“Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a global challenge”, according to Secretary-General António Guterres. “It causes lasting damage to individuals, families and communities”.
The General Assembly established 21 August as the International Day to honour and support the victims and survivors of terrorism and to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law to prevent and combat terrorism.
“By listening to victims’ voices, respecting their rights & providing them with support and justice, we honor our common humanity & strengthen our resilience against terrorism.” Watch USG Voronkov's msg https://t.co/TE4AQAtYPn on 2019 Int'l victims day. #SurvivingTerrorism #UNCCT pic.twitter.com/ipgk8i0Qt1
— United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (@UN_OCT) August 21, 2019
Victims and survivors throughout the world show “great resilience, courage and spirit”, forging global alliances, addressing and countering false narratives spread by terrorists, and raising their voices against “the threat of terrorism and the absence of justice”, Mr. Guterres maintained.
He advocated for “long-term, multi-faceted support to victims and survivors of terrorism”, including through partnerships with governments and civil society, “so that they can heal, recover, rebuild their lives and help others”.
“Supporting victims of terrorism is one way in which we live up to our responsibility to defend their rights and our common humanity”, stressed the UN chief. “By listening to them, we can learn more about how to unite our communities against terrorism”.
Mr. Guterres asked that everyone “reflect on the lives that have been changed forever as a result of terrorism”.
“Let us commit to showing victims that they are not alone, and that the international community stands in solidarity with them, wherever they may be”, concluded the Secretary-General. “In their call for healing and justice, they speak for all of us”.
At the launch of a commemorative photo exhibition at UN Headquarters in New York, the UN chief said the threat of terrorism and violent extremism is “among our most complex challenges”.
He painted a picture of “horrific attacks” in Kabul, Cairo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and other locations around the Lake Chad Basin and around the world.
“Many innocent lives have been tragically cut short” by these “ruthless atrocities”, he lamented.
Earlier this year, Mr. Guterres met with survivors of terrorist attacks whose “courage and resilience” moved him.
“Their message was clear and simple”, he said “Let us turn these harrowing experiences into powerful and positive forces for change”.
No country remains ‘unscathed or unscarred’
“Recent terrorist attacks have driven home the terrible truth that no society, no country remains unscathed or unscarred“ said @YuryFedotov in his opening remarks of the #SurvivingTerrorism Day event @UN_Vienna. pic.twitter.com/44yzTPcIAw
— UN Office on Drugs & Crime (@UNODC) August 21, 2019
Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), underscored that “too many people continue to lose their lives to terrorism, and families and communities continue to suffer”.
“Recent terrorist attacks around the world have driven home the terrible truth that no society, no country remains unscathed or unscarred”, he asserted.
Flagging that his office works to do “everything we can to keep such tragedies from occurring again”, Mr. Fedotov underscored: “Our partners are first and foremost the victims and survivors of terrorism themselves, and UNODC is dedicated to empowering all those affected by this crime to take action”.
And yet, victims and survivors often face challenges in seeking justice, including difficulties accessing information before, during and after the criminal process, as well as a lack of appropriate gender- and age-sensitive mechanisms or coordination to provide longer-term medical, financial and psychosocial support.
“Governments must do more to advance victim-centred, rights-based criminal justice approaches as part of comprehensive counter-terrorism frameworks that address all aspects of victims’ needs even as they hold perpetrators to account”, the Executive Director stated.
Noting that women are “often targeted by terrorists”, he mentioned UNODC’s handbook on Gender Dimensions of Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism, which promotes gender-sensitive measures in governments and addresses specific challenges, “including stigma and discrimination”.
“We need the active participation and leadership of women if we want to strengthen terrorism prevention and response”, he said. “The voices of all victims and survivors of terrorism are crucial in countering terrorism and preventing future attacks”.
Embassy attack in Nairobi
Some courageous survivors of terror attacks took part in the event, speaking out against hatred and sharing their experiences.
With a four-month-old son, Sarah Tikolo from Kenya, became a widow at the age of 21, on 7 August 1998, when her husband Geoffrey was killed in the United States Embassy attack in Nairobi.
“I have lived with the pain of this for many years and it has been hard,” she acknowledged. But recently she decided that to help herself and her son, she needed to forgive, as “the only way…to move forward”.
Holding on to the bitterness and anger was doing her “more harm” both “physically and emotionally”, she added.
She now works for the US Embassy, adding she was grateful to have a way to support her son’s university studies. “I couldn’t be more proud of him and what he has achieved”, she told the audience at UN Headquarters in New York.
London terror attacks survivor
Thelma Stober, of the United Kingdom, suffered “significant and permanent injuries”, including the loss of a limb and damage to her internal organs, as a result of the 7 July 2005 terror attacks in London, during which 52 mostly-commuters died on their way to work, and hundreds were injured.
“Having been fortunate to survive this atrocity, resilience for me has been the unrelenting determination, fortitude and drive to achieve my ‘purpose’, which is to use my experience to make a positive difference, to the lives of victims and survivors of terrorism and other crimes”, she said.
She pointed out that much has been written about supporting victims of terrorism, but asked: “Who monitors to ensure effective, fair, transparent and equal implementation? Who holds Member States to account for commitments they have signed up to?”. In Ms. Stober’s view, “this is a role the UN should play”.
Meanwhile, Air Canada Flight Attendant Maureen Basnicki was on a layover in Mainz, Germany, when her “beloved husband, Ken was murdered in the 9/11 attacks in 2001”.
Many things have helped Thelma to cope with Ken’s death over the past 18 years, she said, including “working tirelessly to advocate for victims of violent crime and terrorism”.
She called on the UN “to mandate and strongly recommend that cross border victims…are fully supported by their home country, and to ensure that this support is available not just in the beginning, but also for the long-term”.
“It takes a second to shatter someone’s life forever, it takes the rest of a lifetime to rebuild it”, she argued. “All global victims of any type of terrorism need your support”.