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Security

UN chief warns terrorism 'unprecedented threat' to world peace

State responses to terrorism have eroded the very human rights of citizens that states attempt to protect, said Antonio Guterres. With terror attacks on the rise in Europe, the UN chief called for a balanced approach.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday described modern-day terrorism as an "unprecedented threat to international peace, security and development" during a speech at London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

However, Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal who headed the UN's refugee agency for 10 years, told students that governments' responses have failed to tackle the root causes of radicalization, and in some instances contributed to its growth.

Read more: Global Terrorism Index: Death drops globally but rises in Europe

"They can actually make us less safe by undermining good governance and the rule of law," Guterres said, referring to state policies that have eroded human rights to bolster counterterrorism efforts.

"Counter-terrorist policies may be used, and are being used, to suppress peaceful protests and legitimate opposition movements; to shut down debate; to target and detain human rights defenders; and to stigmatize minorities."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said government's needed to strike a delicate balance between tackling radicalization and protecting human rights

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underlined the need to strike a delicate balance between tackling radicalization and protecting human rights

Global phenomenon

An estimated 11,000 terror attacks took place in 2016 in more than 100 countries, leaving more than 25,000 people dead, according to UN figures.

The attacks were more prevalent in developing countries, with roughly 75 percent of the assaults taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.

Over the past three years, the West has witnessed an increase of terror attacks on European and American soil, including in Berlin, Paris and Brussels. In response, countries such as France have enacted stringent counterterrorism laws, which have been criticized by human rights groups for eroding a number of personal rights and liberties.

Read more: Germany terrorism prosecution cases soar

"Governments have a responsibility to protect those within their jurisdiction from extremist attacks, but must ensure that all counterterrorism measures respect human rights," said Human Rights Watch on its website, noting it monitors state actions to ensure "rights to life."

"We also condemn governments for targeting minorities or stifling the rights to free expression, association and peaceful assembly in the name of security. Such measures are not only unlawful under international law, they are also counter-productive."

ls/kl (AFP, EFE)

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