On August 21, 2018, the UN commemorated the first ever International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to Victims of Terrorism.
The day was established by way of the UN General Assembly Resolution adopted on December 19, 2017. It is meant to be used to “honour and support the victims and survivors of terrorism and to promote and protect the full enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.” As UN Secretary-General, António Guterres said about the idea behind the day:
We must lift up the voices of victims and survivors of terrorist attacks, who consistently call for accountability and results. When we respect the human rights of victims and provide them with support and information, we reduce the lasting damage done by terrorists to individuals, communities and societies.
Indeed, recent years have witnessed an increase in terrorist acts all over the world. Increasingly, terrorist acts are organized and systematic and are perpetrated by terrorist groups that are prominent internationally. Terrorist groups like Daesh in the Middle East and North Africa and Boko Haram in West Africa have become the biggest threat to international peace and security—a threat that states and international institutions have not yet adequately addressed. According to the UN, in 2017, close to three-quarters of all deaths caused by terrorism occurred in five countries only: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria. Nonetheless, these atrocities have an adverse effect on global peace and security and the enjoyment of human rights by people in different parts of the world. As António Guterres indicated: “Terrorism is one of the most challenging issues of our time and a serious threat to international peace and security. From Tajikistan to the United Kingdom, from Baghdad to Barcelona, these ruthless attacks have shaken us all to the core. No country can consider itself immune, with almost every nationality in the world falling victim to terrorist attacks.” Indeed, for example, Daesh has claimed responsibility for terror attacks which have occurred outside the regions that it controlled, including in Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, the US and many more. Similarly, Boko Haram has been active outside of Nigeria.
The resolution recognised that “effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are not conflicting goals, but complementary and mutually reinforcing, and stressing the need to promote and protect the rights of victims of terrorism.” In order to stand in solidarity with the victims of terrorism, the UN has also launched a UN Victims of Terrorism Support Portal. It is dedicated to assisting those who have been subjected to terrorist attacks by providing relevant information. The Support Portal incorporates information from states about government assistance, legal resources and collaborations with other organisations available to victims. As of August 2018, 31 states provided this information which is now easily accessible via the Support Portal. The Support Portal also provides a directory of all organisations (civil society, governmental and inter-governmental organisations) that offer practical support to victims of torture. The assistance offered by the organisations varies from actor to actor. However, all of the information or practical assistance (including rehabilitation and redress) constitutes an important aid in the fight to restore the various aspects of human dignity of the victims.
Nonetheless, it has to be emphasized that the UN’s annual day of remembrance and any other assistance it provides to victims can only complement the counter-terrorism efforts of domestic or international institutions. Indeed, preventing terrorism has been, and remains, a priority for many states. Yet challenges remain that such strategies have not been able to address. Similarly, many states have been failing to ensure that the perpetrators of terror offences are brought to justice, both in the countries where the acts are perpetrated or in the countries where the perpetrators currently reside. This is of particular concern in the case of Daesh, whose fighters have been roaming the world without restriction, whether in their home countries or as refugees. If we have the needs of victims and survivors of terrorism at heart, we must ensure that, apart from providing them with the practical assistance they require, the perpetrators are brought to justice for their atrocities. Ultimately, any other assistance means little if the survivors have to live in fear that they may one day, have to face their perpetrators on the street.