Remarks to the Press in Astana, Kazakhstan

Sarah Sewall
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
Astana, Kazakhstan
August 17, 2016

Good afternoon everyone.

Before I take your questions, I’d like to briefly explain why I’ve come to Kazakhstan and share a few observations from my meetings this week.

As you may know, two weeks ago Secretary Kerry hosted the “C5+1” meeting between the five Central Asian republics and the United States to reinforce regional cooperation on a broad range of issues, including economic connectivity, the environment and climate change, human rights, and security.

My trip this week has a narrower focus: strengthening our cooperation against terrorism. Kazakhstan has played a leadership role in building global support for a broader preventive approach to violent extremism, including by hosting a summit here in Astana last June.

Two weeks ago in Washington, we announced U.S. support for the Global Counterterrorism Forum to hold a dialogue focused on countering radicalization to violence and the movement of foreign terrorist fighters across Central Asia.

This week I'm here as the top counterterrorism official at the U.S. Department of State to learn about Kazakhstan's efforts to counter violent extremism. I've been impressed by the thoughtfulness and commitment of our Kazakhstani colleagues to address this problem. In meetings this week, I shared our observations about the factors often linked with terrorist radicalization – and more importantly – what we can do to prevent it.

One factor is often government behavior. Corruption, impunity, and poor public services can erode trust between people and government and create openings for violent extremist to recruit. Prisons that mix petty criminals with violent ideologues can provide terrorists a captive audience. And we’ve seen how governments that respond to terrorist attacks with torture, abuse, and restrictions on fundamental rights can actually fan terrorist radicalization by leading otherwise peaceful individuals to see violence as their only recourse.

That’s why, when Secretary Kerry visited Astana last November, he emphasized that “terrorist presence does not give authorities license to use violence indiscriminately… [or] to lock up political opponents.” In meetings this week, I’ve underscored that governments should take a “no harm” approach by ending counterproductive practices, fighting corruption at all levels, and respecting human rights.

Sources of terrorist radicalization can also include personal or community alienation, hopelessness about the future, or hunger for identity and purpose. But addressing these vulnerabilities is not something governments alone can do; an effective approach must involve local communities. Religious leaders, researchers, teachers, women, and youth are often best positioned to intervene when vulnerable individuals are on the brink of violence. Similarly, free and independent media and citizen groups can refute terrorist ideologies and their false propaganda with far more credibility than government officials and outlets.

The U.S. welcomes Kazakhstan’s commitment to a broader and more preventive approach to terrorism, and we stand ready to work with partners in and out of government who will join us to turn back this shared threat.

Now let me take your questions.