Statement: Building a Broad Partnership to Counter Violent Extremism

Sarah Sewall
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
New York City
September 29, 2015

Hello everyone and thank you for joining us.

Just now, representatives from more than 100 governments, 20 multilateral bodies, and 20 cities around the world joined nearly 100 civil society leaders for the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, where they reaffirmed a commitment to address these threats through a much broader and more comprehensive approach. As many of you know, we call this broader approach Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE.

The case for a broader approach is straightforward: to reverse the growing threats of terrorism and violent extremism around the world, we need to do more to address the underlying dynamics that fuel them. These dynamics are very complex and context-specific, and it is clear that governments alone cannot effectively address them.

Doing that requires a “whole of society” strategy that empowers a much wider range of stakeholders – like those represented at the Leaders’ Summit and here with me now – to take the lead and mobilize their diverse perspectives and resources in our struggle against violent extremism.

Today was another milestone in a growing global movement around CVE. Last September in New York, President Obama issued a call to action for all governments to do more within their countries and regions to address the drivers of violent extremism. This past February, he expanded this call by inviting civil society, the private sector, and cities to join this effort. Working together, this diverse group of stakeholders developed an ambitious agenda to make this “whole of society” approach a reality.

At the Leaders’ Summit earlier today, we took stock of the considerable progress they have made. What we saw was governments and non-government leaders alike taking leadership by developing their own CVE strategies, initiatives, and platforms.

Earlier today, we heard about how governments in Albania, Algeria, Australia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mauritania, and Norway have stepped up to bring the spirit of February’s CVE Summit to the regional and local level by engaging additional states, municipal governments, and leaders from the private sector and civil society in mobilizing preventive approaches to violent extremism.

We have seen civil society leaders take leadership. Leaders like Zineb Benalla who is here with us now. Zineb is the Director of the Transnational Initiative Countering Violent Extremism and Building Peace – a think tank studying how education and critical thinking can serve as antidotes to violent extremism in the Sahel and Maghreb region. After attending the White House Summit in February, Zineb was inspired to launch a regional CVE project with youth in her home country of Morocco.

We have seen the research community take leadership. Last Tuesday, for example, I attended the launch of the RESOLVE Network (Researching Solutions to Violent Extremism), a new platform connecting local researchers from around the world to deepen our understanding about the community-level factors fueling violent extremism, along with the best evidence-based approaches to address them.

Young people around the world have mobilized around CVE as well. Just yesterday, I attended the first-ever Global Youth Summit against Violent Extremism, which showcased innovative, youth-led tools for countering the appeal of violent extremism among their peers.

The summit highlighted a range of promising youth-led initiatives that, if funded, would help build resilience against violent extremism.

For example, a young Burkinabe woman proposed to train youth in a border town between Niger and Burkina Faso on video production and basic filmmaking to engage their peers about the dangers of violent extremism.

A young Australian woman wants to train youth journalists to explore what their peers think about the conflict in Iraq and Syria to give them an opportunity to constructively engage this fraught issue.

A young Tunisian woman wants to partner with teachers to strengthen civic engagement and public awareness about violent extremism in southern regions of the country, where youth are often alienated from civic life and hold many misconceptions about violent extremist groups.

Yesterday’s gathering also debuted a new CVE Youth Innovation Fund, which will provide resources to support youth-led, community-level CVE projects like these.

One of the young leaders who participated in yesterday’s event is with us now. Ahmed Hadji knows the threat of terrorism and violent extremism firsthand. In 2010, Ahmed was the victim of an al-Shabaab bombing in Kampala that killed 74 of his fellow citizens. In a testament to Ahmed’s character, he responded to this horrible experience by co-founding the Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum to empower young Muslims and imams with the space and tools to push back against violent extremists. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Ahmed in Kampala and Nairobi – and he epitomizes the sort of community-level initiative and leadership we need to better mobilize against this shared threat.

Cities are another essential part of community-level leadership. This afternoon, following a welcome from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, mayors from around the world will launch a new Strong Cities Network to identify and share community-level best practices for building resilience and social cohesion against violent extremism. One of those mayors – Stian Røsland from Oslo, played a leading role in moving this wonderful idea from concept to reality. Mayor Røsland is here with us now and can elaborate further about the importance of cities in our broader CVE effort.

Since February, we have seen a remarkable summer of progress around CVE. All of these new initiatives, networks, and platforms I’ve mentioned will be vital to sustaining this momentum as we move forward.

And with that, let me turn it over to the Mayor Røsland to say a few words about the critical role of cities in our shared struggle against violent extremism.