UN High-Level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies

Statement by Atle Midttun, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway at the Second United Nations High-Level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States on “The global scourge of terrorism: assessment of current threats and emerging trends for the new decade”, 28 June 2021.

I would like to thank the expert panellists of today’s session - it has been truly interesting to listen to all of you.

This year marks 20 years since the 9/11 attack. It also marks ten years since a right-wing terrorist killed 77 people in Norway, most of them youth politicians at a summer camp. These two attacks have forever changed Norway’s perspective on terrorism. And I am, of course, fully aware that numerous Member States will have their own history of tragic terrorist attacks. As a current member of the UN Security Council and Chair of the ISIL and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, this is a topic high on our agenda.

I have been asked to deliver some perspectives on the global outlook, and in doing so I wish to highlight four areas; emerging trends, the role of technology, the gender aspect, and the need to focus on preventive measures.

First: emerging trends,

For the last decade Al-Qaida, Al-Shabab, ISIL, and their affiliates have been at the forefront of our global concerns. These organizations continue to spread their extremist ideology and inspire radicalization and attacks all over the world. ISIL still has strong networks in several regions and continues the spread to new ones. This is of particular concern in many African countries.

In addition, far-right extremist ideologies have been on the rise during the last decade. Violent far-right networks are increasingly showing their willingness to use terrorism as a tool for their cause, and we see examples of high-profile attacks becoming sources of inspiration.

Second: technology,

Internet access has connected the world and improved our daily lives in countless ways. It is also, however, changing the terrorism threat. Online platforms are used as tools to radicalise people, regardless of where they are located, and they can accelerate the speed with which radicalised individuals mobilize. In Norway, the use of extremist material on online gaming platforms is of particular concern, especially when it comes to far-right radicalisation.

Emerging technologies offer opportunities to develop the ways in which we prevent and counter terrorism, but it also creates new challenges. Some excellent examples of how technologies are and may be used by terrorists have been mentioned by the panel today, including drones and 3D printing, not to mention CBRNE related weapons and materials. Nuclear Security has been a Norwegian priority for years.

It has also been pointed out that while we must adapt to these developments, well-known and basic means and methods of attack remain predominant.

Third: the gender aspect,

Many violent extremist groups promote rigid notions and interpretations of the role and status of men and women, based on masculine supremacy. We have seen women and girls fall victim to horrendous abuses at the hands of Islamist extremists.

At the same time, these groups know that women often are pivotal to their functioning, whether through giving birth to children, recruiting new members, or supporting logistics.

As a consequence, these groups encourage women to join, while also restricting their participation in the public sphere and curtailing their human rights. Thus, our efforts must include and empower women.

Fourth: preventive measures,

To succeed in countering this threat in the long term, we need to address the root causes of radicalisation and establish effective preventive measures. While we need to be clear-eyed about the role of extremist ideologies, we must also address factors leading to grievances, marginalisation, exclusion, and injustice. 

Although underlying drivers of radicalization are often universal, the measures needed will be context specific. For them to be effective, they must be implemented with the support and knowledge of local communities, including civil society. 

Early intervention is one measure that has proven very successful in my own country, where we have focused on training first line workers in schools, prisons, social services, and other institutions to be able to detect early signs of radicalization.

Madam Chair,

Before I conclude I would also like to address the widespread misuse of counter-terrorism measures in many countries to silence and oppress human rights defenders, political opponents and religious or ethnic minorities. Not only does this constitute serious human rights violations in and of itself, but it may also trigger increased radicalization.

Further, while new technologies allow us to find new and more effective ways of preventing and countering terrorist threats, not to mention ensuring accountability, there are significant human rights concerns related to the use of many of them. As a result, there are difficult ethical dilemmas at both national and global levels. 

Upholding our values, respecting human rights, and adhering to the rule of law while countering terrorism is not a weakness; it is our greatest strength, and it is absolutely essential if we are to succeed in the long term.

In closing, I would like to echo a point emphasized by the panellists today: international cooperation is crucial to preserve the gains of our common achievements and prevent future attacks. 

Thank you.