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Home / Press Release / UN Secretary General’s Plan of Action on Violent Extremism Challenges U.S. Leadership on Human Rights
January 14, 2016

UN Secretary General’s Plan of Action on Violent Extremism Challenges U.S. Leadership on Human Rights

New York City - Human Rights First welcomes the United Nations Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, and calls on the U.S. government to embrace a comprehensive countering violent extremism (CVE) strategy that prioritizes the protection of human rights. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will present the plan before the General Assembly on Friday, January 15.

“The U.N. plan correctly identifies human rights as foundational in the effort to prevent violent extremism,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “The Obama Administration’s CVE initiative has similarly emphasized that traditional security tools alone are insufficient to meet this challenge.  However all too often the short-term interest in cooperating with authoritarian governments for intelligence has prevailed over the long-term imperative to eliminate the drivers of extremism including oppressive governance. We urge the U.S. government to take the U.N. recommendations seriously and to prioritize the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in each of its bilateral relationships, particularly with states facing terrorist threats that also engage in systematic human rights violations.” 

The Plan of Action calls for a comprehensive approach to preventing the spread of violent extremism, encouraging states to implement systematic preventive strategies that go beyond security-based counterterrorism measures to directly address the drivers of violent extremism. Strengthening good governance, human rights, and the rule of law are emphasized as among the most important of these preventive measures.

The plan states that “Governments that exhibit repressive and heavy-handed security responses in violation of human rights… tend to generate more violent extremists. International partners that are complicit in such actions by states further corrupt public faith in the legitimacy of the wider international system.”

Human Rights First notes that a narrow military approach to security concerns has contributed to radicalization and expansion of terrorist violence in several countries during recent years. Additionally, closing space for civil society and peaceful political activities has facilitated the expansion of violent extremism and terrorism. Crackdowns on political dissent and diminishing space for political freedom has served to reinforce extremist narratives and has directly contributed to the radicalization of youth.

“National counterterrorism measures that are not rooted in respect for human rights risk being counterproductive. When governments stifle peaceful dissent, muzzle the media, and prevent the legitimate activities of non-violent civil society organizations, they are not countering extremism; they are fomenting it,” added Hicks. “Conversely, respecting fundamental freedoms, especially the freedom of assembly and association, is one of the most important defense mechanisms against violent extremism."

Human Rights First recommends that independent U.N. monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, as well as similar mechanisms at the regional levels, be strengthened so that states are held accountable for implementing a holistic approach to countering extremism that is measured by action not rhetoric.

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