The people of South Asia have more that binds them together than tears them apart: rich histories, vibrant cultures, the desire to build a better future for themselves and their loved ones. They are united in their humanity and their quest for a peaceful life. But terrorists defy these shared values.
South Asia has unfortunately suffered greatly over the years at the hands of terrorist groups espousing a wide variety of ideologies, whose actions cannot be defended.
The United Nations condemns terrorism in all its forms, regardless of its purpose and wherever it is committed. No cause can justify the murder of innocent people. The organisation has made it clear that acts of terrorism are “criminal and unjustifiable” and has spelled out how states should deal with this threat to international peace and security.
In a broad and strong resolution adopted in September 2001, the United Nations Security Council required all Member States of the United Nations to take measures against terrorism. The key objectives were to go after the money, weapons and people needed for such criminal purposes.
Both the Security Council and the General Assembly have since then stressed the importance of taking preventive measures and addressing the conditions that can give rise to terrorism as well as conducting all counter-terrorism in a manner that respects the rule of law and human rights.
We understand this is easier said than done, and that is why the United Nations family, including the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), which I head, provides guidance and assists in developing the capacity of States in their efforts to deal with this pervasive issue.
For governments in South Asia and other regions of the world, the task can appear daunting. Yet the countries of South Asia have been at the forefront when it comes to recognising and tackling the problem. They have responded to the threat of terrorism with energy and determination, creating solutions and good practices from which those in other regions can learn.
The countries of South Asia have long recognised that terrorism cannot be defeated without cooperation. As early as 1987, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) adopted its Regional Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, calling on its members to cooperate more by exchanging information, intelligence and expertise. The legal framework now includes treaties on the financing of terrorism and mutual legal assistance.
As simplistic as it may sound, it is vital that national and regional authorities work together. Three of several groups that need to do so, even across borders, are police officers, prosecutors and judges. Without them, there can be no investigations, arrests, trials or convictions. Justice would never be served.
Over the past decade, we at the United Nations have noted that states have taken various approaches to reduce the chance of terrorist attacks succeeding. One strategy that has worked extremely well and has turned out to be critical involves improving exchange of information between countries.
CTED has focused its attention on creating opportunities for such interaction. One of our main activities has been to organise regional and global workshops dealing with different aspects of counter-terrorism. This is what brings us to Bhutan and, once again, to South Asia.
From 24 to 26 May, senior police officers, prosecutors and, for the first time, judges from the eight SAARC members will meet in Thimphu, Bhutan, to discuss common challenges and strategies. They will consider specific issues that arise in the context of terrorism-related cases, such as interviewing suspects, interrogation techniques, the challenges of using classified evidence in prosecutions and the effective implementation of laws aimed at countering terrorism and transnational crime.
The workshop in Bhutan is the fourth in a series of events organised by CTED and the Centre on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation with the support of SAARC and host countries in South Asia.
Like its predecessors in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, this month’s event will seek to identify effective approaches, specific to the region and grounded in respect for human rights and the rule of law.
We are well aware that one meeting or a series of workshops is not a solution in itself, but it is a key component in national, regional and international strategies to prevent and more effectively respond to terrorism.
In the short term, we hope participants will go back home with a renewed sense of purpose and a strong network of colleagues. In the long run, we hope such meetings will become commonplace and that relations will intensify, in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation.
(Mike Smith is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and head of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate.)