NGOs and Terrorism

New York Times article on terrorism. (Susan NYC/Flickr)

New York: March 26, 2002

As you all know, UNDP is the development arm of the United Nations. Our goal is to try to alleviate poverty and promote good governments around the world. Unfortunately, terrorism undermines both of these efforts because it's not only the poverty that breeds conditions that might lead to terrorism but it's also the focus of state governments. States with international relationships that most conform to the goals and principles of the UN charter are the least likely to be states affected by terrorism. And this is a big issue not only for UNDP but certainly for all of the NGO's that are trying to deal with people who are caught in countries which do not have these kinds of institutions. Unfortunately, by using violence and fear as a political tool we too often find that terrorists are undermining the legitimate authority of governments as they try to influence the citizens with their own ideological and political values.

Since 1963, the United Nations has developed twelve different international conventions and protocols that deal specifically with terrorism issues. These protocols work to develop earning warning systems of where there may be likely points of terrorism. Across the board the UN has been very much involved in trying to promote democratic governments and to provide advocacy and public dialogue as well as strength in the rule of law and justice.

Terrorism though is now a homegrown phenomenon in numerous developing countries. And without a minimum of security, development cannot take hold. Without the kind of security framework that we think needs to be addressed frontally most foreign investments are not possible. Foreign presence of the systems workers is not possible. And we often see that the conflicts that arise from disaffected populations have a spin-off effect not only within that country but the neighboring countries.

But I want to say that a lot of tension has been paid recently to the issues of poverty as being the single most important factor in creating a disaffected societies leading ultimately to terrorism. We believe poverty is a contributing factor and surely one that is an indicator of other problems going on in that country. But poverty alone is not the only determining factor. In fact, it really is the failure of governments and the lack of communications in society and their leaders. And this is where the NGO's come in and are the most credible in trying to find ways to work with us and with others to try to promote this dialogue with the civil society and government. In our view, we do a lot to try to promote different kinds of civil dialogues with the militaries in some of these countries and in the judicial and the corrections and the police units to try to make sure that they know that there are constituencies out there they've got to talk to.

And throughout all the membership it was a real team effort to try to make sure that the international NGO's were partnering with local indigenous NGO's to give them a sense of ownership. And the NGO's are very much involved in the advocacy of poverty alleviation and trying to protect people through their advocacy and their services. I remind us that on all of the issues that relate to terrorism in one way or another whether it's poverty, denial of human rights, intolerance, lack of access to services and the social benefits of society it is the NGO's on the ground that are making the difference every single day.

But the themes are so interrelated that the political environment gets infected. So I encourage us at the UN constantly to say well, who is the civil society out there and what are we doing with them? How are we being partners with them? And what we're trying to do for human security particularly in UNDP is about development but it's most about human security. How do you provide an environment in which people can safely live? And we do mine action, land mine removal, small arms removal and concern about the efficacy of the environment is very much a human security issue. We also do a lot in judicial reform and civilian police reform.

But the kind of judicial and police issues that UNDP deals with is what kind of training do police need to have in the treatment of civilians, in the treatment of women and in the treatment of corrections in corrections facilities. How do you make sure that it is humane and equitable and that there's a rule of law applied? That's what we work on. We also work on a lot of economic reform efforts. The biggest challenge right now is Afghanistan. But, in fact, our collective response to Afghanistan has been the combination of a lot of lessons learned from other post conflict situations.

Basically we're focusing on governance. How the Afghan Interim Administration will be able to better serve its people. How does the international community prevent the further disintegration of Afghanistan. How can we make sure that the new government has laws that are equitable? How do the international community and government deal with community security? How do we help the government have a peace dividend for the people of Afghanistan who have lived 23 years in war?

And there's a whole generation of kids who've never known peace. I know all of you celebrated as we all did on March 23rd when the schools actually opened and the girls and boys began going back to school for the first time in many years. Some went to school for the first time in their lives. This is the kind of peace dividend that will limit the breeding ground for terrorism and help to make sure that this new government is able to still continue to serve the people. For all of us, especially for Afghanistan, the stakes are very high. But what happens with the Afghanistans of tomorrow? I think we have to be very cautious that as we look at terrorism that we don't just do a fix in one place and ignore the conditions in other countries.

We are committed as the UN trying to deal with this. But in fact the UN is just its member of governments. We must always remind the donors that "we are they" and "they are we." But it's, in fact, the citizens of those donor and recipient countries are really key. NGO's as advocates must be vigilante regarding human rights issues. It is the NGO's who must be able to raise the flag when they see inequities. And NGO's provide key assistance services when there's no other vehicle for doing it on behalf of the disaffected. That is really the key. And I think we have a lot to learn from and do together with the NGO world, not only the international NGO's, we must also foster better relationships with indigenous NGO's. We look very much forward to this journey that we all have to take together.

After September 11th, I don't think any of us can say that we are truly free from terrorism unless our neighbors are free from terrorism. And the only way we can deal with the threat of terrorism is by understanding and working together and having partnerships because this is going to be a very long road we all have to travel together. And I think so far everybody's got the spirit and the dynamism and are working very hard.

But when I think of other Afghanistans it does give me pause. Because we need to make sure we are all focused on this for the long run all over the world. I am here to assure you that the UN's trying to do its part. Our role with you is not just about Afghanistan, it's not just terrorism, it has to with promoting civil society, it has to do with human rights, and it has to do with how people are treated in their government. I look forward to hearing the panelists' perceptions of what we ought to do together to strengthen civil society in these difficult times. Thank you very much.