The number of deaths from terrorist attacks is down globally but increasing in Africa, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
“Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 48 per cent of deaths attributed to terrorist groups globally last year,” he told a meeting of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact on Wednesday.
Terrorist groups like al-Qaida, the Islamic State and their affiliates are continuing to grow in the Sahel and make inroads into central and southern Africa, he added.
Terrorist groups exploit power vacuums, longstanding inter-ethnic strife, internal weaknesses and state fragilities, Guterres said.
In conflict-affected countries like Congo, Libya and Somalia, terrorism intensified cycles of violence, fueling further instability, undermining peace efforts, and setting back development goals, Xinhua news agency reported.
However, he added that such groups also seek to exploit and manipulate grievances in society and mistrust in governments in largely peaceful countries such as Mozambique and Tanzania.
The UN chief is optimistic following a visit to Borno State, Nigeria, once a Boko Haram stronghold, now on the road to reconciliation and reintegration.
“I met people eager to restart their lives, including children who were once associated with Boko Haram, and women who are committed to ending the cycles of violence and discrimination under which they have suffered for so long,” he said.
“The United Nations family is standing with them and we will continue our support as they rebuild their lives, and work to renew the social contract between people, communities and government.”
Guterres said the Nigerian government’s strategy is to re-establish trust with the people, creating conditions to dismantle Boko Haram’s recruitment mechanism. He added that many former Boko Haram fighters are even reintegrating into society.
The people themselves undermined the work and terrorist actions of Boko Haram, he added.
But he warned that terrorism cannot be effectively addressed without tackling the conditions conducive to its spread. Weak institutions, inequalities, poverty, hunger and injustice all provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment and violent extremism.
The Secretary-General said an integrated and holistic approach is essential to the United Nations’ counter-terrorism strategy.
He called for investing in health, education, protection, gender equality and justice systems accessible to all and creating truly democratic systems and processes so that every person can have a voice in the future of their communities and countries.
“Upholding human rights is critical to tackling some of the world’s most complex problems, and must be at the center of our counter-terror efforts,” Guterres said.
“This is our duty, our legal obligation, and our strategic imperative.”
He added that the compact must continue to support member states in their counter-terror efforts, from technical assistance and capacity-building to helping build people-centered institutions. It must be grounded in human rights and the rule of law.
The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact brings together partners in combating terrorism, UN agencies and member states of the world body.