At the annual meeting of the National Society of Legal Advisers of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva on May 15 and 16, which I attended as governor and legal adviser of the Philippine Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC) provided us with a document designed to provide background information and guidance on understanding “P/CVE”, which stands for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (a.k.a. “Terrorism”), which I am sharing in this column.
President Duterte, who cut short his visit to Russia, declared martial law in Mindanao and also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which would allow the authorities to arrest people without a warrant. He said “IS” could not be allowed to gain a foothold in the Philippines and he would do whatever it takes to rebuff violent extremists or terrorists.
- What is “violent extremism or terrorism”?
There is no internationally agreed definition of “violent extremism”. In P/CVE theory, it is generally
described as the way people come to embrace “radical” views and ideas that can lead to violent action, which may be inspired by or linked to groups and/or individuals described as “terrorists”. The dominant but contested theory of violent extremism focuses on social and political grievances (e.g., poverty, marginalization, lack of professional opportunities, political oppression and perceived injustices) that can be exploited to persuade individuals to support or commit to ideologically motivated violence in order to further political goals.
While counterterrorism generally refers to the coercive measures states use to tackle “terrorism” (e.g., policing and judicial measures, blocking of financing, preventing detention, counterinsurgency campaigns and targeted air strikes), P/CVE is the use of noncoercive means to prevent or dissuade individual or groups from adopting “extremist views” that might lead to acts of terrorism. P/CVE is, thus, intimately related to and part of states’ boarder counter-terrorism agenda.
Owing to the lack of an agreed definition of violent extremism—and the broad and contested range of push and pull factors that P/CVE initiatives aim to address—a variety of concerns have been expressed about the impact of P/CVE programs. These include the risk of stigmatizing some communities considered as vulnerable to violent extremism based on ethnicity, religion or race; the criminalization of individuals suspected of being “radicalized” in the absence of any unlawful acts; and the suppression of legitimate political opposition groups. States’ understanding that terrorism must be fought through more than military or security means is not new. Noncoercive and preventive measures to address this phenomenon have been part of counterinsurgency strategies and counterterrorism approaches for decades (e.g., the famous “winning hearts and minds” approaches).
The concept of P/CVE, as it is now understood, emerged more than 10 years ago in the post-9/11 context out of concerns to address the root causes of terrorism. However, high-level and global interest in P/CVE has peaked in recent years because of the rise and spread of violent armed groups that claim to follow a particular “jihadist” ideology. Increasing attacks in various countries —including by states’ own citizens in some cases—and the phenomenon of “foreign fighters” have made P/CVE a security priority for states, as illustrated by the US’s White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February 2015.
In January 2016 the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) unveiled a Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism and called upon all states to develop national plans on PVE. The plan aims to tackle PVE through a comprehensive “all-of-UN” approach that requires all UN agencies, funds and programs to contribute to preventing this phenomenon across all three pillars of the UN’s mandate: peace and security, development and human rights.
There is currently no agreement or undertaking at the global level on the drivers for violent extremism and the most effective means to address them—a point acknowledged in the UNSG’s plan of action. Some states have even resisted this agenda, preferring a more traditional counterterrorism approach. Nevertheless, due to the current political momentum, many countries are developing and implementing national plans based on their own assessment and understanding.
P/CVE activities may include, among others:
- Development programs for education, job creation and inclusion; community-engagement activities, especially with young people, aimed at fostering social cohesion, promoting democratic culture and dialogue, and providing economic and livelihood opportunities; and strengthening the capacity of governments to deliver services and security, and to ensure the rule of law and respect for human rights.
- Deradicalization programs targeting individuals or groups at risk or already involved in “radical” movements or organizations. These are typically carried out in prison environments, and may include scholars engaging in religious and ideological debate with detainees. Special deradicalization facilities may be built or detainees may be segregated within prisons, based on perceived “radicalization”.
- Training and/or revised responsibilities for police or armed forces. In some parts of the world, national counterterrorism forces or units are requesting specific training on the use of force and legal standards in strategies to reduce violent extremism.
- Countering “extremist” propaganda and voices on social media and in communities by promoting “moderate” voices or the voices of victims of acts of terrorism.
- Monitoring and intelligence-gathering activities targeting communities considered vulnerable to extremist’s views. Community groups, police, peacekeeping operations and even health personnel may be involved.
President Duterte’s response to violent extremism/terrorism in Marawi City is to declare martial law in the whole of Mindanao, home to 20 million people. In his own words, “I’ll be harsh—I will do anything and everything to protect and preserve the Filipino Nation.”
Now is not the time to question President Duterte’s judgment— there are enough safeguards in our Constitution to prevent abuse of his absolute power. Let history be the judge on the wisdom of the President’s action. But, for now, let us, as one people, collectively pray for peace, not only in Mindanao but also in our whole country.
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