Violent extremism undermines peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. No country or region is immune from its impacts.
Ahead of the International Day for the Prevention of Violent Extremism on 12 February, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is highlighting its work to prevent violent extremism.
“A close friend from school unexpectedly became involved in terrorist activities. His capture by the police was covered in the newspaper and social media.”
28-year-old Mohammed Abdul*, a law graduate and development activist from Bangladesh, describes that experience as a wake-up call. His friend’s arrest made him aware that “everyone in the society is at risk of [violent] extremist threats and potential radicalization,” he says.
“It motivated me to work on preventing violent extremism to initiate peace activities and promote tolerance, religious harmony, inter-faith dialogues, and cultural activities,” he adds.
Now, he is well-placed to channel that motivation into action – Mohammed and seven other activists from Tunisia, Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana, USA, Japan and Germany were selected from among over 200 youth activists to form the first United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Youth-Led Action Board. The initiative aims to mobilize youth and youth-led civil society organizations working to prevent and respond to violent extremism and terrorism.
The initiative, supported by the Federal Republic of Germany, recognizes that young people are often best placed to imagine and realize the change in their communities.
Regardless of their beliefs, young people may become particularly vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment by violent extremist and terrorist groups. Violent extremism deprives youth of opportunities, affecting both their present and future.
Youth and youth-led civil society organizations can play powerful roles in efforts to prevent violent extremism and terrorism. It is crucial to find practical and innovative approaches to provide them with opportunities to voice their concerns and contribute to community well-being.
From 4 to 5 December 2023, UNODC convened the inaugural meeting of the youth-led board in Vienna, where the board members discussed the implementation of the youth-led initiative and explored the way forward.
Board member Jennifer Smith* from the United States of America, who has experience in designing human rights and humanitarian aid programmes in the Middle East, stressed that technical and vocational training programmes play a crucial role in preventing youth from joining armed groups across the countries and stop them from radicalization. “It is crucial to keep youth connected with positive activities and to offer more volunteer opportunities,” she says.
"They can be encouraged to participate in various social initiatives, and their voices should be heard by the government and the international community. This way, they can feel valued and included in the decision-making process,” echoes Mohammed.
Over the two-day session, the board members also refined the structure, role, and responsibilities of the board and selected its Chair, Vice-chairs, and the Secretary. Furthermore, they discussed the conceptual framework of future call for proposals to be implemented by youth-led and youth-focused civil society organizations and engaged in an open discussion centred on developing a road map on the implementation of the youth-led action in 2024.
*Names changed to protect privacy