Advancing the rights and needs of people whose lives have been upended by terrorism is the goal of a two-day meeting that opened at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Thursday.

The first UN Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism will address key issues that include protection, remembrance and recognition, and access to justice, as well as support and assistance. 

More than 600 participants are expected to attend, both in-person and online, including survivors, diplomats, experts and representatives from civil society, academia, and the private sector. 

Owning the narrative 

Terrorism can affect everyone, said Vladimir Voronkov, head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), who delivered the opening remarks. 

“The Global Congress is our chance to take away the narrative from terrorists and violent extremists and return it to victims and survivors,” he stated. 

Mr. Voronkov outlined a three-pronged approach to scale-up support to victims, starting with putting them first and being mindful of their interests. 

He also stressed the need to ensure that victims receive comprehensive support, which was among the messages that emerged from a conference held earlier this year in Málaga, Spain, that examined human rights, civil society and counter-terrorism. 

‘Rise to the challenge’ 

“Going forward, we need to ensure that Member States can meet the physical, medical and psychosocial needs of victims, and their human rights recognized and protected. We need to recognize our obligations in this regard and rise to the challenge,” he said. 

Countries should also strengthen commitments at the national level, including through establishing and boosting legislative frameworks that protect and promote the rights of victims. 

Greater commitment is also needed at the international level, he added.

“Having recently commemorated the fifth International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, our resolve must continue to be translated into concrete action. Gatherings such as this Congress, continue to galvanize us to do more.” 

Solidarity and support

In her keynote address, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed underlined the need to stand with victims and survivors.

“Solidarity and support for victims of terrorism is a moral obligation and a humanitarian and human rights imperative,” she said. 

“But let’s be clear: today’s Congress is not only to benefit victims. It is an essential part of our efforts to prevent and end terrorism everywhere. Amplifying the voices and views of victims and survivors is the ultimate demonstration that the terrorists will never prevail.”

The President of the 76th UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, also delivered remarks to the gathering.

“It is our duty, not only as members of an international organization, but as fellow human beings, to stand in solidarity with the victims of terrorism. We must raise awareness of their needs, and do our utmost to guarantee the protection, promotion and respect of their rights,” he said.

Victims’ call to action 

During the opening ceremony, 10 people from across the world spoke of how their lives have been marred by terrorism. 

In sharing their painful stories, these victims and survivors issued a call to action, expressing what they hoped the Congress will achieve. 

For Ana Evans, a mother of three from Argentina, life “froze” on 1 October 2017, the day her husband, and several of his friends were killed while on vacation in New York City.  

A ‘very difficult decision’ 

The men were riding bicycles along a popular riverside path when a terrorist rammed a truck into them. 

“I took the very difficult decision to travel to New York, where my husband was killed, in order to be a part of this Congress and to ask you, the international community, to do something on behalf of my children, and on behalf of all the children and families that are affected by terrorism,” she said, speaking through an interpreter. 

Ms. Evans appealed for access to justice, compensation, and spaces to commemorate those who were killed. 

The day ‘everything changed’ 

Ashraf Al-Khaled from Jordan got married on 9 November 2005, which was supposed to be the happiest day of his life.  

However, “everything changed” that evening when three hotels in the capital, Amman, were bombed, including the one where his wedding reception was being held. The blast robbed him of his father, in-laws, and 24 other relatives.   

Mr. Al-Khaled said he was at the UN in 2008 for a symposium on supporting victims of terrorism. Although some progress has occurred since then, he stressed the need to do more. 

“Our needs and rights are different, and they must be upheld in different ways. We need tailored be it financial support, or medical attention, or even psychological support,” he said. 

“We stand in front of you, united as victims of terror from different countries and backgrounds, and cultures. Yet, we are united in our pain, and we are united in our humanity as brothers and sisters on this planet. Please join our movement so we can make sure that our children do not have to face what we have faced in the past.”