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Statement by Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism

High Level Segment - Action at the Global Level

8 April 2016

Secretary-General,
Minister Burkhalter,
Excellencies,

All of us feel sorrow and rage at attacks like those suffered over the past month in Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Iraq, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey. But beyond these shared feelings, we need to focus on developing an effective response. As emphasised in the Secretary General’s Plan of Action, measures to prevent and counter violent extremism must fully respect human rights. This is not only our responsibility; it is also, strategically, more far-sighted.

Violent extremism is not invincible. Conditions conducive to this phenomenon can be corrected. Poor governance, conflict and chaos reflecting and deepening the prevailing lack of respect for human rights have driven many people to despair. We must ensure that there is full accountability for past human rights violations and abuses, as well as redress for the victims, to heal the wounds that lead to grievances and resentment.

To fight violence, we must eventually move beyond all violence – lawful or otherwise. Whether in the home, the street, on the screens and in the imaginations of our children, we should be striving, ultimately, to remove violence from the ordinary currency of human relations. Working with reason and justice, we can rebuild a fundamental sense of loyalty and belonging throughout our societies. Discrimination should be fought, and equality promoted in schools, work-places, courtrooms, police-stations, prisons, neighbourhoods and communities. Equal access for all to economic, social and cultural rights will contribute to immunising individuals and societies from violent extremism.

It is particularly vital that we promote the resilience of affected communities. This requires genuine efforts and action to eradicate real or perceived exclusion and marginalisation. People must feel that they have a space to freely express themselves, and that they can participate fully and equally in political life and public affairs.

If counter-terrorism operations compound the fear and divisiveness – the very aim of the violent extremists – turning people against each other and alienating entire communities, then they are, inadvertently, destroying our most effective defences. Arbitrary detentions, torture, restrictions on the legitimate work of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society, and other measures that dismantle the fundamental freedoms that are among humanity’s greatest achievements – such operations do the extremists’ work.

The Secretary General’s Plan of Action guides us away from a ‘hard security’ approach to one that takes into account the root causes that have led to our insecurity. The upcoming review of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy is a further opportunity to ensure that our responses are well coordinated and grounded in respect for human rights. This is the right way –and the only way – to ensure our long-term security.