips the people of Africa of a significant source of revenue. It robs the millions of people who depend on these natural resources for their livelihoods. And it fuels conflicts and exacerbates instability.”

      The climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic have also wreaked havoc on already fragile economies across Africa, and illicit trafficking only serves to further jeopardize development and wind back progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

      She said sustainable development would be impossible without peace and stability for the continent, noting that UNODC is “the guardian” of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the main international bulwark against the black marketeers.

      Battling the networks

      “We support member countries to put in place the policies, legislation, and operational responses required to better address terrorist threats…In 2021 alone, we implemented 25 counter-terrorism projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, with over 160 activities delivered, and trained 2,500 people.”

      She told the meeting that in the Sahel today, the UN training workshops are being organized with The UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, to strengthen the understanding and skills of criminal justice officials to work across agencies, share intelligence, and “bring down terrorist networks and those who fund them.”

      UNODC also supports ten countries across the Sub-Saharan region to improve their frameworks to counter terrorist financing and money laundering – including in the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger, and Somalia.

      Ms. Waly said UNODC was also working to strengthen inter-agency coordination among intelligence services, law enforcement, financial intelligence units and prosecutors.

      She said that conflict zones in Africa were being disproportionately affected by illegal mining and trafficking in precious metals.

      Mineral supply chains are often linked to child abuse, human trafficking, forced labour and other human rights violations. With 60 percent of Africa’s population under 25 years of age, young people are both the future of the continent but also its most vulnerable citizens.”

      But she said once empowered, young people can become powerful change agents: “They can create a better future and advocate on behalf of themselves and their communities and protect their natural resources.”

      Empowering youth

      Ms. Waly said she was especially proud of UNODC’s youth-driven, Peace-building project, which in partnership with UNESCO, empowers young people to become ‘weavers of peace’ in the cross-border regions of Gabon, Cameroon, and Chad.

      The aim, she said, was to create a network of 1,800 young “weavers of peace”. To enable them to become actors in conflict prevention and peace-building in cross-border regions, and identify alternative ways of making a living for those in vulnerable cross-border communities.

      Defund the terrorists

      UNODC remains fully engaged to support Africa’s fight against the criminal trade in wildlife and natural resources”, she assured ambassadors, adding that she welcomed the engagement of the Council, “to the growing concerns that these illicit revenues are financing terrorist activities and armed groups.”

      She said the UN’s crime fighting effort was ready to assist all African in securing their “right to peace, stability, justice and prosperity – for today and future generations. Leaving no money for terrorists. Leaving no one behind.”

      Grateful to brief the Security Council on @UNODC work to fight against terrorist and armed groups that seek to destabilize Africa and take advantage of the continent’s natural resources. https://t.co/onTmkiwjc4

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