Tides of Change: Emerging Trends in Violent Extremism and the Future of Prevention - Oslo III

Closing address, Asako Okai, UN Assistant Administrator and Director for the UNDP Crisis Bureau

Posted On June 16, 2021

In Chad, midwife Naïssen discusses the dangers of both malaria and violent extremism with a group of women.

UNDP/Aurélia Rusek

Over the course of the last 3 days, we have been exploring what UNDP’s Administrator Achim Steiner asked us at the outset of the conference.

Are we as a global community doing enough to prevent hatred, conflict and violent extremism? What can we do better, earlier? And How can we bring our collective efforts to scale?

We have heard during this conference many examples of how the pandemic provided a fertile ground for radicalization by exacerbating isolation, uncertainty, and inequality, and causing unequal social and economic impact. Combined with access to digital communication, these factors aggravated online conspiracies and the building up of anger.

We have also seen some countries using the pandemic as a pretext to deploy heavy-handed security responses and emergency measures to curtail dissent, undercut basic freedoms, and reduce the activities of civil society organizations.

Our past studies pointed out that the killing or arrest of a friend or relative by local law enforcement or security forces has been the tipping point that pushed many to join a violent extremist movement.

To successfully prevent the appeal of violent extremist movements, we must work together to find innovative ways to address the drivers of violent extremism. At a time of growing polarization, the international community needs to unite, harmonize their actions, and pursue inclusive approaches in the face of division, intolerance, and hatred. And longer-term invest is needed.

Listening to the testimonies during the conference, there are a number of encouraging actions for preventing extremist recruitment.


In some places, COVID-19 relief efforts by women-led civil society organizations have stepped in, distributing resources such as personal protective equipment to communities facing fear and turmoil before violent extremist groups fill the void.

And rehabilitation and reintegration efforts continue by those who chose to exit extremism. In Iraq, UNDP has supported the return of over 3000 families exiting Islamic State. Successful reintegration programmes are essential to preventing the circle of grievance and violence.

Yet, it is evident that we need to step up our efforts. For instance, as a part of the discussion on implementation of the SG’s Plan of Action, it was pointed out that national action plans are not reviewed at a global level for their impact and effectiveness as a tool. This would be a good step forward for learning.

During the pandemic, schools and spaces where civil society and other actors met and engaged in community for prevention activities, have stopped. This makes the social cohesion and localised approaches to re-integration, that we know would work, all the more difficult. But we must stick with the local context and the involvement of local communities are essential.

We learnt from many speakers throughout the three days that there is a clearer correlation between different types of violence and we heard that we must continue to focus on the underlying grievances of communities, and the factors that can prevent people from joining violent movements. 

Overall, there has been a common sentiment that we need to stand up for protecting human rights, and the meaningful participation of community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and youth-led organizations. This can be said for all violence, wherever it takes place, including domestic violence.

Oslo III Conference has aspired to build a new narrative on the future of prevention in the wake of this devastating pandemic.

As this conference is coming to an end, I would like to re-iterate the call to action as follows:

First, focus more on addressing grievances that are underlying the causes of hatred, intolerance, violence and conflict.   

Second, focus on all aspects of prevention, of violent extremism, yes, but also beyond in a broader context of conflict, and the prevention of all forms of violence. This requires more joined-up efforts by development, peacebuilding, security and human rights actors, working together.

Third, explore new and innovative approaches including behavioral science to discourage people from recruitment. This includes integrating mental health and psycho-social support, the use of big data and AI to address hate speech, and being better at measuring change.

Fourth, the need to address impunity for gender-based violence and the ‘low cost’ of misogyny. Empowering women is not sufficient in the context of violent extremism, as men often have gatekeeping functions and are essential to ending violence against women.

Fifth, step up efforts to drive the whole-of-society approach with longer-term investment with agile funding to be ahead of curb. We need to build societies with effective rule of law, trust between community, government and private actors, and access to justice mechanisms. Societies that provide opportunities above sowing division for political or economic gain, and societies that place human rights at the heart of the social contract between state and citizen.

At the outset of the conference, UNDP’s Administrator Achim Steiner called to treat young people not as a problem but as part of solutions. Look to the future, he said. Let’s continue to join hands to bring to scale the collective efforts by the international community to fight against violence and conflict, and to build a more peaceful future.

In closing, I would like to express sincere thanks on behalf of UNDP to all speakers, moderators and partners for making the Oslo III conference possible.

Allow me to note a special appreciation to Norway for its support to UNDP and in the context of this conference, and for generously hosting the Oslo Governance Centre. And last but not least, tremendous thanks to Arvinn and Oslo Governance Centre and other UNDP colleagues around the world who worked hard to make this Conference a success.

The pandemic provided fertile ground for radicalization by exacerbating isolation, uncertainty, and inequality, and causing unequal social and economic impact. Combined with access to digital communication, these factors aggravated online conspiracies and the building up of anger.

Asako Okai, Director, UNDP Crisis Bureau