Human Rights First and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) today urged President Obama to press for firm commitments from governments taking part in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism to implement a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism. The call came in a letter asking the president to reinforce messages from his remarks during the February 2015 Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), stressing the obligations of states to protect the human rights and freedoms in order to achieve lasting stability and security. The Leaders’ Summit will take place on September 29th.
“While military, intelligence, and security tools are essential to the fight against violent extremism, they are not sufficient to the task; a more comprehensive strategy is badly needed,” wrote Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino and CIHRS Director Bahey eldin Hassan. “Such a comprehensive approach will require governments to adopt policies that reflect the reality that promoting good governance, the rule of law, and respect for human rights are not constraints but essential tools in countering violent extremism. To effectively combat violent extremism all governments must tackle social and economic marginalization, implement human rights protections for all their people, and stamp out the spread of extremist ideologies that incite hatred and violence.”
The organizations urged President Obama to highlight the following points during the Leaders’ Summit:
- National counterterrorism measures that are not rooted in respect for human rights risk being counterproductive. When governments stifle peaceful dissent, muzzle the media, and prevent the legitimate activities of non-violent civil society organizations, they are not countering extremism; they are fomenting it.
- Respect for religious freedom is an essential part of CVE strategy. The extremist discourse of some governmental religious institutions is part of the problem; independence and de-politicization of those institutions is an essential part of the solution. A comprehensive CVE strategy must address the religious and ideological narratives that lure the vulnerable and disenfranchised segments of society to violent extremism. To be effective as counterweights to extremist discourse, religious institutions must be—and be seen to be—independent of political control, and governments must ensure that diverse religious views are tolerated.
- Closing space for civil society and peaceful political activities facilitates the expansion of violent extremism and terrorism. Conversely, respecting fundamental freedoms, especially the freedom of assembly and association, is one of the most important defense mechanisms against violent extremism. Crackdowns on political dissent and diminishing space for political freedom reinforces extremist narratives and directly contributes to the radicalization of youths.
“The armed conflicts that are taking place in the Middle East and elsewhere are serving as a breeding ground for violent extremism. We believe that the United States, because of its unique reach and influence, has an inescapable responsibility to lead and energize multilateral efforts through the United Nations to end these devastating conflicts,” added Massimino and Hassan.
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