I. Introduction

  1. Violent extremism is an affront to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. It undermines peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. No country or region is immune from its impacts.
  2. The present Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism considers and addresses violent extremism as, and when, conducive to terrorism. Violent extremism is a diverse phenomenon, without clear definition. It is neither new nor exclusive to any region, nationality or system of belief. Nevertheless, in recent years, terrorist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Qaida and Boko Haram have shaped our image of violent extremism and the debate on how to address this threat. These groups’ message of intolerance — religious, cultural, social — has had drastic consequences for many regions of the world. Holding territory and using social media for the global and real-time communication of their ideas and exploits, they seek to challenge our shared values of peace, justice and human dignity. The spread of violent extremism has further aggravated an already unprecedented humanitarian crisis which surpasses the boundaries of any one region. Millions of people have fled the territory controlled by terrorist and violent extremist groups. Migratory flows have increased both away from and towards the conflict zones, involving those seeking safety and those lured into the conflict as foreign terrorist fighters, further destabilizing the regions concerned. While the Plan of Action has been developed within this context, it is intended to address violent extremism in all its forms and wherever it occurs.
  3. Nothing can justify violent extremism but we must also acknowledge that it does not arise in a vacuum. Narratives of grievance, actual or perceived injustice, promised empowerment and sweeping change become attractive where human rights are being violated, good governance is being ignored and aspirations are being crushed. Violent extremists have been able to recruit over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 Member States to travel to the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, as well as to Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen. Some of them will no doubt be horrified by what they see and anxious to put the experience behind them, but others have already returned to their home countries — and more will undoubtedly follow — to spread hatred, intolerance and violence in their own communities.
  4. Over the past two decades, the international community has sought to address violent extremism primarily within the context of security-based counter-terrorism measures adopted in response to the threat posed by Al-Qaida and its affiliated groups. However, with the emergence of a new generation of groups, there is a growing international consensus that such counter-terrorism measures have not been sufficient to prevent the spread of violent extremism. Violent extremism encompasses a wider category of manifestations and there is a risk that a conflation of the two terms may lead to the justification of an overly broad application of counter-terrorism measures, including against forms of conduct that should not qualify as terrorist acts.
  5. In its resolution 2178 (2014), the Security Council makes explicit the link between violent extremism and terrorism, underscores the importance of measures being in line with international norms and recognizes the need for prevention: “violent extremism, which can be conducive to terrorism”, requires collective efforts, “including preventing radicalization, recruitment and mobilization of individuals into terrorist groups and becoming foreign terrorist fighters”. In that resolution, the Council “calls upon Member States to enhance efforts to counter this kind of violent extremism”, recognizing that “international cooperation and any measures taken by Member States to prevent and combat terrorism must comply fully with the Charter of the United Nations”. Definitions of “terrorism” and “violent extremism” are the prerogative of Member States and must be consistent with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law. Just as the General Assembly has taken a practical approach to counter-terrorism through the adoption by consensus of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, this Plan of Action pursues a practical approach to preventing violent extremism, without venturing to address questions of definition.
  6. There is a need to take a more comprehensive approach which encompasses not only ongoing, essential security-based counter-terrorism measures, but also systematic preventive measures which directly address the drivers of violent extremism that have given rise to the emergence of these new and more virulent groups. In the Charter of the United Nations, Member States resolved to “take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”. I have made it a priority to re-energize the Organization’s prevention agenda, especially with respect to preventing armed conflict, atrocities, disasters, violence against women and children, and conflict-related sexual violence, and have launched a dedicated initiative to place human rights upfront. The 2015 report of the High-level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (see A/70/95-S/2015/446), the report of the Advisory Group of Experts on the review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture (see A/69/968-S/2015/490), the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the women, peace and security agenda have all stressed the need to build a collective commitment to making prevention work. The spread of violent extremism makes preventive efforts all the more relevant.
  7. The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly by its resolution 60/288, explicitly addresses prevention and foresees balanced implementation across all four of its pillars: (a) tackling conditions conducive to terrorism; (b) preventing and combating terrorism; (c) building countries’ capacity to combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system in that regard; and (d) ensuring respect for human rights for all and the rule of law while countering terrorism. Over the last decade, there has been a strong emphasis on the implementation of measures under pillar II of the Global Strategy, while pillars I and IV have often been overlooked. Ahead of the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Strategy, in 2016, I am launching this Plan of Action, with a focus on preventive measures for addressing violent extremism, including by reinvigorating those measures covered under pillars I and IV of the Strategy, ensuring a more comprehensive implementation of the Strategy in view of the lessons learned over the past decade and the challenges that may lie ahead. In the context of its most recent review of the Strategy, the Assembly urged Member States “to unite against violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations”. In doing so, we must be principled and strategic and must calibrate our response carefully. We must refocus our priorities, strengthen our application of justice, and rebuild the social compact between the governing and governed. We need to pay attention to why individuals are attracted to violent extremist groups. I am convinced that the creation of open, equitable, inclusive and pluralist societies, based on the full respect of human rights and with economic opportunities for all, represents the most tangible and meaningful alternative to violent extremism and the most promising strategy for rendering it unattractive.
  8. While our understanding of the drivers of violent extremism has improved, enabling us to adapt and refine our actions, we have to accelerate our learning process to counter the speed with which this threat is evolving. While, collectively, we have the tools with which to address many of the grievances driving violent extremism, we have to learn to use and resource them effectively. United Nations entities, including the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, the United Nations Development Programme, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations of the Secretariat, the Peacebuilding Support Office and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), and my Envoy on Youth, as well as many other members of the United Nations family, have been working on issues relevant to preventing violent extremism. We need to build on lessons already learned to refine our actions and render them more effective.
  9. We will not be successful unless we can harness the idealism, creativity and energy of young people and others who feel disenfranchised. Young people, who constitute the majority of the population of an increasing number of countries today, must be viewed as an asset and must be empowered to make a constructive contribution to the political and economic development of their societies and nations. They represent an untapped resource. We must offer them a positive vision of their future together with a genuine chance to realize their aspirations and potential.
  10. In developing this Plan of Action, I have listened closely to the views of Member States and regional organizations. We also consulted internal and external experts, scholars and practitioners. I welcome the multilateral initiatives that have stressed the need for creative and innovative action to address violent extremism.
  11. The founders of the United Nations believed in the power of our shared principles, purposes and values. Member States are obliged to adapt their actions to new realities without reneging on our common commitments. The moment we consider these common commitments dispensable we help those who disrespect them to achieve their goals. With this Plan of Action, I intend to stimulate global debate on how we can best leverage our comparative advantages to effectively prevent violent extremism.