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Countering violence and violent extremism through the United Nations system

Countering violence and violent extremism through the United Nations system

In the recent years, the spread of violent extremism has provoked an unprecedented humanitarian crisis which surpasses the boundaries of any one region. Millions of people have fled the territory controlled by violent extremist groups. Migratory flows have increased both away from and towards the conflict zones. Today there is a growing international consensus that the counter-terrorism measures adopted by States have not been sufficient to prevent the spread of violent extremism.

In this context, on 24 December 2015, the UN Secretary-General presented his “Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism”, by which he underscored that violent extremism is an affront to the purposes and principles of the United Nations and affirmed that this phenomenon undermines the three pillars of the United Nations - peace and security, human rights and sustainable development-. 

This Plan of Action pursues a practical approach to preventing violent extremism, without venturing to address the definition of “terrorism” and “violent extremism”, by being considered a prerogative of Member States, which should be elaborated in consistent with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law. 

This Plan identifies those conditions conducive to and the structural context of violent extremism, such as the lack of socioeconomic opportunities, marginalization and discrimination, poor governance, violations of human rights, prolonged and unresolved conflicts and radicalization in prisons. 

In the elaboration of national plans and regional strategies to tackle this phenomenon, the Secretary-General recommends that Member States should consider addressing the following elements: promotion of dialogue, conflict prevention, strengthening of good governance, protection of human rights, engagement of communities, empowerment of youth and women, gender equality, education, employment facilitation, strategic communications and social media  

After the presentation of his report, the General Assembly reacted by adopting on 12 February 2016 resolution 70/254 on the “Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism” by which it stressed that it is essential to address the threat posed by violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism; recognized that violent extremism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group; welcomed the initiative by the Secretary-General, and took note of his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism and finally, decided  to give further consideration to the Plan in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016.

However, resolution 70/254  should also be interpreted in light of resolution 70/109 on a “World against violence and violent extremism”, adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 2015, by which urges all Member States to unite against violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations as well as sectarian violence, encourages the efforts of leaders to discuss within their communities the causes of violent extremism and discrimination and to evolve strategies to address these causes, and underlines that States, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, religious bodies and the media have an important role to play in promoting tolerance and respect for religious and cultural diversity.  

In order to counter violent extremism in the world, the General Assembly expressly identifies in its resolution 70/109 the following international instruments and initiatives, on which a coordinated, coherent and integrated plan is strongly needed to foster peaceful and inclusive societies: 

Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (res. 25/2625, of 24 October 1970); Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States (res. 36/103, of 9 December 1981); Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace (res. 39/11, of 12 November 1984); Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism (res. 49/60, of 9 December 1994); Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace (res. 53/243, of 13 September 1999); International Day of Peace (res. 55/282, of 7 September 2001); Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations (res. 56/6, of 9 November 2001); United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (res. 60/288, of 8 September 2006); Alliance of Civilizations (res. 64/14, of 10 November 2009); Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (res. 66/171, of 30 March 2012); Measures to eliminate international terrorism (res. 67/99, of 14 December 2012); Promotion of peace as vital requirement for the full enjoyment of all human rights by all (res. 67/173, of 22 March 2013); Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief (res. 67/178, of 20 December 2012); Freedom of religion and belief (res. 67/179, of 20 December 2012) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (15 September 1995). 
In the resolution 70/109, Member States expressed their concern on the acts of intolerance, violent extremism, violence, including sectarian violence and terrorism in various parts of the world and consequently, underlined that wars and armed conflicts can lead to radicalization and the spread of violent extremism and disrupt development of human societies and thwart the well-being of humankind.

Despite the critical challenges posed by extremism, the General Assembly recognized that a primary responsibility of each State is to ensure a peaceful and violence-free life for its people, while fully respecting their human rights without distinction of any kind and to live together in peace with its neighbours. 

Consequently, the General Assembly encourages in resolution 70/109 all States and international organizations to continue to pay attention to the importance of mutual cooperation, understanding and dialogue in ensuring the promotion of moderation and tolerance and respect for human rights. Additionally, it calls upon all States to foster understanding, tolerance and non-violence and eliminate all forms of intolerance and violence, eradicate poverty and illiteracy and reduce inequalities within and among nations. Finally, the General Assembly also recognizes the effort made by UNESCO in countering violence and violent extremism through education. 

Co-hosted by the Government of Switzerland and the United Nations, the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward took place on 7 and 8 April 2016 at the United Nations Office at Geneva. This Conference provided an opportunity for the international community to share experiences and good practices in addressing the drivers of violent extremism and to build support for the Plan of Action. 

In his Plan of Action, the Secretary-General said that at a time of growing polarization on a number of national, regional and global issues, preventing violent extremism offers a real opportunity for the members of the international community to unite, harmonize their actions and pursue inclusive approaches in the face of division, intolerance and hatred. 


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