2008 CTM Conference

Lecture at CTM conference 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, dear guests,

On behalf of Icco and Cordaid, the two organizers of this conference, I would like to welcome you for these two days in this beautiful venue. And may I offer you my best wishes for this new year 2008. Although  we’re in the first week of this fresh young year and in most of our offices people are slowly getting on track and on speed, we –here in this castle – are starting this year with full speed. We are  challenging you these two days with a difficult, multifaceted and sensitive issues: counterterrorism measures, security and development.

I’m proud that we are together with such a broad ad diverse audience: representatives from civil society in south and north, from governments, from multilateral institutions from foundations. We organized it as an invitational conference to create an environment where we would feel free and invited to exchange ideas, to challenge common sense and to contest presumptions. We are here together To look at this complex and rather new phenomenon from different angles and perspectives and to better understand the way that each and everyone of us is working on this issue.

At the beginning of this conference it is a great honor for my to reflect on the theme that brings us together. I will briefly touch upon the following four aspects:

  • Why does this issue matters for Cordaid and how is this issue related to our daily work.
  • Some conceptual problems with the notion of counterterrorism
  • The long term risks for building democracy when counterterrorism measures are restricting the space for civil society
  • The mindset of fear that is linked to counterterrorism and what this means for people and communities in societies.

1. Why does this issue matters of Cordaid
As you may expect, my remarks will be based on our Cordaid experience as an actor in development cooperation. Let me be more precise. More than influenced by our activities in development cooperation in general, our commitment to states in conflict and to post-conflict states has stimulated us to take up this issue. We have supported all the way through our history organizations which try to build peace and reconciliation and that are rebuilding society after periods of chaos, civil war and oppression. Cordaid supported partners in the era of the struggle to oust the Latin American dictatorships, we were active in the civil wars in Central America, we supported our partners in the struggle against the South African apartheid. And today we are engaged in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, in Sudan, in Sri Lanka, in the DRC. We know how essential security is for people who have been uprooted and displaced and how necessary space and freedom for civil society are to build or rebuild societies and nations.

The issue of counterterrorism measures is a reality for Cordaid and Icco in their development cooperation. We are not talking about a chimera, constructed by over-sensitive civil society with a propensity for paranoia. Let me give some examples: In the Philippines The Moro civil society forum is a broad based movement to defend the rights of the Moro people. For politicians and the military this Moro civil society forum is seen as un undercover agency for the Moro liberation Front. It faces obstruction and intimidation from those in power when political and military authorities are applying in their own way their counterterrorism measures indiscriminately on armed groups and social action  organizations.

In the Indian state of Manipur one of the local leader to build peace in a region which is under martial law, faces imprisonment and intimidation by the police, because they see him as a representatives of tribal resistant groups.

In the region of Magdalena Medio in Colombia, caught between and threatened by paramilitary forces and rebel groups, distrusted by the government, partners of Cordaid are trying to build peace by talking with both sides, by creating space and a sort of save heavens for ordinary people, the farmers, the street vendors, the children.

With the increasing practice to set up black lists of organizations that should be excluded from funding and other forms of support, there is a big interest for ruling powers in developing countries, in conflict and fragile states to get there adversaries blacklisted in the European Union or the United States. This black lists in Europe and the United States are being used to block the funding of development-organizations in the south by Cordaid, Icco and the like. By this our work is directly affected and long and strong relationships with partner-organizations become difficult or impossible.

2. My conceptual problems with counterterrorism
My conceptual problem with counterterrorism lies in the lack of definition of the term terrorism. In several reports that the forme secretary general of the United Nations Kofi Anan submitted to the UN, he had to acknowledge that there was no unanimity between the different countries of that definition problem and still it is an unsolved issue. And for that reason every country, every government defines terrorism it its own way and according tot its own understanding and interests. Cordaid’s working definition – and we are not pretending that we have found the final answer in that debate – of terrorist organizations is:  those organizations that are using disproportional violence to realise their objectives targeting innocent and unarmed civilians and that are deliberately instigating fear among the general public. Three charatestics are essential: disproportional violence – targeting innocent and unarmed citizens and creating a general feeling of fear among the public. With such a definition the Moro civil society forum, the civil society organizations in Magdalena Media in Colombia and the organisation for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka cannot be labelled as terrorist organizations and can therefore not be the target of any form of anti-terrorist legislation or policy. But in fact governments are using anti-terrorism in the loose and wide sense for to blame and undermine a broad range of organizations that are opposing, attacking their government. In a lot of countries there exists not a clear distinction between terrorist organisations and organisations that are advocating for social change and powershift, If this clear distinction doesn’t exist, there is a slippery slope where ruling classes and parties are setting the distinction where it is in their own interests.

3. Counterterrorism measures on civil society and democratization
Therefore there is a strong link between the counterterrorism-debate and the question how much space is there available in the democratic process. Especially in development processes this is a crucial issue. Already for more than a decade we are aware of the link between development and governance. Good governance is a often used (and of course also misused) concept in development cooperation: without good governance, that mean without a rule of law, without a government that is accountable and transparent to its civilians, without a proper division – in the good tradition of Montesquieu – between the executive, the judiciary and the legislative, our  development efforts cannot bring the improvement in life which we are aiming for tot the benefit of the poor of the world. And we know that a strong and lively civil society is necessary condition for good governance. It is not the only and sufficient condition for good governance, but we cannot expect good governance to come without a well organized civil society. If we want to come from bad governance to good governance there is a need for power that has the capacity to bring about change. It is not without reason that after a coup d’etat the countervailing powers in society are forbidden, together with independent media.  A counterterrorism policy from the side of donor-countries and multilateral institutions, which gives space to governments of developing countries to restrict oppositional civil society, is undermining the good governance agenda of these very donorcountries and multilateral agencies.

4. The mindset of fear that is related to counterterrorism
One of the defining characteristics of terrorism, as I said before, is its aim to investigate fear among the general public in society. And they succeed, at least for a certain periode of time. And the prevailing counterterrorism policy seems to stay within the same framework of fear. In the ad’s on television and in printed media, the Dutch public is asked to be alert and to signal suspicious things. But nobody knows who is a terrorist, so every man with a beard and a jellaba and every mediterrenean-looking boy with a backpack could be a terrorist, in your supermarket, in your train, in your metro.

But fear has to my opinion at least two important consequences. The first is that fear paralyses: if you don’t know who is a terrorist – so everybody could be a terrorist – you don’t know what to do and where to go. The second characteristic of fear is that it isolates and separates people. If we are afraid, and we don’t know where the threat comes from, we withdraw on our own well-known area. The culture of fear that is the result of terror and of counterterrorism prevents us from acting, leaving it to the state and its security agencies. Whereas we need go activate people in society to make the struggle against terror a broad and active one in which new alliances are build and new communities are formed.

Cordaid is part of the international catholic community and therefore catholic social teaching and the message of the gospel is an important source of inspiration. In the Bible the sentence ‘Don’t be afraid’ is one of the most frequently used phrases. When the disciples after the death of Jesus are sitting together, disappointed, scary, fearing what could happen to them now that their leader has died, Jesus shows up and his first words are: Don’t be afraid.  That message is a message of liberation and freedom, freeing people from the paralysis and isolation that domes with fear. Don’t be afraid is not a call to be naïve, of to forget what is happening around us. It urges us not to close down our eyes and turn inward but to look around and carefully observe and judge what is happening in order to act. It is a call to break trough the paralysis and the isolation that is coming together with fear. It is a call to break through our society of fear, to look around, to find our allies and to act.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Earlier on I referred to our commitment to countries in conflict or in post-conflict situations as an important source of inspiration for this counterterrorism program. Some of you, who know Cordaid’s involvement in the debate on the link between security and development, may wonder how Cordaid at the same time talks with military people on peace operations, the relation between military and development operations, the relation between hard power and soft power, whereas we at the same time have set up this counterterrorism agenda. This is not the moment for a lengthy explanation of our views on the nexus between development and security, but allow me to make three remarks.

In conflict and post conflict situations people are looking for security as something that they most need. Security is a precondition for almost everything else regarding development. And sometimes hard power is the only way to bring security on the short term because  security created by soft power takes too long. Look at Bosnia, Libera, Monuc in the DRC, and hopefully Darfur in the next couple of years.

In our long history of working in conflict areas we have learned that the main principle to uphold is not with whom or with what organization we are cooperating, but what is in the interest of the people, what is responding to their needs on security, food, shelter, healthcare. A recent study on civil military cooperation revealed that a certain level of pragmatism is needed in this relationship with peace missions in order to serve in the best way our partners and their members and beneficiaries. In the same pragmatic way local organizations are dealing with them.

In the last decade the scenery for resolving conflicts has dramatically changed. Until the beginning of the nineties of the past century the Dutch military was responsible for the northern part of Germany to defend it against the Russians and we, development organisations were responsible for the rest of the world. Now we meet our Dutch military forces in a lot of countries all around the globe. In that changing environment we cannot pretend as development agencies that our position is not affected, that we can stick with the same boundaries and demarcations. We are not pretending that we have the final answers, but we have definitely choosen to redefine our position in this new context.

Working on counterterrorism and the space of civil society is working on the strengthening of the soft powers in the world that can change oppression and injustice in order to create security and development. And that is the backbone of our strategy. But we acknowledge the reality that sometimes hard power is needed to protect people and to stop those perpetrators that are threatening the life and development of people and communities.

I will come to an end.

Counterterrorism is a concept that is a reality not only in developing countries. A recent research on privacy in Europe ranked the Netherlands rather low  because of all the measures that are taking in the last couple of years against potential terrorists. The Dutch agency that act as the certification institute for fundraising organizations – with a mandate to guarantee the transparency and accountability of these organisations towards the general public – has started to integrate requirements from a counterterrorism perspective in his certification-scheme on request of the ministry for the judiciary.

Counterterrorism measures which affect civil society are a reality, in the Netherlands, in the United Stated, in Sri Lanka, in Colombia and so many other countries. How real it is, is shown here at the first row, where you see three empty chairs. Three of our guests who would have liked to come and share their experiences with you were not able to come due to security threats posed by terror and counterterrorism in their country:

Ms. Betty Kaari Murungi van Urgent Action Fund Africa. She is a Keniaanse, human rights lawyer and supportive to female human rights defenders.

Ms. Najma Sadque from  Pakistan. She is a writer, journalist and researcher on socio-economic issues. Founding member of the Women’s Action Forum of Pakistan.

Mr.  Nobokishore Urikhimbam Secretary van de United NGO Mission in Manipur who was threatened and for a short time arrested by the military under the National Security Act.

It is this reality that we will discuss in the next two days. There is great richness of experiences gathered here in this room. People from civil society in North – Europa and the United States – and South, partner from the developing countries. There are representatives of governments and multilateral institutions that will share their concerns with us. There are representatives from foundations that are supporting civil society all over the world. I hope that we have created an environment of trust and safety where we can exchange freely and where we can learn from each-other on this issue that is so new that we are all still learning and trying to find our way in sometimes contradictory from requirements and frameworks from politicians, public and scholars.

It is with this hope for two challenging and fruitful days that I open this conference.