23 September 2003




NEW YORK, 22 September (UN Headquarters) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan made the following remarks today at a conference on “Fighting Terrorism for Humanity: A Conference on the Roots of Evil”:



Let me congratulate you, Mr. Prime Minister, and you, Elie, for organizing this unique conference on a subject of fundamental importance. Terrorism has threatened Member States of the United Nations for many years, and the Organization remains active against it on many fronts. Recently, the United Nations itself has been the target of a vicious and heartless terrorist attack, in which many irreplaceable colleagues and friends were killed. I am deeply saddened by their loss. They were some of our best.If we are to fight terrorism effectively, and avoid mistakes in doing so, we need more debate, not less, regarding possible policy responses. I hope my short remarks this morning contain some ideas that can contribute to that debate.


Terrorism is a global threat, and it can never be justified. No end can give anyone the right to kill innocent civilians. On the contrary, the use of terrorism to pursue any cause -– even a worthy one –- can only defile that cause, and thereby damage it.


While terrorism is an evil with which there can be no compromise, we must use our heads, not our hearts, in deciding our response. The rage we feel at terrorist attacks must not remove our ability to reason. If we are to defeat terrorism, it is our duty, and indeed our interest, to try to understand this deadly phenomenon, and carefully to examine what works, and what does not, in fighting it.


The experts who met in Oslo in June to contribute ideas to today’s discussion rightly pointed out that terrorists are often rational and intentional actors who develop deliberate strategies to achieve political objectives. We should not pretend that all terrorists are simply insane, or that the decision to resort to terrorism is unrelated to the political, social and economic situation in which people find themselves. But we are also mistaken if we assume, equally, that terrorists are mere products of their environment. The phenomenon is more complex than that.


We also delude ourselves if we think that military force alone can defeat terrorism. It may sometimes be necessary to use force to counter terrorist groups. But we need to do much more than that if terrorism is to be stopped.


Terrorists thrive on despair. They may gain recruits or supporters where peaceful and legitimate ways of redressing a grievance do not exist, or appear to have been exhausted. By this process, power is taken away from people and placed in the hands of small and shadowy groups.


But the fact that a few wicked men or women commit murder in its name does not make a cause any less just. Nor does it relieve us of the obligation to deal with legitimate grievance. On the contrary, terrorism will only be defeated if we act to solve the political disputes and long-standing conflicts which generate support for it. If we do not, we shall find ourselves acting as a recruiting sergeant for the very terrorists we seek to suppress.


We should also remember that, in the fight against terrorism, ideas matter. We must articulate a powerful and compelling global vision that can defeat the vivid, if extreme, visions of some terrorist groups. We must make clear, by word and deed, not only that we are fighting terrorists, but also that we are standing, indeed fighting, for something –- for peace, for resolution of conflict, for human rights and development.


Accordingly, there needs to be more on the horizon than simply winning a war against terrorism. There must be the promise of a better and fairer world, and a concrete plan to get there. For this reason, the vision of the Millennium Declaration has become more, not less, important, as has the need to take action to turn its promise into reality.


We must never, in the fight against terrorism, lower our standards to theirs. States therefore need to ensure that, in fighting terrorists, they respect the limits which international humanitarian law places on the use of force. The failure to do so can erode our shared values.


Paradoxically, terrorist groups may actually be sustained when, in responding to their outrages, governments cross the line and commit outrages themselves -– whether it is ethnic cleansing, the indiscriminate bombardment of cities, the torture of prisoners, targeted assassinations, or accepting the death of innocent civilians as “collateral damage”. These acts are not only illegal and unjustifiable. They may also be exploited by terrorists to gain new followers, and to generate cycles of violence in which they thrive.


For these reasons, and for many others, I believe that there is no trade-off to be made between human rights and terrorism. Upholding human rights is not at odds with battling terrorism: on the contrary, the moral vision of human rights –- the deep respect for the dignity of each person -– is among our most powerful weapons against it.


To compromise on the protection of human rights would hand terrorists a victory they cannot achieve on their own. The promotion and protection of human rights, as well as the strict observance of international humanitarian law, should, therefore, be at the centre of anti-terrorism strategies.


To fight terrorism, we must not only fight terrorists. We have to win hearts and minds. To do this, we should act to resolve political disputes, articulate and work towards a vision of peace and development, and promote human rights. And we can only do all this effectively if we work together, through multilateral institutions --– first and foremost, through the United Nations.


If these ideas guide us in shaping our response to terrorism, our moral position in the fight against terrorism will be assured. And we will not hand terrorists a victory, but a stinging rejection, both of their methods and their world view. Thank you very much.






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