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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Upstream Prevention and Downstream Disengagement, Rehabilitation and Reintegration

Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Keynote Presentation
Lucca, Italy
May 24, 2011


Workshop Hosted by the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, Center on Policies to Counter the Appeal of Terrorism

Thank you for that introduction. I want to especially thank the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, and its Center on Policies to Counter the Appeal of Terrorism, for hosting this workshop on terrorist rehabilitation and disengagement. UNICRI has been assisting intergovernmental, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations for more than forty years in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice, and as the challenge of terrorism has expanded globally UNICRI increasingly has prioritized its work in this area. So thank you for hosting this workshop and for your continuing efforts to improve our understanding of how we can detect and prevent pathways into terrorism and rehabilitate those who have fallen prey to extremist recruitment.

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to share a few thoughts on the importance of the work you do every day to counter violent extremism. But I also want to briefly emphasize how U.S. counterterrorism efforts are part and parcel of a broader foreign policy approach under the Obama Administration, one that emphasizes multilateral engagement and enhanced global partnerships.

It’s an inspiring sight to see so many countries represented here today, with experts of myriad nationalities gathered under one roof to share your knowledge and experiences. The program for the next two days will provide some excellent opportunities for you all to present on your national experiences, compare notes and best practices, and learn from one another. Although each of your countries’ struggles with terrorism is in many ways unique, knowledge of what has and has not been successful in other places, and how other countries have successfully pursued counterterrorism goals while honoring universal rights and values, can offer valuable lessons as you construct and shape your national policies.

I want to recognize as well the representatives here tonight from a number of multilateral organizations, including the European Union, the UN’s al Qaeda/Taliban Monitoring Team, and the UN Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Office. The United States values our close work with each of your organizations in pursuit of our common mission to combat terrorism and counter violent extremism, so I am glad you also will be able to share your expertise in multilateral bodies with the workshop’s other attendees.

We come together today at a critical juncture in our collective counterterrorism efforts. The death of Osama bin Laden earlier this month dealt a huge blow to al Qaeda. But even as we mark this victory, we must remain vigilant, knowing that our efforts to stop al Qaeda will not end with bin Laden’s death. Moreover, much of al Qaeda’s activities have devolved to its affiliates and regional terrorist groups, including TTP, the Haqqani network, AQAP, AQIM, and al-Shabaab, who continue to plot attacks on civilians around the world. And although even before bin Laden’s death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, across the globe far too many individuals still remain susceptible to its poisonous ideology and calls to indiscriminate violence.

Yet we also are witnessing a remarkable season of transformation across North Africa and the Middle East, revolutions whose full implications are only beginning to be visible. The changes of government and the largely peaceful groundswell of demands for universal freedoms hold tremendous promise for a part of the world that for too long has suffered from a deficit of democracy, human rights, and development. It is worth noting in the context of this workshop that the citizens of these countries who took to the streets to demand change did so without any reference to the incendiary and violent worldview promoted by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. In so doing, they took their futures into their own hands, toppling the terrorists’ longstanding argument that transformative change in the Middle East could only come through violence, and providing a powerful reminder of just how little influence extremists really have with populations across the region. In just a few short months, these citizens achieved more change than terrorists have over decades.

Indeed, the confluence of these events puts the international community at a moment of great possibility for our collective efforts to counter terrorism and combat violent extremism. Just as we must support democratic transitions in North Africa and the Middle East, so too must we engage the aspirations of these populations for security, stability, and the promise of a better tomorrow. Legitimate governments that provide political and economic opportunity for their people are the best means of countering terrorism. As President Obama said last week, “after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”

So as we approach the tenth anniversary of the September 11attacks, it is worth recalling that, since that terrible day, the international community has made great tactical progress on counterterrorism, taking many individual terrorists off the street and disrupting terror cells in all corners of the globe. But for our collective counterterrorism efforts to succeed in the long term, we must embrace three strategic priorities.

First, we need to emphasize building state capacity, to address the root causes and upstream factors of violent extremism. We must assist the governments of developing or fragile states in addressing deprivations that can drive individuals toward extremist outlets for their frustration. Without better security, education, and jobs, we will face an uphill battle in stopping people from becoming terrorists in the first place. But by helping governments provide their peoples with hope, we can prevent them from turning instead to hate.

Second, we must address the state weaknesses that terrorism thrives on, to ensure that all states can effectively counter the threats they face. But our work in this area must support and strengthen the rule of law and universal human rights. Our values are what distinguish us from those who would use violence to destroy the progress humanity has made over the course of history. Moreover, it is by respecting and protecting universal rights – including free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, equality, and the right to democratic governance – that governments best inoculate their citizens against the siren call of violent extremism as a response to political repression.

Third, we collectively must strengthen and expand our full range of partnerships, to better coordinate our efforts and share expertise and lessons learned. As I’ll discuss more in a moment, the United States views the United Nations as a key partner in efforts to combat and prevent terrorism, and we remain committed to deepening and broadening our partnerships with the UN as well as with other governments, multilateral organizations, civil society, and the private sector.

To do so, we must continue to recognize that our world has become more interconnected and networked. But just as we face threats that no longer stop at borders, that no longer take the form of armed conflict between sovereigns, so too must we construct our responses to these threats with an eye toward broadening and deepening our networks of partners. So for the United States, we continue to work closely with our traditional allies and partners in Europe and elsewhere, even as we seek opportunities to engage emerging centers of influence and help them integrate into the international architecture. Within states, we are reaching out directly to populations worldwide, and working to expand our outreach to youth. At the same time, the Obama Administration also has recognized the need to bolster our multilateral engagement to combat shared threats like terrorism.

For the United States, strengthening our partnerships with multilateral institutions has been not only a cornerstone on which the Obama Administration has built our counterterrorism efforts, but more broadly has served as a pillar of our foreign policy. The United States has recognized that security and prosperity for some cannot sustainably be pursued at the cost of insecurity and poverty for others. In our interconnected era, all our fates are intertwined. So we have committed not just to working through existing multilateral institutions, including the United Nations, but moreover to working with a broad range of partners to strengthen the multilateral architecture, so that we all can collectively address the shared challenges of the twenty-first century. We recognize that the world looks to the United States as a force for progress, but that we must answer that call not by acting alone, but rather by deepening our engagement with existing partners and exploring new avenues for cooperation with emerging centers of influence.

So given where we are today and where we must go in the years to come, it is in many ways only natural that this workshop is being hosted by a United Nations body. Countering terrorism is not, as I’m sure you all would agree, a task that any one country or small group of countries can take on alone. Rather, it is a shared global challenge, and our efforts in this regard are only as strong as our shared commitment.

I noted earlier the counterterrorism work that UNICRI has been doing, but its programs are but one part of the UN system’s larger contributions to the counterterrorism field. At the highest levels, the UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy brings together measures to prevent and combat terrorism, address conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, build state counterterrorism capacity, and ensure respect for human rights and rule of law as the basis on which global counterterrorism efforts are founded.

The UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy is unique not only because of the breadth of its scope, but also because it fully embraces the need for partnerships of all types. The Strategy calls for a multi-stakeholder response to the threat of terrorism, where not only governments, but also multilateral bodies, the private sector, and civil society need to be involved.

To this end, at the center of the UN’s hub-and-spoke counterterrorism structure lies the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, better known as the CTITF. It is encouraging to see that there are now roughly 30 UN entities participating in the CTITF, from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to UNESCO, from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the UN Development Program. Their mandates cover a variety of thematic areas, but by harmonizing their efforts these dozens of UN agencies and departments can better address the threat of terrorism across the spectrum. We continue to encourage each of the UN entities that address terrorism and the conditions conducive to its spread to renew their commitment to the UN Strategy and the work of the CTITF. I know that UNICRI has played an important role in CTITF in addressing how radicalization and extremism can lead to terrorism, an effort the United States and our partners very much appreciate.

In this regard, the United States has been a leading advocate for broadening the Security Council’s counterterrorism policy framework across the different missions, to eliminate any daylight between the approach of the Security Council and that taken by the General Assembly. The UN’s political bodies also have been engaged in combating terrorism, and we are working to better harmonize those efforts as well. The Security Council’s targeted sanctions against al Qaeda and the Taliban have put into place binding asset freezes and travel bans on international terrorists and their supporters. In addition, with the renewal last December of the mandate for the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, the Security Council emphasized the importance of prevention, human rights and the rule of law, and working with civil society in the UN’s counterterrorism efforts.

But the UN’s work is not only on the policy level; it extends into programmatic efforts as well. And there is increasingly a positive story to be told about the UN’s programmatic contributions to counterterrorism efforts.

In many cases, we have seen that the United Nations can play a critical role as an interlocutor and partner on counterterrorism issues working with countries that for one reason or another are loath to accept direct assistance from another government or group of countries. For example, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate have worked with front-line states in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa to build the capacity of government institutions to address security threats posed by terrorist groups. UNODC facilitates state ratification and implementation of the international legal instruments against terrorism, and helps build the capacity of national criminal justice systems to apply these instruments. And it also develops integrated programs to eradicate or alleviate conditions that encourage criminal activities and assists governments in developing coordinated approaches to fighting terrorism – as well as drugs, trafficking, corruption, lack of good governance, and border security, all of which can be intertwined with terrorist activity.

We also are encouraged to see the Alliance of Civilizations supporting several projects that focus on countering the narrative of violent extremist ideologies in a number of different contexts. Further, thanks to the Secretary-General’s leadership, the UN not only continues to raise awareness of the important role that victims of terrorism can play in speaking out against violent extremist ideologies, but also is providing a much needed platform for them to exchange best practices and experiences.

And the UN also has a unique convening power to bring together counterterrorism experts from within politically complex and diverse regions to share their expertise on cutting edge issues, as we see in CTED’s gatherings of senior terrorism prosecutors from across the globe, and indeed in this UNICRI workshop on terrorist rehabilitation and disengagement.

So as with many thematic areas, multilateral work on counterterrorism issues is broadly spread throughout the UN system. Indeed, my responsibilities at the State Department include not only overseeing U.S. engagement with the principal UN bodies like the Security Council and the General Assembly, but also our work with the UN’s many technical and specialized agencies. In large part, these entities support the global systems that bring the world together in this interconnected era, and address the shared challenges we face as a result of that interconnectedness. One of the fundamental shifts in approach taken by the Obama Administration has been to broaden as well as deepen our multilateral engagement, to strengthen the international architecture to address 21st century threats like terrorism, because we recognize the key role these bodies have played in bolstering international partnership on issues like counterterrorism.

I mentioned earlier the approximately 30 UN entities that participate in the CTITF, a number that reminds us of the diversity of UN actors that have a role to play in countering terrorism. Particularly on upstream prevention, this list includes a number of UN agencies and offices that do not have “counterterrorism” in their mandates, and whose inclusion is testament to the need to improve our partnerships with a broad range of institutions. As I noted earlier, the Obama Administration has embraced broad multilateral engagement as key to responding comprehensively to the interconnected challenges of the 21st century, including terrorism and its root causes.

So the UN’s efforts to coordinate and integrate the multitude of work being undertaken by its many constituent pieces is very much in line with how the United States is approaching multilateral organizations. This Administration has returned the United States to our traditional role as a strong – but smart – supporter of UN peacekeeping missions, which can help transform a fragile ceasefire into lasting peace, and can help prevent state failure and the creation of terrorist havens. As a leader on the Human Rights Council, the United States has succeeded in establishing and upholding mechanisms to monitor and protect universal rights like the freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly, helping ensure countries the world over have the building blocks needed to construct peaceful societies in which violent extremism has no place. And, along with other generous donors to UN humanitarian organizations, the United States is helping governments avoid the crushing poverty that sometimes can drive individuals to embrace terrorism as an escape from the burdens of daily life. In each of these areas, the United Nations succeeds because of the strong partnerships it can count on among member states, individuals, and civil society and other groups, and the networks that have been built to catalyze interconnectedness as a means of advancement, rather than a pure vulnerability.

I’ve spoken this evening about efforts on the multilateral plane to counter terrorism and combat violent extremism. Yet you are all here today because at some level, we know that radicalization is driven in large part by local factors. If we are to effectively counter violent extremism, our work must be driven by local needs, informed by local knowledge, and responsive to the local community’s concerns. Yet in supporting localized upstream solutions to combat radicalization, we cannot underscore enough the value that can come from the exchange of information, including lessons learned and best practices, and the role that multilateral bodies can play in fostering these exchanges and partnerships.

Think about it for a moment – we have assembled here at an international workshop, convened by a multilateral body, to discuss lessons learned and share expertise from local experiences. In many ways, this gathering is emblematic of the networks we must build if we are to succeed in combating the scourge of terrorism.

So even as there remains much work to be done, work that each of you undertakes on a daily basis, it is my hope that you all will depart this workshop at the end of the week having learned lessons from colleagues and imparted some wisdom gained from your own experiences on how we can counter the appeal of terrorism and violent extremism. We must continue to bolster these sorts of partnerships if we are to prevent violent terrorist attacks, deter individuals from heeding the call of violent extremism, and combat the causes of terrorism, for it is our common response that is needed to address these shared challenges.

I hope that over the next two days, you all will take the fullest advantage of the impressive knowledge and experience you each have brought to this workshop. Thank you.

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