8 February 2005

Terrorism Threat to All Civilized Countries, Anathema to All Faiths, Says Secretary-General in Message to Riyadh Counter-Terrorism Conference

NEW YORK, 7 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the International Counter-Terrorism Conference in Riyadh, 5 to 8 February, delivered by Javier Rupérez, Executive Director, Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate:

I thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for convening this important gathering of representatives from the Islamic and non-Islamic world alike, to discuss the threat of terrorism and how our world should fight it.  By meeting here in the cradle of Islam, which has itself recently fallen victim to horrendous acts of terrorist violence, you send out a powerful message:  terrorism is a threat to all civilized countries, and anathema to all faiths.

All States must make clear that no cause whatsoever justifies the targeting of civilians and non-combatants.  For Islamic countries, this is doubly important.  Not only is it a necessary part of efforts to protect citizens from the kinds of atrocities we have seen here in Riyadh and many other parts of the Islamic world. It is also vital to rebut the distortion of Islam by a wicked few.  Those who wrongly claim that Islam justifies the callous murder of the innocent give this rich and ancient faith a bad name.  They also defile and tarnish legitimate causes which are dear to the hearts of many Muslims.  Governments and religious leaders throughout the Islamic world must therefore make sure that their voices of condemnation of terrorism are clearly heard both at home and abroad.

While all States have a duty to speak out, they also have a duty to hear the full range of voices within the Islamic world.  Many of those voices tell us that we cannot hope to defeat terrorism only by freezing bank accounts, sharing intelligence, or bringing individual terrorists to justice.  They tell us that the despair and anger among ordinary peace-loving people, which terrorists so shamelessly exploit, must be urgently addressed.  People must see that legitimate grievances can be addressed through peaceful means.  Their basic human freedoms must be respected by those who are combating terrorist groups.  And they must see movement towards better and fairer societies.  Otherwise, they may not join us -- as we need them to do -- in condemning and combating those who resort to violent and illegal means of redress.  Hence, every time we stand up for human rights and fundamental freedoms, we stand up against terrorism.  Every time we act to resolve political disputes, we act against terrorism.  Every time we make the rule of law stronger, we make terrorists weaker.

That is why all States need a principled strategy against terrorism that includes, but is much broader than, coercive measures.  They must act at home, and unite their strength at the global level, to address root causes and strengthen the rule of law and fundamental human rights.  The work of the United Nations to resolve conflict, fight poverty, and advance the rights and freedoms of men and women everywhere is therefore a vitally important part of global anti-terrorism efforts.  All States must also meet binding anti-terrorism obligations imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  Beyond that, I believe all States should work together to enact a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention, based on a definition of terrorism that makes clear that any targeting of civilians or non-combatants is wrong.  As the recent report of the United Nations High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change points out, these and other elements should be brought together in a comprehensive United Nations anti-terrorism strategy.  I intend to enunciate a vision for such a strategy in the near future.

Let every terrorist and terrorist group hear the same message from governments and international organizations everywhere:  We denounce your crimes.  We will work together to fight you at every turn.  And we will build a world of law and right in which terror has no appeal, and no place.

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