Civil society is a key actor in preventing and countering violent extremism conducive to terrorism


"Civil society participation is a fundamental part of building community resilience and contributing to the success of the United Kingdom's counter terrorism strategy, PREVENT," said Ms. Tolani Joacquim-Runchi, an expert for the Home Office of the Government of the UK at  a side event on Civil Society Engagement in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism organized by the UNODC Civil Society Team during the 26th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice on 24 May.

The event which took place just two days after the Manchester attack was an unfortunate reminder that all stakeholders in the international community must unite in these troubling times to combat violent extremism and terrorism.

The UK government currently works with 82 civil society organisations in over 40 priority areas within the country in its attempt to counter violent extremism .

Other experiences from a civil society perspective were presented. Mr. Abdoul Kassim Foumba, the National Coordinator of  the Malian non-governmental organisation (NGO) '' Think Peace",  stated that in a conflict-ridden society such as Mali, the positive outcomes in de-radicalising youth is only possible through the support of civil society. Think Peace Mali utilises the influence of religious leaders, community leaders, local chiefs and celebrities to show vulnerable young people alternative means to achieving a successful and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, in many countries across the globe, young people are at risk of being used by armed or terrorist groups in order to escape from their socia-economic challenges. Additionally, Mr. Foumbe spoke passionately about the importance of local communities learning to become independent rather than relying on the assistance of big donors. In his own words, "local people can take ownership of activities and what they want to see in their communities".

The importance of local communities in countering violent extremism (CVE) was further elaborated by Mr. Florian Reimers, a representative of a German NGO - Violence Prevention Network - who stressed that radicalisation is a phenomenon taking place transnationally. He provided an insight to the ambitious mission of his organisation which is successfully engaged in preventing violent extremism (PVE) and de-radicalisation efforts across Germany. Describing his organisation's work with prisoners, Mr. Reimers gave a broad range of approaches as to how best to start the de-radicalisation process with such individuals and how, eventually, the combination of such efforts contribute to the prevention of violent terrorist crimes, seemingly on the rise in Europe and other parts of the world.

In many cases, the work of NGOs is overlooked, as stated by the moderator of the event, Ms Karen Judd Smith. Ms. Judd Smith emphacized that it is paramount that Member States and the United Nations access the expertise of the private sector and civil society in order to build an efficient mechanism on countering violent extremism. She also introduced a video message from Mr. Douglas Johnson, CEO of the International Center for Religion and Democracy who emphacized that religion could be in some cases the solution of the problem and more should be done by the United Nations to address this topic. Ms. Dolgor Solongo from the UNODC Terrorism Branch  stressed that UNODC strongly encourages Member States to involve civil society, the private sector and academia in C/PVE efforts.

Overall, the event was a unique opportunity for Member States, the United Nations and civil society to share multi-dimensional and varied experiences, and reiterate the applicability of civil society experiences in fostering peaceful and inclusive societies around the world