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Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism - The Way Forward, Session II on “Action at the Global Level”, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

8 Apr 2016 - 15:03

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, 
Dear Colleagues,

First of all, words of thanks: to H.E. Mr. Stephan Husy, Ambassador-at-Large for Counter-Terrorism, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, for co-chairing this session with me. 

And to my UN colleagues for their participation - UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura, CTED Executive Director Jean-Paul Laborde, UNDP Assistant Administrator, Izumi Nakamitsu, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Volker Türk, and UN Women Deputy Executive Director Yannick Glemarec.

And of course to all of you for contributing to our common thinking on and efforts to prevent violent extremism.

Under the theme of this session, “Preventing Violent Extremism -  The Way Forward - Action at the Global Level”, I would like us to consider two aspects in particular, building on the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action:

  • How and where does the global level in general and the UN in particular add value to the efforts of Member States?
  • And how is and should the UN therefore (re-)oriente its support to Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations at Headquarters and in the field to enhance our common efforts to prevent violent extremism?


How and where does the global level in general and the UN in particular add value to the efforts of Member States?

Let me start off by reaffirming the principles underpinning the UN’s work:

First, the principle of national ownership is at the origin of all our efforts, as recognized in the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action by the emphasis on the development of national PVE Plans of Action. Thus, the role of the United Nations should be to support Member States who have the primary responsibility for developing National Plans of Action.

Second, as the Secretary-General has consistently stated: “The threat of violent extremism is not limited to any one religion, nationality or ethnic group.” Contexts differ, there may be external factors that have to be taken into account, but violent extremism is a global phenomenon, as starkly demonstrated by the more than 30.000 Foreign Terrorist Fighters that come from more than 100 countries across the world. That is why the Secretary-General has called for a global and inclusive PVE partnership.  

Third, the UN’s conviction and commitment to addressing all areas affected by violent extremism and in turn conducive to its prevention in a balanced manner: peace and security, human rights, sustainable development and humanitarian assistance.

And fourth, the questions of definitions of and differentiation between terrorism and violent extremism is the prerogative of Member States. At the UN, we have followed your guidance in that we address “violent extremism as conducive to terrorism”. We are thereby striving to move our support to Member States upstream, from reaction and response to prevention at pre-terrorism stages. And this is not entirely new either: it is about addressing what all of us pledged to do in the Global Counter-terrorism Strategy: addressing conditions conducive to terrorism.

Based on these premises and on our discussions with Member States and within the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, we have identified the following areas where global cooperation and UN support can provide benefits that national or regional activities and approaches cannot: 

First, the global normative framework that UN Member States have set up and subscribed to sets inviolable standards that people who feel disenfranchised aspire to see realized for themselves. Moreover, and especially in the absence of definitions, it also provides us with a common agenda and reference points as to what deviates and undermines our principles and thus needs to be addressed. With our universal membership, Member States have also endowed us with convening power.

Second, violent extremists do not respect borders, state sovereignty or thematic divisions in the executive branch of Government. We can only outsmart them, if we become as nimble as they are. 

And third, we have to learn from one another. The UN can build bridges and facilitate the sharing of experiences and good practices, including South-South cooperation.


How is and should the UN therefore (re-)orient its support to Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations at Headquarters and in the field, to enhance our common efforts to prevent violent extremism?

We are anchoring our support to Member States in the broader preventive work of the UN: from preventing conflict to preventing relapse to preventing human rights violations to preventing unfulfilled SDGs. The Secretary-General has therefore asked us to adopt an “All-of-UN” approach in supporting Member States to prevent violent extremism both at Headquarters and in the field. Only if we leverage the individual strengths of our mandates and expertise will we be able to provide Member States with comprehensive support to their “all-of-Government and all-of-society” approaches. 

To this end, the Secretary-General has asked that all relevant UN entities collaborate in developing specific deliverables in the seven priority areas identified in the Plan of Action: conflict prevention, human rights and rule of law, the engagement of communities, youth and women, skills development and strategic communications.

The Secretary-General has also asked that UN missions and country teams review their own activities to ensure that they are doing everything possible to address the local drivers of violent extremism, and support requesting Member States, for example when developing National Plans of Action. 

To better organize the UN system to allow for an effective “All-of-UN” approach, he Secretary-General will establish a High Level PVE Action Group, and a CTITF Inter-Agency Working Group on Preventing Violent Extremism will look at recommendations to develop PVE-sensitive programming across the UN system.

My fellow UN panelists will inform you about their initiatives to support Member States in addressing the drivers of violent extremism.

We are looking forward to hearing from you on where to prioritize, sensitize and adapt existing programmes to permit them to target the drivers of violent extremism more precisely and to introduce new PVE specific initiatives to close gaps.

And we are looking to you for working with us to chart the global counter-terrorism and preventing violent extremism agenda in the coming years by reflecting your aspirations in the General Assembly resolution on the Global Counter-terrorism Strategy in June.

Thank you.