Open Debate on the Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism
On Thursday 23 April, the Council is expected to convene a high-level open debate on “The role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace,” which will be chaired by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdulla II of Jordan. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to brief alongside Peter R. Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College and Scott Atran, Director of Research in Anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. A youth representative might also address the Council. No outcome will be adopted at this stage.
The open debate is being held at the initiative of Jordan, in an effort to address the root causes that fuel terrorism through the radicalisation and mobilisation of young recruits by terrorist groups. The concept note circulated by Jordan (S/2015/231) highlights some of the factors that lead to the radicalisation among youth, such as the discrepancy between expectations and reality (often related to high rates of unemployment), the experience of trauma and personal or community grievances all of which create a fertile ground for recruitment by terrorist groups.
The Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee has underlined how the majority of foreign terrorist fighters recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Al-Nusrah Front are young and has warned against the danger of a fresh wave of radicalisation, given the widespread use of social media and extreme, public violence to attract attention (S/2014/815). Also, the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict listed several Al-Qaida affiliated groups that recruit children in Iraq, Mali, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, among other countries (S/2014/339).
The concept note identifies different strategies by which the threat of violent extremism and its impact on youth can be mitigated. These include proposing solutions to socio-economic exclusion, establishing public-private partnerships, amplifying alternative narratives through engagement with media and communities, ensuring access to quality education and supporting youth and youth-oriented organisations. The note also highlights the role that youth themselves can play in countering violent extremism.
In the past, Council members have found it difficult to agree on how to refer to countering violent extremism. During the negotiations of a presidential statement on counter-terrorism that was adopted on 19 November 2014, some members wanted to stress the need to counter violent extremism only when it actually leads to terrorism. Other members, more supportive of a prevention angle, tried to incorporate references to radicalisation and extremism before it results in violence. The compromise language, which echoed resolution 2178 on foreign terrorist fighters, was in the end a reference to violent extremist ideologies “that can be conducive to terrorism”. While maintained in the resolution, adopted in September 2014, the reference to “violent extremist ideologies” had also been problematic to at least one Council member, which believed the phrase was too general and had the potential to be misused if decontextualised.
The potential political instrumentalisation of terrorism is also a source of concern for some Council members. For example, even though Council members are aware that social media and the Internet can promote radicalisation, some members have resisted putting too much emphasis on this in outcomes, given concerns regarding censorship and curtailing freedom of expression.
Member states might be interested in learning more about specific initiatives developed for and by youth to counter violent extremism, and some may wish to share their experience with and perspectives on these initiatives. As such, there may be interest in hearing how the UN is attempting to tackle this issue, through the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; and the UN Development Programme among others. Member states might also want to refer to UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal presented during last year’s high-level segment of the General Assembly for the appointment of a Special Envoy on Violent Extremism and discuss how such an initiative might relate to existing structures and initiatives across the UN system. Some speakers may wish to share their concerns about the sharply growing numbers of internally displaced people and refugees, with the increased numbers of traumatised and often idle youth among them and the vulnerability of these populations to violent extremist ideologies.
Member states might also share lessons learnt regarding the implementation of resolution 1624, adopted on 14 September 2005, which calls upon states to prevent and prohibit by law incitement to commit terrorist acts. Given that nearly a decade has passed since the resolution’s adoption, this may be a good time for Council members to reflect on the extent and limitations of the actions taken by member states to implement it. This could include a discussion of the monitoring mechanisms set up by the Council to assess implementation of the resolution and the technical assistance provided to states to fight terrorism. (The Counter-Terrorism Committee’s Executive Directorate is in charge of assessing the implementation of resolution 1624 through overview implementation assessments and detailed implementation surveys conducted in all member states. The gaps identified are then expected to be filled through technical assistance provided by bilateral actors or some of the 34 entities within the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force.)
The issue of socio-economic development as a means to counter the rise of terrorism may be a topic raised in the discussion. In the past, some Council members have questioned whether the Council is the appropriate forum to discuss development issues; however, there is awareness among these and other Council members of the need to discuss how economic and social marginalisation can provide fertile ground for the growth of violent extremism among young people.