Violent extremism undermines peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. No country or region is immune from its impacts.
For 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.
No country or region is immune to the risk of violent extremism, including those in South Asia. It is therefore essential to remain proactive in efforts to prevent the spread of violent extremism.
This is true as well for the Maldives, as noted by Mariyam Shahuneeza Naseer, Senior Research Fellow at the Maldives National University.
“We are a very small community,” Shahu says. “We need to know the reasons why people are attracted [to extremist ideas.]
“There are islands here where everyone knows everyone else living on that island,” she continues. Therefore, “if we are aware of the signs of violent extremism, I think we will be able to prevent it.”
This interest in exploring the root causes of violence and extremism led Shahu to establish a civil society organization dedicated to preventing violent extremism among youth and conduct a study exploring the pathways to extremism in the Maldives.
Her work then led her to join UNODC’s Regional Network on Preventing Violent Extremism in South Asia (SAN-PVE). This network brings together stakeholders, including from the public sector and civil society, to address common challenges, offer joint solutions, and foster collaboration in response to violent extremism.
The spread of violent extremism – and the messages of intolerance advocated by extremist groups – have had dire impacts across the world.
As noted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres: “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 nothing can justify violent extremism, says Mr. Guterres, “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.”
For this reason, SAN-PVE is based on the premise that a security-driven approach to preventing violent extremism is insufficient. As emphasized in the Secretary-General's Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, Member States’ efforts to prevent violent extremism (PVE) should be embedded into a comprehensive whole-of-society approach.
Engaging civil society organizations and communities and empowering youth and women in PVE framework is therefore key to fostering resilience against violent extremism through inclusive, community-led and community-focused initiatives.
“Creating space for open communication and mutual respect is essential in preventing violent extremism and promoting inclusivity,” Shahu agrees. “When you bring together the community, civil society organizations, legislators, and experts in PVE on one platform, we gain a better understanding of the severity of the problem and understand what needs to be done to tackle it.”
Shahu says that the connections she made through SAN-PVE have been instrumental to her work. Through participating in the network, she notes, she found useful UNODC analyses and resources, got new ideas for funding and angles for her research, and made crucial connections with other practitioners.
Since 2017, UNODC has been assisting Member States in various parts of the world, including Central, South, and South-East Asia to enhance regional cooperation, promote a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, and strengthen the capacities of national stakeholders to prevent and respond to violent extremism. Over the past two years, this work has benefitted over 6,000 counter-terrorism officials and responders across the globe.
Other key initiatives include the promotion of the humane and sustainable management of violent extremism in prisons. In recent years, UNODC has trained 4,000 Kazakh prison officers on prison safety and security, 2,000 Ugandan prison officers on preventing and countering violent extremism in prison settings, while conducting 600 individualized risk assessments of prisoners to help tailor rehabilitation responses.
UNODC is currently working to replicate the SAN-PVE network in Southeast Asia. Another network of women religious guides in Mauritania, meanwhile, work in mosques, prisons, high schools, and homes to promote alternative, more moderate narratives that counter the ones propagated by terrorist groups, and to provide guidance to women and young people who are at risk of violence and exploitation or who may be lured into joining terrorist groups.
UNODC also launched the Youth-Led Action to Prevent and Respond to Terrorism in 2023, an initiative that collaborates with young people to design and implement youth-led action for a world safer from terrorism and violence.
The General Assembly, in its resolution 77/243, declared 12 February the International Day for the Prevention of Violent Extremism as and when Conducive to Terrorism. This proclamation underscores a collective commitment to raise awareness of the multifaceted challenges posed by violent extremism, and to mobilize efforts towards proactive prevention measures.
To learn more about UNODC’s work to prevent violent extremism, click here.