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How the United Nations prevents violent extremism: Action Plan

Updated: Jun 12, 2018

This document gathers the most relevant measures included in the UN Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE), Report of the Secretary-General, 24 December 2015.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the “Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward”. The 7-8 April conference was co-hosted by the Government of Switzerland and the United Nations. 08 April 2016 Geneva, Switzerland
Former UN Secretary-General at Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism, April 8th 2016

Violent extremism is a diverse phenomenon, without clear definition. It is neither new nor exclusive to any region, nationality or system of belief. Violent extremists have been able to recruit over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 Member States to travel to the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, as well as to Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.

The past 20 years, violent extremism was tackled on the context of security-based counter-terrorism measures but with the emergence of a new terrorist groups, there is a growing international consensus that such counter-terrorism measures have not been sufficient to prevent the spread of violent extremism. Prevention measures need to be combined with a more comprehensive approach jointly with security-base counter-terrorism measures.

The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted by its resolution 60/288, addresses prevention under all four of its pillars:

(a) tackling conditions conducive to terrorism;

(b) preventing and combating terrorism;

(c) building countries’ capacity to combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system in that regard; and

(d) ensuring respect for human rights for all and the rule of law while countering terrorism.

It is necessary to refocus the priorities, strengthen the application of justice, and rebuild the social compact between the governing and governed and create open, equitable, inclusive and pluralist societies. It is crucial to accelerate our learning process to counter the speed with which this threat is evolving and improve the understanding of the drivers of violent extremism.

Drivers leading to extremism

There are only a few areas of consensus that exist among researchers about the drivers of violent extremism. Qualitative research, based mainly on interviews, suggests that two main categories of drivers can be distinguished: “push factors”, or the conditions conducive to violent extremism and the structural context from which it emerges; and “pull factors”, or the individual motivations and processes, which play a key role in transforming ideas and grievances into violent extremist action. More research, both qualitative and quantitative, is required on this evolving phenomenon.

Conditions conducive to and the structural context of violent extremism

Lack of socioeconomic opportunities: low levels of growth, unemployment, poverty.

  • Marginalization and discrimination: gender inequality, marginalization, alienation and discrimination might reduce access to public services and job opportunities and obstructions to regional development and freedom of religion

  • Poor governance, violations of human rights and the rule of law: democracy deficits, corruption and a culture of impunity for unlawful behavior engaged in by the State or its agents as well as poor governance combined with repressive policies.

  • Prolonged and unresolved conflicts: due to lack of governance, violent extremist groups use this context to exploit deep-rooted grievances in order to garner support and seize territory. Resolving these conflicts will undermine the impact of the insidious narratives of violent extremist groups.

  • Radicalization in prisons: harsh treatment in detention facilities. Certain situations push prisoners to seek protection by joining groups, including inhumane prison conditions. Safeguards need to be put in place to prevent the spread of extremist ideologies.

Processes of radicalization

Individual backgrounds and motivations can lead to radicalization:

  • Negative personal experience such as witnessing torture, the death of a relative or friend at the hands of the security forces or a foreign power, unfair trials, the loss of property and the humiliation of a parent. Many members are poorly educated and only have only rudimentary literacy levels and almost no religious knowledge or education, making them vulnerable to indoctrination.

  • Collective grievances and victimization: domination, oppression, subjugation or foreign intervention. These narratives can provoke simple and powerful emotional reactions which may then be exploited by violent extremists.

  • Distortion and misuse of beliefs, political ideologies and ethnic and cultural differences: Faith and community leaders are critical in mentoring vulnerable followers. Leaders, Governments, the international community and the media have to work together to prevent confrontation and polarization.

  • Leadership and social networks: intervention of a charismatic leader or political entrepreneur, and through informal family and social networks. Online tools serve as an additional, and more accessible, pathway to group membership.

An Agenda for Action: recommendations on preventing violent extremism

There are three main actions:

  1. Setting the policy framework

  2. Taking action

  3. Supporting Member States, regional bodies and communities through the United Nations

1. Setting the policy framework

A global framework for preventing violent extremism

All legislation, policies, strategies and practices adopted to prevent violent extremism must be firmly grounded in the respect for human rights and the rule of law. The measures taken require strengthening the rule of law, repealing discriminatory legislation and implementing policies and laws that combat discrimination, marginalization and exclusion. It is action at the local, national and regional levels that will have the most impact.

National plans of action for preventing violent extremism

Member States should design their national plans on PVE but considering: in a multidisciplinary manner, including PVE and CVE with input from government actors and non-governmental actors. Those national plans should fortify the social impact against violent extremism by promoting law, transparency and equality. National plans should consider foreign fighters and ensure that their legal systems provide for the prosecution of travel for terrorism or related training as well as financing.

Mobilizing resources

Make more efficient use of existing funds and create synergies. Investment in prevention is far more cost-effective than allocating resources to mitigating consequences.

2. Taking action

Dialogue and conflict prevention

It is important to redouble the efforts to promote and sustain dialogue between warring parties since persistent unresolved conflict is proving to be a major driver of violent extremism. Engage religious leaders, introduce alternative dispute resolutions mechanisms, developing programmes to provide educational and economic opportunities and convene regional and national dialogues preventing extremism.

Strengthening good governance, human rights and the rule of law

Strengthen trust between government institutions and communities to prevent real or perceived marginalization and exclusion. Review national legislation, access to justice and fair institutions, strengthen the professionalism of security forces, ensure accountability for gross violations of international human rights and reform national legal and penitentiary systems.

Engaging communities

Depraving violent extremism of the support of certain circle will diminish its capacity to cause harm and evade justice.

  • Develop strategies with civil society and local communities;

  • Adopt community-oriented policing models and programmes that seek to solve local issues in partnership with the community;

  • Develop local and family-based mentorship programmes;

  • Provide medical, psychosocial and legal service support in communities that give shelter to victims of violent extremists, including victims of sexual and gender-based crimes;

  • Support the establishment of regional and global networks for civil society and promote a discourse that addresses the drivers of violent extremism, including ongoing human rights violations.

Empowering youth

The world’s 1.8 billion young women and men constitute an invaluable partner in our striving to prevent violent extremism. The rapid advance of modern communications technology also means that today’s youth form a global community of an unprecedented kind. This interconnectivity is already being exploited by violent extremists. Measures to be taken:

  • Support and enhance young women’s and young men’s participation in activities aimed at preventing violent extremism by prioritizing meaningful engagement mechanisms at the national, regional and global levels;

  • Integrate young women and men into decision-making processes at local and national levels;

  • Foster trust between decision makers and young women;

  • Involve hard-to-reach young women and men, such as those from underrepresented groups;

  • Establish national mentoring programmes for young women and men, create space for personal growth and opportunities in their chosen fields;

  • Gender equality and empowering women;

  • Societies for which gender equality indicators are higher are less vulnerable to violent extremism. promote women’s participation, leadership and empowerment across society, including in governmental, security sector and civil society institutions. Invest in gender-sensitive research and data collection on women’s roles in violent extremism;

  • Include women and other underrepresented groups in national law enforcement and security agencies. Build the capacity of women and their civil society groups to engage in prevention and response efforts related to violent extremism.

Education, skills development and employment facilitation

Ensure that every child receives a quality education. Education should include teaching respect for human rights and diversity, fostering critical thinking, promoting media and digital literacy, and developing the behavioural and socioemotional skills. Invest in early childhood education. Collaborate with local authorities to create social and economic opportunities, in both rural and urban locations.

Strategic communications, the Internet and social media

The manipulative messages of violent extremists on social media have achieved considerable success in luring people, especially young women and men, on the other side, young activists and artists are fighting back against violent extremism online through music, art, film, comics and humour. Member States should:

  • Develop and implement tailored national communications strategies, in cooperation with social media companies and the private sector;

  • More research on the relationship between the misuse of the Internet and social media and drive factor towards extremism;

  • Empower and enable victims to transform their loss and suffering into a constructive force. Ensure that national legal frameworks protect freedom of opinion and pluralism;

  • Supporting Member States, regional bodies and communities through the United Nations.

The main responsibility to protect comes from the Member States, being the UN a natural partner. It is crucial be more strategic and better coordinated in the activities in order to enhance coherence across the full spectrum of security, sustainable development, human rights and humanitarian assistance. Integrate preventing violent extremism into relevant activities of United Nations peacekeeping operations and special political missions.

The Action Plan includes offering capacity-building programmes aimed at strengthening national and regional capacities to develop institutional plans designed to prevent violent extremism and share good practices.

Focusing on youth it is crucial. Encourage youth exchange programmes within and among Member States; invite relevant private actors, including communications and social media companies, to support the prevention of violent extremism initiatives and generate creative ideas.


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