Our Perspectives

Securing our societies from the threat of senseless terrorism


Ten of the eleven countries with over 500 deaths due to violent extremism in 2014 also have the largest number of refugees, migrants, and IDPs. Photo: Central African Republic

In this blog series leading up to the World Humanitarian Summit, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on responding to conflict and disasters.

Since 2000, we have witnessed a more than ten-fold increase in the number of deaths from violent extremism and terrorism - from 3,329 victims in 2000 to 32,685 in 2014. And the death toll keeps rising.

During the first months of 2016, more than 200 terrorist attacks claimed over 2500 victims. These incidents have taken place in all corners of the world and the diversity of countries shows the ubiquity of the challenge.  Many attacks have been linked to well-known violent extremist groups, while others were perpetrated by lone wolfs or attributed to ongoing conflicts and civil wars. But most acts were inspired by and associated with an extreme political, religious or social ideology that seeks no compromise and exploits political and societal grievances.

The nature of conflicts has changed, with random attacks on the symbols of free societies –airports, train stations, soccer fields, court houses, public parks, places of worship. Violent extremists senselessly target innocent civilians to achieve their goal of destabilizing peaceful and inclusive societies.

A recent global meeting organized by UNDP and its Oslo Governance Centre, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, addressed not only the rise of violent extremism but also the links between fragility, violent extremism and the movement of people. Indeed, ten out of the eleven countries with more than 500 deaths from violent extremism in 2014 also witnessed the highest levels of refugees, migrants and internally displaced people.

The root causes of violent extremism are failures in governance, rising inequality, alienation due to rapid social and cultural change, and lack of inclusive development. If co-existence is the future, then we need to pay more attention to the governance of increasingly heterogeneous societies. We need to promote respect for diversity in opinions, cultures, faiths and lifestyles, provided they do not violate international human rights principles.

But the terrorist acts we are seeing now cannot be countered only by positive messages on inclusive development and more open, inclusive societies. Ordinary men and women want to be re-assured that their societies are safe and secure. And to achieve that, many are willing to compromise hard won civil rights, like freedom of speech and protection of privacy. In the face of violent extremism, there are legitimate calls for more security inspired counter-terrorism actions.    

Ensuring the safety of our families, communities and societies remains a priority for all governments. Yet while security inspired actions are needed, they will not alone provide a sustainable solution to this crisis of violent extremism. Many of the root causes of radicalisation and violent extremism are related to shortcomings in development, failures of governance, and weaknesses in the ability of the State and communities to guarantee the peaceful resolution of conflicts. When we are forced to respond through security measures, it is because we have failed to deal with the factors that lead from alienation to radicalization to acts of mass violence.

Individuals join these extremist movements for a variety of reasons, from criminal activities to ideological inspiration to a search for identity. Extremist behaviour is also fuelled by perceptions of injustice, humiliation due to persistent ethnic, class or religious profiling, human rights violations, corruption, and lack of economic and political opportunities. But whatever the reasons, there can be no excuse whatsoever for violent acts like the ones conducted in Brussels, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, or anywhere in the world. Nothing justifies the ruthless killings of innocent people.

A global united front that promotes inclusion, reduction of inequalities, and tolerance is needed to counter the extremists’ ideological narratives. The success of that global movement will be the acts of violent extremism that never occur, and lives that contribute to peacebuilding, rather than conflict-making.

Patrick Keuleers Blog post blog series Governance and peacebuilding Crisis response Accountability Rule of law Sustainable development Armed violence reduction Conflict prevention Human rights Peacebuilding Security

UNDP Around the world