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May 26, 2016

Human Rights First Welcomes Joint State Department and USAID Strategy on Countering Extremism

New York City – Human Rights First today said that the release of a new joint strategy on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) between the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) represents an opportunity for the United States to broaden its approach to combating terrorism. The organization continues to urge the United States to step beyond narrow, security-centric responses, in order to prioritize protection of human rights and address root causes of extremist ideologies. 

"U.S. officials often emphasize the importance of promoting respect for human rights as a core part of a comprehensive CVE strategy,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. "But in its relationships with key partners in the multilateral struggle against violent extremism, the United States too often fails to push for an end to human rights violations by its allies, thus exacerbating global CVE challenges. If implemented consistently, this new strategy offers promise that such shortcomings are a thing of the past.” 

Human Rights First has been monitoring the U.S. government’s implementation of its CVE strategy since attending the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February 2015. At the Summit, President Obama noted that oppression and denial of human rights are counterproductive to combating violent extremism.

In addition to the preventive measures set out in the joint strategy, Human Rights First notes that the United States will need to employ enhanced efforts to bring an end to armed conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere. Additionally, the U.S. government needs to implement policies ensuring that post-conflict phases are built on inclusive peace processes that uphold the values of universal human rights and plurality. One of the primary root causes of extremist violence is the proliferation of armed conflicts and of ungoverned spaces that provide opportunities for violent extremist groups to prosper. The United States, because of its unique reach and influence, has an inescapable responsibility to shepherd multilateral efforts to end these devastating conflicts and curb these groups. The absence of effective conflict resolution mechanisms, on both national and international levels, is one of the greatest challenges to the execution of a comprehensive CVE strategy.

The joint strategy comes as French legislators voted this week to enhance police and prosecutorial powers to combat terrorism, organized crime, and terrorist financing  powers. Authorities granted in the new bill mimic those currently given by the state of emergency, which has been in effect since the tragic attacks in Paris in November 2015. Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to call on their French counterparts to resist the urge to enact laws that undermine human rights as a response to terrorism. Experts have already raised concerns that current emergency measures are being applied in France in an overly-broad and in some cases discriminatory manner.

Human Rights First had previously called on U.S. government officials to urge their French counterparts to reject any constitutional reforms that would compromise human rights, civil liberties, and equal treatment for all citizens. The French government, with support from the United States, should instead combat xenophobia, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim attitudes by sending messages of tolerance and strengthening civil society.

Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to emphasize the importance of protection of basic human rights including religious freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly in the implementation of effective strategies to counter violent extremism.

“Protecting vital freedoms is one of the most important defense mechanisms against violent extremism. Crackdowns on political dissent and diminishing space for civil society only serves to reinforce extremist narratives and directly contributes to the radicalization of youth,” added Hicks.

For more information or to speak with Hicks, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.