The COVID‑19 pandemic has aggravated the challenges of fighting international terrorism, exacerbating conditions conducive to the threat and increasing the climate of misinformation and distrust, the Sixth Committee (Legal) heard today as it took up the Secretary‑General’s report on the subject and approved its work programme for the seventy‑fifth General Assembly session.

The Secretary‑General’s report “Measures to eliminate international terrorism” (document A/75/176) contains information on measures taken both on national and international levels, based on the submissions from Government and international organizations.

The representative of Cambodia, speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), highlighted the many ways in which COVID‑19 and the ensuing economic recession have exacerbated conditions conducive to terrorism.  With Governments focused on pandemic recovery, vital services for terrorism victims have been affected.  More so, the pandemic has shown how easily misinformation can spread over the internet, affording terrorists simple means to radicalize susceptible individuals online.

Echoing those words, the delegate of Saudi Arabia, speaking for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, quoted the Secretary‑General who said that a “tsunami of misinformation, hate speech, scapegoating and scare‑mongering has been unleashed” as COVID‑19 spread.  She also underscored her rejection of blaming Muslim minorities during the pandemic for local transmission of the virus and called for broadening the scope of sanctions to include anti‑Muslim extremist groups.

Norway’s representative, also speaking for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, sounded a warning about extremists across the spectrum, from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al‑Qaida in the Sahel region to right‑wing extremists operating in many countries, who are using the pandemic to spread conspiracy theories online, incite mistrust in Governments and recruit new followers.  Terrorists “are not idle, even if the current pandemic situation might induce us to believe so,” he stated, also calling for stronger political and economic rights for women.  While women can act as recruiters, financers or perpetrators of terrorism, they can also counter violent extremism if empowered with the right tools, he stressed.

The European Union, said the representative of that delegation, is working to prevent the exploitation of the Internet for terrorist purposes and cutting off resources of terrorism financing, while making all efforts to protect the humanitarian space.  She also noted the need to assess the potential influence of the pandemic on terrorist activities and voiced support for a “whole‑of‑society” approach.

India’s representative highlighted how the perpetrators of terrorism have cleverly adopted emerging technologies.  He called for international cooperation in extradition, capacity‑building, exchange of information and border controls, stressing that his country will not hesitate to raise its voice against enemies of humanity.  The international community must also consider the rights of victims of terrorism, the vast majority of whom are women and children.

The delegate of Pakistan, noting that his country has been the target of cross‑border terrorism for decades, said that struggles against colonial and foreign occupation have often been equated with terrorism.  Calling attention to the people’s struggle in Indian‑occupied Jammu and Kashmir for self‑determination, he emphasized that Islamophobia is the state policy of “Hitler’s Hindus” in the Indian Government.  Nonetheless, history is proof the people have always triumphed, he said, cautioning that terrorism is manifesting itself in mutated forms that are not effectively addressed.

Iran’s representative, who spoke for the Non‑Aligned Movement, condemned the use of State power against people under foreign occupation who are exercising their right to self‑determination.  He also rejected the unilateral preparation of lists accusing States of allegedly supporting terrorism and called for the Security Council sanction committees to streamline their listing and delisting procedures.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also condemning the arbitrary application of sanctions, said that attempts to bring about regime change in sovereign States violates the principles of the Organization and international law.  He called on Member States to stop supporting anti‑government terrorist organizations in order to overthrow legitimate Governments.

Prior to the debate, the Sixth Committee approved the organization of its work for the current session.  Milenko E. Skoknic (Chile), Chair for the seventy‑fifth session, noted the significant role the Committee plays in achieving the lofty goals of the Charter of the United Nations and highlighted the Organization’s COVID‑19 mitigation measures.  He introduced the members of the new Bureau:  Vice‑Chairs Ghanshyam Bhandari (Nepal); and Kristina Pelkiö (Czech Republic); and Rapporteur Solomon Korbieh (Ghana).  The Committee then elected by acclamation Sarah Weiss Ma’udi (Israel) as Vice‑Chair.

In that regard, Syria’s representative, along with the delegation of Iran, voiced his objection to the post of a Vice‑Chair being held by the representative of an occupying regime.

Mr. Skoknic then referred the Committee to the allocation of 32 agenda items for consideration during the session (document A/C.6/75/1), noting that the provisional programme of work prepared last year is no longer an adequate basis for the current session.  He outlined the combination of formal and informal, in‑person and virtual meetings that the Committee will be conducting on an exceptional basis this year, the time limits for statements and the deadlines for submitting the texts of draft resolutions.

Several delegates took the floor to voice various concerns regarding the current session.  Cuba’s representative, speaking on behalf of a number of countries, condemned the abuse by the United States of the Headquarters Agreement and its status as host country.

Other representatives raised concerns about the format of the meetings, including the delegate of the Russian Federation, who stressed the importance of preserving the rules of procedure of the General Assembly and the interactive nature of Committee meetings.  Nicaragua’s representative also underscored the need to have necessary time to discuss resolutions in in‑person sessions.

In addition, the Committee established working groups and elected chairpersons for “Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission”, the “Scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction” and “Measures to eliminate international terrorism”.

Also speaking today were representatives of China, Singapore, Argentina, Colombia, Honduras, Philippines, Maldives and Nepal.

The Sixth Committee will meet next at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 7 October, to continue its consideration on measures to combat international terrorism.

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