There is a moment some victims of terrorism describe as an unbridgeable divide: The “before” and “after” of an act of terrorism. Karambir Kang’s “before” included his family and a successful career managing the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. His “after” claimed his wife and their two young sons in the November 26, 2008 terrorist attack at his workplace — which was also their home. Nidhi Chaphekar had a perfect life with her role as a mother, a wife and of a woman, and a job of a flying crew before she was hit by the Brussels bombings in 2016. Her “after” included the loss of her job, physical restraints due to injuries, and dealing with pain and trauma.
Meeting with Chaphekar and Kang recently, I was struck by the common threat terrorism poses to all people everywhere regardless of religion, nationality or economic status. At the first United Nations (UN) Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism held at the UN headquarters in New York in September, Chaphekar appealed to save and serve humanity and Kang called on all countries to join him and other victims “in defiance” and to ensure that “there is no safe haven for terrorists”.
Their clarion call must be answered.
Since 2001, the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee has been at the forefront of global efforts to combat terrorism. The Council has taken the leading role in guiding the evolution of approaches required to address the threat of terrorism in today’s digital age.
Since the UN Charter was signed in the shadow of World War II, developments in technology have transformed the world as we know it. Most of these developments have been beneficial, bringing advancements and positive change in medicine, communication, and transportation.
But as we have seen over history, technologies can be misused for malicious purposes. We have seen how terrorists continue to demonstrate a capacity to master and deploy these transformative technologies. As the terrorist threat landscape becomes more diverse and decentralised, terrorists aim to recruit and spread their propaganda through the misuse of virtual platforms to target vulnerable persons, even children. Terrorist financing unfolds on crowd-funding platforms. The acquisition and use of unmanned aerial systems to commit terrorist attacks is now a reality.
Simultaneously, innovations in technology also offer significant counter-terrorism opportunities; the benefits are as diverse as the threats themselves. States are increasingly deploying technological developments to prevent and counter terrorist acts. Public and private sectors are experimenting with new technologies to improve the traceability and transparency of financial transactions, automatically detect terrorist content on their platforms, and pre-empt, mitigate and respond to attacks against critical infrastructure and soft targets. This growing threat of terrorist exploitation of emerging technologies needs a comprehensive and coordinated response from the global counter-terrorism community.
That is why the Counter-Terrorism Committee has decided to hold a special meeting on countering the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes. To be held in Mumbai and New Delhi on October 28 and 29, the special meeting will provide an opportunity to member States, UN entities, international and regional organisations, civil society, academia, the private sector and other key stakeholders to come together and forge a common understanding of these evolving technologies and how States might counter their use for terrorist purposes while respecting human rights.
But more remains to be done.
To counter this unprecedented threat, all member-States must fulfill their international obligations to undertake effective measures to implement fully the requirements of Security Council resolutions and international counter-terrorism conventions and protocols. We need to meaningfully improve international cooperation, including increasing awareness and preparedness, developing and sharing best practices, updating legislative frameworks, regulations and technical standards and guidance on the development and use of digital technologies to keep pace with the evolution of the threats.
Forward-thinking and comprehensive national legislation can help prevent the use of emerging technologies for terrorist purposes. The special meeting will also provide an opportunity to explore new alliances and promote partnerships with intergovernmental bodies, the private sector, civil society and academia. We must harness the power of new and emerging technologies responsibly. Our responses to threats must be underpinned by robust safeguards and oversight mechanisms that adequately protect human rights, the rule of law and gender equality, and ensure appropriate transparency, accountability, and responsible use.
Our 21 years of experience is a lesson to the world: There is no “silver bullet” or quick solution to counter the threat of terrorism in a rapidly evolving digital age. We need to continuously examine, adapt and upgrade our actions and approaches, drawing the right lessons to strengthen our collective action against terrorism.
Solidarity and unity are key. The victims of terrorism deserve nothing less.
Ruchira Kamboj is India’s permanent representative at the UN The views expressed are personal