UNODC and Germany cooperate on a side event - enhancing cooperation in countering violent extremism and transnational organized crime

During the Eighth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention  against Transnational Organized Crime (CoP UNTOC) held at the Vienna International Centre from 17-21 October 2016, a side-event entitled "Enhancing Cooperation among States, Civil Society and the United Nations in Countering Violent Extremis and Transnational Organized Crime" was organized on 18 October, by the UNODC's Civil Society Team and the Federal Republic of Germany.

CST side event at COP8
Representatives of Germany, UNODC, and civil society speak at the side event

The discussion highlighted the need for closer collaboration between Member States, civil society and the United Nations to progress efficiently and inclusively in the prevention and fight against emerging threats of terrorism and violent extremism. The initiative the UNODC Civil Society Team is developing in consultation with UNODC Terrorism Prevention Branch to enhance the capacity of civil society in working with Member States' institutions in countering violent extremism and preventing terrorism was officially presented. 

The panelists included representatives of the Government of Germany, experts from UNODC and representative of civil society.

Mr. Jean-Luc Lemahieu, highlighted the importance of creating the Civil Society Terrorism Prevention Coalition (CSTPC), inspired by the success of the work of UNODC in the areas of anti-corruption where it works with UNCAC Coalition and drug prevention where it works with Vienna NGO Committee ( VNGOC) on Drugs. The need for such a coalition was further expressed by Ms. Elena Rigacci Hay who underscored the need to move from an ad hoc partnership with civil society to an organized framework with a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on capacity building, and development of community-based tools in terrorism prevention. Having outlined recent trends of terrorism, particularly that 50% of victims of terrorism are civilians, Ms. Rigacci Hay presented comprehensive and inclusive policy revisions undertaken by the United Nations to address such trends, as  outlined in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the Secretary General's Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, among other counter-terrorism instruments of the United Nations.

H.E Ambassador Friedrich Däuble welcomed the event and stressed the need for such a holistic approach, highlighting the importance of civil society's role in countering violent extremism, as cooperation with civil society organizations in Germany, particularly in the fields of raising awareness, social work and de-radicalization proved to be successful. As such, he expressed his enthusiasm at and support for the CSTPC initiative, calling for a bottom-up approach in collaboration with NGOs. 

This call for action was further reinforced by Mr. Arne Feickert who illustrated the crucial role civil society plays as a facilitator and a mediator given the trust and legitimacy issues that characterize the relationship between governments and communities affected by radicalization and violent extremism. Realizing this fact, especially in the case of youth, Germany set up in January 2012 an advice center on radicalization targeting already radicalized and would-be radicalized individuals and their entourage to raise awareness and provide counselling services to start the de-radicalization process and establish trust with the support of Civil Society. Furthermore, Germany established " Live Democracy", a pilot project focusing on experience sharing among youth at all levels (federal, state and local) in the fields of countering violent extremism and de-radicalization involving NGOs, community centers and local police. Mr. Arne Feickert  concluded his intervention by pleading for improvement of European cooperation on the matter, calling for building on existing networks at the European Union level.  

Among these existing networks is the RAN, the European Commission's Radicalization Awareness Network, represented by Mr. Werner Prinzjakowitsch. Mr. Werner Prinzjakowitsch presented his organization as a European Commission-sponsored network of local NGOs and members of academia coordinated by a center of excellence based in Amsterdam and connected through nine topic-specific Working Groups. He underlined the success of this structure in linking local NGOs and communities with policymakers allowing for "a discussion of local projects and challenges at the European level". One  specific Working Group focusing on prevention led the creation of the manifesto for education, as a means through which the educational system could react to radicalization, as well as peer groups among youth focusing on experience sharing in which Civil Society is heavily involved.

One of the key responses from civil society to the de-radicalization and countering violent extremism is to involve women, as explained by Dr. Edit Schlaffer, the founder of Women without Border's. This role is exemplified by Women without Borders' work with mothers of extremists and terrorists. Dr. Schlaffer discussed these efforts to observe and analyze communities affected by radicalization, bringing to light the often ignored women's perspectives. Dr. Schlaffer explained that before the question was "why involve women". Now, the question is "how to involve women" in de-radicalization. The powerful bond between a mother and a child is at the center of Women without Borders' Mothers Schools Parenting for Peace model which aims to empower and equip mothers to recognize and respond to early warning signs of radicalization in their young adolescents. Mothers Schools have been piloted in six countries including Tajikistan, Pakistan, India/Kashmir, Nigeria, Indonesia and Zanzibar, in partnership with local NGOs. The model has now travelled to Europe, with Mothers Schools rolling-out in Austria, Belgium and England. New programs will begin in Macedonia and Jordan this year (2016).

The panel concluded with a call to focus on prevention and community engagement in the fight against violent extremism and terrorism and a statement of support for the Civil Society Terrorism Prevention Coalition initiative as a means to achieving this end.