Assistant Secretary-General Brands Kehris statement on inclusive civil society engagement to support rights-based counterterrorism efforts


Dear colleagues,

Good morning.

I would like to thank the governments of Costa Rica, Denmark, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Global Center on Cooperative Security, for co-organizing this important discussion with our Office.

We are here to discuss a critical aspect of our joint efforts and continued objectives to know what it means to have meaningful, inclusive and safe engagement with civil society in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact.

We talk about this like a mantra but what does it mean?

As we all agree, this aspiration is not only a human rights and moral imperative, but a strategic necessity.

Civil society is an indispensable partner, as the Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights stressed yesterday, in our quest to uphold and promote human rights in counter-terrorism.

When we build genuine partnerships with civil society organizations, we know we can harness and leverage our respective expertise, networks, roles, and influence that we have in our different capacity.

An inclusive and meaningful civil society engagement requires a few minimum conditions:

First, participation and representation of marginalized and vulnerable groups in decision-making processes. Second, early and sustained engagement. And third, support to ensure the safety, security, and protection of civil society actors working in the field of counterterrorism, including from negative effects of counter-terrorism measures and also other aspects. This includes strengthening responses to prevent and address intimidation and reprisals against those seeking to cooperate or cooperating with, the United Nations. I have also been given this specific role by the Secretary-General to address this issue.

Just a couple of some small scale but important proposals for action, which I hope will trigger a conversation about how to improve engagement between civil society and the UN counter-terrorism system.

First, regarding safe engagement with civil society organizations, I would propose to think of concrete preventive and protective measures. On prevention, establishing dedicated focal points for civil society engagement and establish safe channels to share information and alleged incidents of reprisals. These could be good starting points. On protection, specific budget lines for urgent protection support and quick referral paths with trusted partners are small investments that can have significant and practical impact.

Second, supporting civil society organizations requires providing the necessary resources, capacity building opportunities, and unhindered access to information that enable civil society to contribute effectively and meaningfully to our collective counterterrorism efforts.

Finally, greater transparency vis-a-vis civil society organizations is important as well.

One good practice that could serve as model for greater and more open and transparent levels of engagements our Office can offer is OHCHR’s B-Tech Project recommendation of “Closing the Feedback Loop”. This means instilling the practice of informing stakeholders what actions or decisions have been taken based on the contributions of civil society actors have provided and if action are not taken, why they are not.

In closing, I am confident that our discussions today will bring to the table practical ideas, initiatives, and commitments that genuinely contribute to establishing what does it mean to have meaningful engagement with civil society in this field and to take practical steps.

Thank you.

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