The drivers of violent extremism have been increasingly discussed in a number of international policy, fora and platforms in recent years. These drivers include poor governance, violation of human rights, prolonged unresolved conflicts, poverty, unemployment, lack of educational, socioeconomic and democratic opportunities. Social exclusion, marginalization, discrimination inequality and disempowerment can also alienate and lead individuals in search of belonging and a sense of accomplishment to adopt violent extremist ideologies. Other major contributing factors include gaps in educational systems, for example the lack of opportunities to develop intercultural competence, critical thinking and global citizenship skills.

While these factors are increasingly well documented, there is a growing need to allocate more space, time and resources to the implementation of solutions: Firstly, to the dissemination, strengthening and expansion of already existing approaches in preventing and countering violent extremism; second, to the development or optimization of new approaches, which includes contextualized, varied and fluid solutions; and finally, to the implementation of holistic preventative measures. In the words of United Nations Security-General Ban Ki-moon, “the creation of open, equitable, inclusive and pluralist societies, based on the full respect of human rights and with economic opportunities for all, represents the most tangible and meaningful alternative to violent extremism and the most promising strategy for rendering it unattractive.”

Terrorism transcends cultures and geographical boundaries and cannot be associated with any one religion, nationality or ethnic group. However, despite this fact, more efforts are needed to combat stereotypes, hate speech and prejudice suggesting that certain cultures or religions are more prone to produce extremists. Similarly, while some young people have been targeted by and have adopted and joined violent extremist behaviours and movements, the majority of the world’s nearly two billion young people do not engage in violence and represent an untapped potential to work towards a more peaceful world.

Countless young people and youth organizations around the world are already working to build peace and fight the very conditions that lead to violent extremism: They implement projects and initiatives to foster skills building and leadership; they create employment, they fight marginalization and they seek to reform and innovate in crucial areas such as education, civic and political participation.  Young people’s efforts and approaches in preventing and countering violent extremism have been documented and need to be amplified. These include preventing violence and recruitment into violent groups by working across communities and religious groups to foster trust, dialogue and mutual understanding; facilitating young people’s disengagement from violent groups through peer-to-peer approaches, using social media and new media to amplify original voices that connect with those vulnerable to online recruitment and violent extremist narratives, and fostering effective and meaningful partnerships, for example by building trust between youth, community and security actors.

Hence, young people must be seen as part of the solution to violent extremism, rather than as part of the problem. At the international policy level, this shift is happening and needs to keep growing, accompanied by funding, capacity building initiatives to expand young people’s tools and abilities and their capacity to participate in decision making processes.

In December 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2250, recognizing the critical role young people play in building peace. This ground-breaking resolution marked an official shift in the international community’s view of young people as agents of peace and partners in finding solutions, rather than viewing them as victims or perpetrators violence and conflict. It urged member states to increase the representation of youth in decision-making at all levels, including in peace negotiations. The UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action (PoA) to Prevent Violent Extremism calls for a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to systematically address the underlying conditions that push individuals to join violent extremism groups. This “All-of-society” and “All-of-government” approach highlights the importance of harnessing the contribution of young people, governments, private sectors and civil society to achieve this goal.

While these frameworks represent major milestones, the road to full implementation, localization and impact on the ground is only starting, and can only be accomplished through increased partnership of young people’s initiatives with social media companies, governments, the private sector, academia and NGOs. Moreover, there is a need to increase communication and collaboration between policy work and fieldwork and grassroots approaches, in order to take into consideration the understanding, views and concerns of young preventing violent extremism activists. Constructive dialogue and sharing between international policy makers, government representatives and civil society can bridge the gap between grassroots approaches and top down policy and inform safer and more effective prevention of violent extremism. In sum, the widespread manifestations of polarization, violence and conflict currently affecting all regions of the world, call for a holistic approach in building inclusive societies as a way to achieve peace and security.

In this context, after their meeting in April 2016 in Baku on the occasion of the 7th UNAOC Global Forum, in line with the relevance of the event to their respective agendas, Ambassador Ramil Hasanov, Secretary General of the Turkic Council and H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations agreed to co-host the international event entitled “the Role of Youth in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE): Holistic Approaches From Education to De-radicalization”.

The event will:

» Foster dialogue between young people, international policy makers, practitioners and high-level officials in order to facilitate the exchange of views, concerns, opportunities and limitations in P/CVE.

» Explore specific contextual drivers and holistic approaches to address them, recalling the importance of preventative approaches promoting dialogue, social inclusion, mutual understanding and collaboration.

» Expose know-how on successful existing initiatives, including unlikely innovative approaches and soft-power tools to involve young people in dialogue and action, such as arts, social media, sports and peer-to-peer programs. Discuss ways to support their expansion.

» Discuss ways to invest in formal and non-formal education, capacity-building, training and skills development of young people as a way to prevent violent extremism. More specifically, the need for critical thinking, global citizenship, digital and media literacy, and human rights education.

» Promote networking, alliance building, new partnerships and expansion of projects, especially at regional levels.

» Discuss how to enable and promote cross-sectoral collaboration and partnership with meaningful youth engagement, including of minorities and marginalized youth, and in line with the Guiding Principles on Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding.

To reach these objectives, the event will include a combination of diverse session formats:

» Plenary sessions with high-level speakers and leading experts;

» Facilitated dialogues between young people and governments, policymakers, etc.

» Intergenerational panels and town hall discussions to exchange know-how and best practices on specific topics;

» Workshops: to facilitate learning through active methods, the workshops could invite a selection of youth participants and practitioners to simulate concrete activities used in their programming;

» Networking sessions, using interactive methodologies (World Café, etc.) in order to promote collaboration and partnership;

» The outcomes of the simultaneous brainstorming sessions, produced by the contributions of the young leaders, would be used to provide inputs for concrete projects in order to prevent and counter violent extremism along and beyond the historical Silk Road;

» UNDP and UNOSSC will be the partners for certain panels and brainstorming sessions of the event. Their expertise and knowledge on the linkage between sustainable development, South-South and triangular Cooperation and P/CVE will be duly reflected into the conference.

» Republic of Turkey Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency-TIKA supports the materialization of the project.

» OSCE Secretariat will attend the conference with its relevant experts to address the young leaders on P/CVE throughout the sessions.

United Nations Secretary-General’s Plan of Action toPreventViolentExtremism (2015);
GuidanceFor International YouthEngagement in PVE and CVE: YouthResponsestoResolution 2250 andthe UN Plan of Action toPreventViolentExtremism (SaltmanandKirt, 2016).

United Nations Secretary-General’s Plan of Action toPreventViolentExtremism (2015).

Youth Action AgendatoPreventViolentExtremismandPromotePeace (Produced at the Global YouthSummitAgainstViolentExtremism, New York City, September 28, 2015)

GuidanceFor International YouthEngagement in PVE and CVE: YouthResponsestoResolution 2250 andthe UN Plan of Action toPreventViolentExtremism (SaltmanandKirt, 2016).

GuidingPrinciples on YoungPeople’sParticipation in Peacebuilding (United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, 2014).