Violent extremism is an affront to the very purposes and principles of the United Nations. This is what the head of UN office in Geneva stressed, urging government delegations and experts gathered there to endorse a UN comprehensive approach to proactively address conflicts in the world.
“[Violent extremism] not only challenges international peace and security, but undermines the crucial work that Member States and the UN family are conducting to uphold human rights, take humanitarian action and promote sustainable development”, said Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).
The Secretary-General has been of the view that no cause or grievance can justify the “unspeakable horrors” that terrorist groups are carrying out against innocent people. Women and girls, he added, are particularly subject to systemic abuses – rape, kidnapping, forced marriage and sexual slavery.
“These extremists are pursuing a deliberate strategy of shock and awe – beheadings, burnings, and snuff films designed to polarize and terrorize, and provoke and divide us”, the UN chief added, commending UN Member States for their political will to defeat terrorist groups and at the same time, urging them to stay “mindful of the pitfalls”.
“Many years of our experience have proven that short-sighted policies, failed leadership and an utter disregard for human dignity and human rights have causes tremendous frustration and anger on the part of people who we serve,” said the UN chief, stressing on investigating into the motivations behind such ideologies and conflicts. While this has proven over and over again to be a “notoriously difficult exercise”, it is vital to realize that poisonous ideologies do not emerge from thin air. Oppression, corruption and injustice fuel extremism and violence.
“Extremist leaders cultivate the alienation that festers. They themselves are pretenders, criminals, gangsters, thugs on the farthest fringes of the faiths they claim to represent. Yet they prey on disaffected young people without jobs or even a sense of belonging where they were born. And they exploit social media to boost their ranks and make fear go viral,” Ban Ki-moon said.
Violent extremism affects all the four core areas (peace and security, humanitarian assistance, human rights and development) of the work of the UN. So all organs of the UN System have to work together on this issue. The UN action plan is based on five interrelated points, Ki Moon explained, namely prevention, national ownership, international cooperation, UN support and united action.
The Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism makes a clear association between PVE and development, calling for national and regional PVE action plans and encouraging member states to align their development policies with the Sustainable Development Goals, many of which were highlighted as critical to addressing global drivers of violent extremism and enhancing community resilience.
Security and military responses sometimes have proven to be counter-productive, and there is a need to address the drivers of violent extremism, he noted.
“There is no single pathway, and no complex algorithm that can unlock the secrets of who turns to violent extremism,” he stated. “But we know that violent extremism flourishes when aspirations for inclusion are frustrated, marginalized groups linger on the sidelines of societies, political space shrinks, human rights are abused and when too many people – especially young people – lack prospects and meaning in their lives.”
The Plan emphasizes conflict prevention, conflict resolution and political solutions, and urges full implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as that will address many of the socio-economic drivers of violent extremism.
The Plan offers a menu of recommendations for Member States to forge their own national action plans, which should use an “all-of-Government” approach and engage “all-of-society” to be effective. No country or region alone can address the threat of violent extremism, he elucidated, stressing the need for a dynamic, coherent and multi-dimensional response from the entire international community.
He pledged to leverage the universal membership and the convening power of the UN to further strengthen international cooperation at the national, regional and global levels, noting that he plans to create a UN system-wide high-level action group to spearhead the implementation of the Plan at both the Headquarters and field levels.
“We will not be successful unless we can harness the idealism, creativity and energy of 1.8 billion young people around the world,” he said, calling for a global partnership to prevent violent extremism. “I have no doubt that we will succeed if we are united in action,” he concluded.
UN agencies and other international organizations in Geneva work at the crossroads of peace, rights and wellbeing and are at the core of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “Providing sustainable development opportunities, reducing inequalities, safeguarding human rights and providing a hub for mediation and peace negotiations, help to create a context and change realities on the ground that are better suited to resist extremism,” he said.
Further, the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action provides an important framework to address the issue at hand. The Plan has been welcomed by the General Assembly, showing the positive commitment of the international community to unite and act against this threat.
“To put the Plan into action, contributions from all actors are needed. The Secretary-General has put forward a multidimensional and ‘All of UN’ approach”, explained Mr. Møller. Additionally, while recognizing the importance of the principle of national ownership to effectively address violent extremism, the Plan calls on all relevant actors – governments, civil society, academia, community and religious leaders – to act in unison through an “all-of-Government” and “all-of-Society” approach.
The emergence of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has created a greater sense of urgency for many governments as they grapple with the outpouring of refugees; with national security concerns raised by the prospective return of foreign fighters; and the exacerbation of existing conflicts by ISIL ideology and its tactics. While emerging from Al-Qaeda, ISIL has premised its legitimacy on purporting to offer a just and effective state that ostensibly addresses many of the grievances of citizens in the region.
In its communications, ISIL does not portray itself as a secretive terrorist group, but rather as a welcoming state that seeks to offer its citizens healthcare, basic services, protection and infrastructure. In many ways, much of its recruitment material speaks the language of state-building and development, although it does not shy away from the use of brutality to assert itself.
The need to understand and respond to the development and security deficits that drive ISIL’s support and assumed legitimacy is therefore critical. Findings about the localised and individualised nature of drivers of violent extremism indicate that many of the UN’s core goals on preventing conflict and promoting human rights and sustainable development can be key to reducing the appeal of terrorism.
This was underscored in January 2015 when the UN Security Council described the relationship between security and development as “closely interlinked and mutually reinforcing and key to attaining sustainable peace”. The General Secretary’s Geneva Plan of Action provides more than 70 recommendations to Member States and the UN system to support them. One of the key recommendations of the Plan is for Member States to consider adopting National Plans of Action based on national ownership.