Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


High-Level Meeting on Preventing Violent Extremism in Prisons: Strategic Planning and Effective Implementation
  28 September 2020

Honourable Minister Boussetta,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by thanking Minister Boussetta and the Ministry of Justice of Tunisia for convening this high-level meeting.

This is an auspicious start to the implementation of our joint global initiative to support the management of violent extremist prisoners and the prevention of radicalization to violence in prisons.

Drawing on UNODC’s integrated mandates addressing crime and terrorism, as well as promoting UN norms and standards on crime prevention and criminal justice, our Office has long-standing experience and expertise with fostering human rights-compliant prison management and in supporting governments in preventing terrorism.

In response to Member States requests, UNODC developed the first UN comprehensive technical guide on the management of violent extremist prisoners and the prevention of radicalization to violence in prisons.

Through our technical assistance, our Office is helping governments to translate this manual into effective action on the ground.

More than 20 Member States are currently benefiting from UNODC projects and services dedicated to addressing violent extremism in prisons – in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and in South and South-East Asia.

Across these initiatives, we seek to embed interventions to prevent violent extremism in prisons into broader prison reform efforts, which is far more effective than promoting standalone interventions which target only violent extremist prisoners.

This more comprehensive and integrated approach puts an emphasis on prevention, and addresses the dangers posed by an influx of violent extremists and/or returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters into national prison systems, particularly when those systems have suffered from too little support and inadequate funding for the safe, secure and humane custody of offenders.

Poor prison conditions, overcrowding, under-staffing and a lack of investment in prison reform programming all heavily undermine the capacity of prison administrations to effectively manage violent extremist prisoners.

At the same time, such shortcomings, which can contribute to a sense of despair and frustration among the general prison population, also provide dangerous entry points for attempts to radicalize prisoners to violence.

UNODC joint efforts to address the spread of violent extremism in prison settings should therefore encompass the implementation of appropriate security measures, intelligence systems and control systems.

Furthermore, we need to enhance cooperation with law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, faith professionals, therapists, mentors and the families of prisoners, as appropriate, to strengthen prevention efforts.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, or “Nelson Mandela Rules”, also represent an important tool in our efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism in prisons.

UNODC is proud to act as custodian of the Nelson Mandela Rules, which provide the universally recognized blueprint for good prison management and the treatment of all prisoners, including high-risk prisoners such as violent extremists and those who are vulnerable to radicalization.

A prison system managed in compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules will offer powerful barriers against violent extremism taking root in prisons, and provide a strong foundation on which effective interventions can be built.


Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to conclude by thanking the Tunisian government and our colleagues on the ground in the country team, as well as the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism and the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate for their strategic partnership with UNODC.

I also offer my sincere gratitude to the European Union, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom for their political and financial support to deliver technical assistance on preventing the spread of violent extremism in prisons in Tunisia, and we look forward to sharing the results and impact of our work with you.

Thank you and I wish you a productive and successful meeting.