Photo: Amaury and Andrew Razafitrimo from Madagascar next to their deceased mother's portrait. Credit: UN - Photo: 2019

Remembering and Paying Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism

UN Chief Calls for Long-Term, Multi-Faceted Support

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – In the run-up to the second International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has underlined that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a global challenge. “It causes lasting damage to individuals, families and communities. These scars run deep, and while they may fade with time, they never disappear.” No matter how long ago an attack happened, victims continue to struggle with its legacy.

The second commemoration of  the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to Victims of Terrorism (A/RES/72/165) on August 21 will, therefore, focus on the resilience of victims and their families – how they have coped and what they have done to transform their experiences to aid healing and recovery as well as become stronger and more united against terrorism.

To observe the International Day, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and the Group of Friends of Victims of Terrorism will launch a photographic exhibition on August 21 at the UN Headquarters in New York. The exhibition, to be opened by Guterres, will feature victims’ statements and stories demonstrating their individual journey and experience of resilience. It will run until August 30.

On August 20, UNOCT and the Permanent Mission of Cameroon will co-host an event at UNHQ to launch a documentary under the Victims of Terrorism Documentary series that focuses on challenges faced by victims of Boko Haram in Cameroon.

Guterres calls 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. By listening to them, we can also learn much about how best to unite our communities against terrorism,” adds the UN chief.

At the same time, he points out that thousands show great resilience, courage and spirit. “They have forged global alliances, addressed and countered the false narratives spread by terrorists, and raised their voices against the threat of terrorism and the absence of justice.”

On its part, the UN has helped to connect and raise the voices of victims of terrorism through the activities of the UNOCT. The General Assembly’s recent adoption of a resolution on victims, and the establishment of a Group of Friends of Victims of Terrorism are further steps to ensure that the UN support is enhanced and increased, addressing all aspects of victims’ needs. The organization of the first-ever United Nations Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism in 2020 will further strengthen collective action.

While more countries are affected by terrorism today, the number of victims has largely been concentrated in a small number of UN Member States. Only few have the resources or the capacity to fulfil the medium and long-term needs required for victims to fully recover, rehabilitate and integrate back into society. Victims can only recover and cope with their trauma through long-term multi-dimensional support, including physical, psychological, social and financial, in order to heal and live with dignity.

According to Guterres, while the primary responsibility to support victims of terrorism and uphold their rights rests with Member States, the UN has an important role in supporting Member States to implement Pillar I and IV of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy through standing in solidarity and providing support to victims, capacity building assistance, establishing networks of, and offering support to, civil society organizations, particularly victims of terrorism associations, and encouraging Member States to promote, protect and respect the rights of victims.

The United Nations has in fact been working to provide resources, mobilize the international community and better address the needs of victims of terrorism.

The last three outcome resolutions of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review (A/RES/66/282, A/RES/68/276 and A/RES/72/284) have all emphasized the important role of victims in countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism as well as recognizing and upholding their human rights.

The sixth review resolution (A/RES/72/284), particularly notes that building resilience of victims and their families, through the provision of proper support and assistance immediately after an attack and in the longer-term is a major step forward in recognizing that victims who are resilient are less vulnerable to the impacts of terrorism and are able to cope, heal and recover more rapidly after an attack.

The draft resolution on the Enhancement of International Cooperation to Assist Victims of Terrorism (A/73/l.88) specifically recognizes the resilience of victims as important for the social cohesion of society and as vital partners to prevent violent extremism conducive to terrorism.

To mark the International Day, UN News travelled to Chad and the Far North region of Cameroon in West Africa earlier in the year, to interview people who have personal stories to tell about how terrorism has shattered their lives.

In 2015, the island of Ngomiron Doumou in Lake Chad was attacked by armed extremists who said they belonged to the outlawed Boko Haram group. The island is home to some 5,750 people. Up to 300 men, women and children were abducted at gunpoint by Boko Haram fighters who had travelled to the island from Nigeria.

Twenty-five-year-old Kedra Abakar is one of around 100 people who made it back to the island. He was 21 when Boko Haram invaded my island; they created confusion and fear. Many neighbours fled, but those who were unable to do so, maybe 2-300 people, were rounded up. Here his story:

“I was one of those people. We were kept under a tree and they slaughtered three of my friends in front of us. It was terrible. We were told that if we didn’t go with Boko Haram, the same would happen to us. We were very fearful.

“We were taken to Nigeria by Boko Haram. We had three duties; farming, fishing and fighting for Boko Haram. I had to fight when it was my turn. I was given a gun and told to attack a village – I was forced to do this – If I refused, they would have killed me. I did shoot my gun, but I do not know if I killed anyone.

“I spent two painful years with Boko Haram and I was not happy. I looked for an opportunity to escape but knew if I was caught, I knew I would be killed, so I was very scared. In the end, I was able to flee. I took a canoe at night time on the shore of Lake Chad. I was not able to come directly to Chad but had to travel through Cameroon.

“When I think of the time with Boko Haram, I am very unhappy. Only 100 of the 300 people who were taken, have returned to the island. Many died in the fighting and some are still there; those who believe Boko Haram is a good thing.

“My advice to other young people is to understand that Boko Haram is very bad. I tell them that they must remain in the village if they can. We were cheated by Boko Haram as we did not know any better.

“My community has welcomed me back. Whatever I needed they gave me. I hope that in the future there will be a school on the island, so people can be educated and not fall under the spell of Boko Haram.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 August 2019]

Photo: Amaury and Andrew Razafitrimo from Madagascar next to their deceased mother’s portrait. Credit: UN

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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