Human security in the face of violent extremism


If we are serious about countering extremism and addressing the gross human rights violations being committed by groups like Isis, a comprehensive, coordinated approach – which engages not only governments and military forces, but also religious leaders, community groups and women’s organizations – is required, according to Zainab Hawa Bangura and Melanne Verveer, the United Nations special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, and the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, respectively.

Moreover, a focus on human rights, development and gender equality must be integral to this approach. Nothing less will serve to counter violent extremism and the threat it represents, they contend in The Guardian:

First, the international community must place a high priority on ensuring the full implementation of the existing laws and commitments that advance women’s protection and empowerment. UN security council resolution 1325 – which acknowledged the disparate impact of conflict on women and girls, and affirmed the participation and representation of women in conflict resolution and post-conflict recovery – has not been fully implemented. In responding to violent extremism, decision-making – from government policies to counterterrorism strategies and humanitarian responses – can undermine a key strategy of extremist organisations by focusing on women.

Second, it is critical to dismantle the culture of impunity surrounding conflict-related sexual violence, with a strong focus on bringing those responsible to justice. … All parties to conflict, both state and non-state actors, have an obligation under international law (pdf) to both prevent and punish crimes of sexual violence in conflict. Addressing impunity also requires governments to provide reparations. …

Third, holistic services for survivors and their families – including psychological services, physical care and psychosocial treatment – must be prioritised and made available in any coordinated humanitarian response. We must work to remove the stigma that so many survivors of sexual violence face so that they can be safely reintegrated into their homes and communities. …

Human rights and good governance are also central to countering violent extremism, argues Sarah Sewall, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, who highlights a new platform to engage and assist non-governmental actors:

The RESOLVE network is part of a broader global movement behind CVE, catalyzed last February by the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. That summit launched a comprehensive CVE effort that now encompasses over 100 countries, 20 multilateral bodies, and 400 civil society organizations across the globe.

As a result of this effort, foreign governments are developing national CVE strategies that provide meaningful roles for those outside government. Many of those actors – like young people, mayors, and women – have launched their own global networks to learn from each other’s experience countering violent extremism in their communities.


Zainab Hawa Bangura is a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.  Melanne Verveer is a member of the NED board. RTWT

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