Engaging young men and women to combat the evolving threat of violent extremism & terrorism in our world is essential for peace, sustainable development & the success of 2030 Agenda. Credit: UNDP.


Event:  Session III, United Nations High-level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States “Strengthening international cooperation to combat the evolving threat of terrorism”

As prepared for delivery.

Good morning, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you to begin the second day of the United Nations High-Level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States. Today we will continue our discussions through the lens of prevention, focusing on two important topics: how to meaningfully engage young people and how to prevent the misuse of new technologies and the Internet by terrorists.

Allow me to reiterate the primacy of prevention in addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and violent extremism. We know that preventative approaches work, save lives, and are cost-effective.

According to the joint UN-World Bank Pathways for Peace report, the average net savings of prevention range from $5 billion to $70 billion per year.  

Meanwhile, the impact of violent extremism on security and development is enormous. Recent data note the economic cost of violence on the global economy in 2017 at $14.76 trillion, equivalent to $1,988 for every person on this planet. Aside from the economic impact, violent extremism is costing us invaluable human lives. Violent extremism threatens peace, sustainable development and the success of Agenda 2030.

The role of development in that preventive approach is critical. Very often the context within which extremism grows is to some extent linked to failures in development and weaknesses in the institutions that represent the Nation State. Desperation and frustration then may lead people, young people in particular, to lose confidence in state institutions because they have not delivered. Marginalization and exclusion of certain groups in society, also in terms of geography of development, can further increase the risk of radicalization that can lead to violent extremism.

Faced with these challenges, many Member States have developed national strategies on counter-terrorism and preventing violent extremism, guided by the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the Secretary General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. Evidence-based analysis of national efforts clearly shows that violent extremism cannot be effectively addressed through security responses alone. To be effective, national strategies must integrate responses across all pillars – security, development and human rights, and promote youth empowerment and gender equality.

The development of multi-sectoral national strategies is a complex task, and there is a growing demand for UN support to their formulation and implementation. As such, the coordinated approach to counter-terrorism and prevention of violent extremism spearheaded by the Secretary General and the United Nations Office for Counter-Terrorism, through the joint programming of the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact, is highly appreciated.

Cooperation between state actors and non-state actors is essential for the success of the counter-terrorism and prevention agendas. Civil society organizations are important partners, as they are representatives of the people who possess the access and long-term commitment required for sustainable change. Women’s and faith-based organizations, for instance, have a unique understanding of local issues and skills at mobilizing social capital in the communities they serve. We must partner with civil society organizations particularly in developing and implementing tailored strategies to counter and prevent violent extremism.

Young men and women play a critical role in the campaign to end extremism and we must engage with them. Young people have become a target for radicalization by violent extremist groups, but the vast majority of them resist recruitment and radicalization. Indeed, many young people display extraordinary resilience and are addressing violent extremism in a broad range of settings. UNDP’s forthcoming global report ‘Frontlines’ highlights concrete ways in which young men and women act as positive agents of change in addressing violent extremism. We need to recognize their unique role and further engage them as meaningful partners and leaders. Our youth is not our greatest threat but our greatest hope.

Given the important role of youth in prevention, we should do everything possible to ensure their potential is not undermined by misuse of new technologies of which they are the fastest adopters.

New technologies have enormous potential to help us address the root causes and drivers of violent extremism. They can enhance the transparency of public institutions, broaden meaningful inclusion and participation in public decision-making, and enhance understanding of public issues through greater access to public information. However, new technologies are also being used as tools to do harm, so we need tech-based solutions to combat tech tactics. For solutions to endure, we need to ensure rights-based approaches and regulatory frameworks that tackle impunity online and offline.

Global cooperation is fundamental to the success of our efforts in this sphere. We are dealing with issues and tools that transcend boundaries; no single government or organization can push back the threat on its own. Our discussions these two days therefore are important.


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