« Preventing violent extremism as key element in countering terrorism: Taking action at the roots of terrorism and emphasising values »

Geneva, 08.04.2016 - Speech given by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter at the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – Check against delivery

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Switzerland welcomes you with open arms. My country, its people and its authorities, and Geneva in particular, wish you a warm welcome. We welcome you to speak and to take action to prevent the unnecessary suffering brought about by violent extremism. Welcome to our United Nations, and thank you, especially, Ban Ki-Moon and your team for having organised this conference in partnership with Switzerland.

Why are we meeting today? Or rather for whom? For every child, every young person, for every woman and every man, who is a victim of the terrible fragility in our world, and for everyone who might become a victim. And also to take on board that real progress depends on our ability to work together to address the underlying causes of this fragility and to work consistently over the long term to give everyone some prospects in life.

Many of you come from countries and regions that are affected by fragility every day. And many of us have been to see first-hand what life is like in these countries and have witnessed the courage that exists there. It takes a lot of courage and great strength to live in a place where there is such fragility, trying to make a better life and trying not to lose hope. We are familiar with this reality, and we therefore know that it is our joint responsibility to improve security everywhere.

On Tuesday in Stockholm, at the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, concrete action in favour of fragile states was on the agenda. In Geneva today, we are striving to make progress in preventing violent extremism in all countries, in fragile contexts as well an in all others.

Next month the World Humanitarian Summit takes place in Istanbul. The outcome of all of these gatherings needs to be the mobilisation of the international community to find real joint answers to the critical problems of our time, to the real difficulties people face.

I want to tell you how grateful I am to all of you for being here today. Your presence demonstrates your determination to combat the scourge of violent terrorist acts against civilians, like those carried out only recently in Brussels and Lahore or in Syria and Iraq, and in many other regions of the world. We condemn these atrocities in the strongest possible terms. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the victims and their families and loved ones.

Terrorism continues to spread around the globe. It constitutes one of the gravest threats to international peace and security, aggravated still further by the emergence of terrorist groups like Daesh, which controls vast swathes of territory, the people who live there and resources.  Terrorists are using unprecedented violence against civilians, both in armed conflicts and other contexts.

As states, it is our responsibility to protect our citizens and defend their freedoms.  We have to ensure that the perpetrators of these acts of violence are hunted down and brought to justice, and we must also bring help and relief to people enduring a humanitarian crisis.

Preventing violent extremism means stepping up efforts to promote the rule of law, human rights and – in armed conflicts – international humanitarian law. In our battle against terrorism we must make use of preventive as well as repressive measures.

We also need a clearer understanding of the phenomenon we are facing, so that we can act on the factors that draw people – especially young people – to violent extremism. We need to offer young people opportunities and render them unreceptive to the temptations of terrorism. We need to offer them an alternative, in the form of education and jobs. We need these young people to become bakers, drivers, teachers and entrepreneurs, not extremists. We need to invest more in a better future.

The UN has a decisive role to play in preventing violent extremism.  We welcome in particular the will to take action that we are seeing, the Secretary-General's Plan of Action. This plan is greatly helping to re-energise the UN’s prevention agenda and pillars I and IV of the 2006 UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy – the preventive measures to eradicate the conditions that encourage the spread of terrorism, and the measures to guarantee that human rights and the rule of law are respected. In short: taking action at the roots of terrorism and emphasising values.

This policy approach which puts prevention at the heart of action is gaining in credence. The recent reviews on peacekeeping operations, the peacebuilding architecture and the implementation of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security underscore the paramount importance of prevention. The Sustainable Development Goals do the same, in particular goal 16, which aims to promote peaceful societies and build effective, inclusive institutions that are accessible to all.

This is the policy approach to which my country wants to intensively contribute.

Preventing violent extremism is first and foremost a national challenge, and in Switzerland also a cantonal and local undertaking. My country’s federalist structure rests on the belief that a culture of dialogue, compromise, inclusive decentralised solutions and respect for minorities and the separation of powers constitute the foundation for peace.

In Switzerland, the principle of subsidiarity guarantees that decisions are made as closely as possible to our citizens and take account of their needs. Thus local communities play key role in integrating people from different backgrounds. And they also help us to identify the kinds of behaviour liable to lead to violence. Towns and municipalities are closest to what is happening on the ground.  Effective urban planning that prevents the creation of ghettos in particular is the key that will allow us to close the door on violent extremism, and open the gate to inclusive societies.

Furthermore, at national level Switzerland is actively fighting racism and racial discrimination and educating people about human rights. We are focusing on youth, for example though programmes to prevent violence at home, at school and in public places, and through programmes to teach young people about the risks of using digital media.

Last year, the Swiss government approved a new counter-terrorism strategy. Its four spheres of action – prevention, law enforcement, protection and crisis management – are consistent with the Swiss Federal Constitution and comply with international law, particularly human rights. Because respect for the rule of law, human rights and humanitarian principles is essential for the welfare and development of our society.

The strategy aims to prevent radicalisation, through education and employment and measures aimed at prisons, youth centres and places of worship, through dialogue with particularly vulnerable communities, and by preventing the stigmatisation of minorities. We also want to consolidate the links between the various actors and strengthen how they work together in networks.

And our domestic experience guides our foreign policy commitments. Countering terrorism by preventing violent extremism is a priority of our foreign policy, which forms the basis of commitments to peace and security, development and human rights. In other words, we are convinced firstly that human security and human rights for all are an integral part of national security, and secondly that preventing violent extremism is the most effective way to counter terrorism.

In concrete terms, we have developed a foreign policy action plan for preventing violent extremism.  Its priorities: young people and women. One of its key instruments: International Geneva.

Children and young adults can play very different roles in the context of violent extremism. They can form links with terrorist groups and go as far as committing terrorist acts themselves; they are also terrorism’s victims.  Most importantly, they can play a decisive role in mobilising people against violent extremism.  We therefore need not only to protect young people against violent forms of extremism and prevent them from being recruited by terrorist groups, but also to empower them to become active players in the fight against such extremism. The same applies to women.
For example, one project that Switzerland is supporting in a marginalised part of Tunis aims to improve young people's involvement in social and political life by bolstering their participation in local governance.  Switzerland has also launched an international initiative calling for the development of standards and best practices for juvenile justice in a counter-terrorism context.

And we are working on the ground to give young people the chance to attend school, get a job and earn their living. In short, to give them alternatives to violence. Over the last four years, Switzerland has given 300,000 people, mostly young people, the opportunity to do vocational education and training in 20 countries, including Nepal, Burkina Faso, the Western Balkans, Myanmar and Rwanda. We intend to intensify these activities together with the private sector, which plays a primordial role in promoting skill acquisition and creating jobs.

Switzerland can make a real contribution to these efforts thanks to this place, thanks to International Geneva. The prevention of violent extremism lies at the intersection of peace and security, development and human rights. We need to connect these pillars of global stability better and bring them together.

In Geneva, a great number of international organisations, research and training establishments, think tanks, and civil society organisations are working towards the same goals: to prevent and resolve conflicts, build peace, protect and promote human rights, and promote international humanitarian law and refugee law, all of which are essential for preventing violent extremism.  These organisations and institutions offer tremendous potential, which is at your disposal in this universal city.

Switzerland has founded organisations like the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), which have already developed expertise and earned recognition internationally in areas related to the prevention of violent extremism.

Geneva also hosts the headquarters of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF).  GCERF was conceived as a public-private partnership for channelling funds from private and public donors to grass-roots organisations in a bid to strengthen resilience to violent extremism at the local level.  GCERF is starting to fund projects in Bangladesh, Mali and Nigeria.  These will soon be joined by Kosovo, Myanmar and Kenya, and many more countries have expressed an interest.  To sustain these activities and broaden its scope, the international community needs to provide GCERF with additional funding from public and private-sector sources. 

Let us not forget, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, investing in the prevention of violent extremism costs far less than mitigating its consequences.  Prevention is not only better than cure – it is also cheaper! Let me be clear about this. We will need not only the will but also sufficient funding to carry out the UN Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism and the regional and national action plans.
Moreover, this funding needs to be long-term. Preventive action is to terrorism what the marathon is to athletics. It is now up to us, in each country and at the United Nations to keep going, to set the right priorities and maintain them in the long term. These are the priorities that will create real opportunities, that will give hope for the future to new generations.

Address for enquiries

FDFA Communication
Federal Palace West Wing
CH-3003 Bern, Switzerland
Tel. Press service: +41 58 460 55 55
E-mail: kommunikation@eda.admin.ch
Twitter: @SwissMFA


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs