The UN Response to Violent Extremism

In response to the rising threat of violent extremism, the UN Security Council, in its Resolution 2178 (2014), made explicit the link between violent extremism and terrorism, underscores the importance of measures being in line with international norms and recognizes the need for prevention: “violent extremism, which can be conducive to terrorism”, requires collective efforts, “including preventing radicalization, recruitment and mobilization of individuals into terrorist groups and becoming foreign terrorist fighters”. In that resolution, the Council “calls upon Member States to enhance efforts to counter this kind of violent extremism”.

The following year, the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly by its resolution 60/288, and it included as one of its pillars, a focus on preventing and combating terrorism. Neither of these resolutions defined “terrorism” or “violent extremism,” but left them as the prerogatives of Member States, noting they must be consistent with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law.

Around the same time, in December 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a historic resolution on Youth, Peace and Security (SCR 2250), recognizing the important role of young women and men in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security. It specifically identified five main pillars for action:

  1. Prevention: urging the facilitation of enabling environments, investments in socio-economic development and quality education for young women and young men, and the creation of mechanisms to promote a culture of peace, tolerance, intercultural and interreligious dialogue that involve youth.
  2. Protection: recalling the obligations to protect civilians, including young people, during armed conflict and in post-conflict, and in particular protect them from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.
  3. Disengagement and Reintegration: for young women and men directly involved in armed conflict.
  4. Participation: calling on Member States to involve young people in conflict prevention and resolution, in violence prevention and in the promotion of social cohesion, and urging them to consider ways to increase representation of youth in decision-making at all levels.
  5. Partnership: highlighting the need to increase political, financial, technical and logistical support for the work with young peacebuilders by relevant UN entities as well as regional and international organizations, and also the importance of partnering with youth, local communities and non-governmental actors in countering violence extremism.

On 15 January 2016 the Secretary-General presented a Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (A/70/674) to the General Assembly. Later that year, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus, resolution (A/RES/70/291) on the Fifth Review of Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy reinforcing global consensus in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, in which it recognized the importance of preventing violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism and, recommended that Member States consider the implementation of relevant recommendations of the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, as applicable to the national context.

The Secretary-General’s Plan noted the importance of working to empower youth, in paragraph 52: “We must pay particular attention to youth. The world’s 1.8 billion young women and men constitute an invaluable partner in our striving to prevent violent extremism. We have to identify better tools with which to support young people as they take up the causes of peace, pluralism and mutual respect. 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; we need to reclaim this space by helping to amplify the voices of young people already promoting the values of mutual respect and peace to their peers.”

The Secretary-General made the following recommendations to Member States:

  1. 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, as laid out in the 2015 Amman Declaration on Youth, Peace and Security; and provide a physically, socially and emotionally safe and supportive environment for the participation of young women and men in preventing violent extremism;
  2. Integrate young women and men into decision-making processes at local and national levels, including by establishing youth councils and similar mechanisms which give young women and men a platform for participating in mainstream political discourse;
  3. Foster trust between decision makers and young women and men, especially through intergenerational dialogue and youth-adult confidence-building activities and training;
  4. Involve hard-to-reach young women and men, such as those from underrepresented groups, in efforts to prevent violent extremism, as laid out in the Guiding Principles on Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding;
  5. Establish national mentoring programmes for young women and men, create space for personal growth in their chosen fields, and offer opportunities for community service which can enable them to become leaders and actors for constructive change;
  6. Ensure that a portion of all funds dedicated to addressing violent extremism are committed to projects that address young people’s specific needs or empower them and encourage international financial institutions, foundations and other donors to provide small grant funding mechanisms to women and young social entrepreneurs to enable them to develop their own ideas on strengthening community resilience against violent extremism.

Two additional developments that shape the global policy response and deserve mention are the Sustainable Development Goals, which include a focus on adolescents and youth throughout, and specifically include Goal 16, which promotes the participation of young people in governance and peace, as well as the Global Compact for Young people in Humanitarian Action, launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, which identifies young people’s priorities in humanitarian contexts, as well as the potential for their role in responding to crises.