Ban Ki-moon on CVE at the Club de Madrid Policy Dialogue: “Human rights must be at the forefront of our response”


Madrid, 28 October 2015


I am honoured to be invited to address you on this important and timely topic. The Club de Madrid has long distinguished itself as a useful forum where former leaders can continue to contribute their unique perspectives on the pressing challenges of our time. Violent extremism poses a direct threat to international peace and security. Extremist groups – such as Daesh, Al Shabaab and Boko Haram – undermine universal values of dignity and the worth of the human person.

They reject the call of the United Nations Charter to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours. Terrorism is a threat in all countries –from Norway to Thailand; from the United States to Iraq. I commend Spain’s leadership against terrorism and violent extremism, including in the Security Council as President this month. I also want to commend the determined commitment of Spain to supporting victims of terrorism. I am pleased to join you today to express the support of the United Nations to fighting terrorism while upholding the core values of human rights and the rule of law. Spain has suffered terrorism from within its society, and attacks inspired from beyond its borders.

We will never forget the train bombings in Madrid on 11 March, 2004, that killed 191 people and wounded 1,800 more. We share the grief and outrage of the people of Spain.One year after those terrible events, the Club de Madrid convened an International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security. Political leaders and civil society united to develop the Madrid Agenda — a call to action to confront terrorism through a global democratic framework. At that meeting, my predecessor, Kofi Annan, announced the key elements of what became the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006. The Strategy took into account the Madrid Agenda. Yet, despite all our efforts, terrorism is on the march. The violent extremist ideas that fuel it are spreading. Violent extremism is a diverse phenomenon.It is neither new nor exclusive to any one region or system of belief.

Violent extremism, which breeds terrorism, poses a direct assault on the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the values on which the United Nations was founded. It affects all areas of the work of the United Nations. It undermines international peace and security and threatens to reverse important development progress. Violent extremist groups are responsible for egregious human rights violations, including mass executions, mutilations, torture, rape, the selling of women and sexual slavery. They control territory, impeding humanitarian access and targeting humanitarian actors. Their actions have contributed to the highest number of refugees and displaced persons since the Second World War. Countering this threat through effective security responses should remain a priority. But we must recognize that our response needs to be unified and multi-dimensional. Human rights must be at the forefront of our response, to avoid breeding the problems we are trying to solve. And our efforts need to be complemented by prevention. As we have seen around the world, failure to resolve conflict nurtures extremists and can even lead to them becoming so powerful they end up driving the conflict. 

That is why conflict prevention is one of the best tools for preventing violent extremism. We also have to address other underlying drivers of violent extremism. We must ask ourselves: what is the attraction of extremist ideologies? Most of those recruited by terrorists are young men, although we are also seeing women fall under the influence. Many are frustrated with the few avenues available to them to pursue productive lives and find their place in society. Many are galvanized and then radicalized by what they see around them or on social media.  This includes violence, injustice and heavy-handed security responses. It includes failures of governance, inequality and injustice.These abuses and real or perceived marginalization can make individuals susceptible to violent extremist ideologies and recruitment by terrorists.

We must show them another way, a better way. That includes working to end poverty, inequality, exclusion and lack of opportunity. And it means upholding human rights and providing peaceful channels for the resolution of grievances. Extremist groups often paint themselves as an alternative to poor governance and corruption – in the justice sector, in the security sector, and across all state institutions. We must strengthen these areas, as a preventative measure, to stop the spoilers of peace from holding sway over underserved and neglected populations. I am convinced that good governance is essential to countering terrorism in the long-term. That is why I urge you to speak out against human rights breaches and social injustice wherever your encounter them.I ask you, too, to do more to amplify the voice of the moderate majority so we may drown out those who preach violence and hatred.

I have been deeply disturbed by the latest spread of extremist violence. That is why, in the months ahead I will present to the General Assembly a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. The Plan will call for an “all of Government”, “all of society” and “all of UN approach” to systematically address the drivers of violent extremism at the global, regional, national and local levels. It will also put forward recommendations on how the UN system can better support Member States in this effort. One important priority will be to engage youth.Young people are the main targets for recruitment by violent extremist groups. But they can be our best allies to promote understanding. The United Nations — including through my Envoy on Youth and through the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations — is seeking to harness the idealism, creativity and energy of young people to oppose violence and promote tolerance. The Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism will also recognize the important role of civil society, women, and religious leaders in stitching together the social fabric.

This past April, I convened a high level thematic debate along with the President of the General Assembly and the High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations, to discuss with religious leaders how best to respond to these challenges. I was moved by the commitment of these leaders to build bridges. I saw, yet again, that what unites us can be far stronger than our differences. Such bridge-building efforts need to continue.   I hope Member States, through the General Assembly, will take up the call in the Plan of Action to issue a strong consensus resolution on the prevention of violent extremism. I welcome the emphasis that the Club de Madrid is now putting on this topic.

Other international initiatives, such as the United States-led countering violent extremism process that culminated in September with the Leaders’ Summit convened by President Obama on the margins of the General Assembly, show that we agree on the gravity of the challenge. We will needdecisive leadership and political will to implement concrete actions to roll back this threat.

The Statesmen and Stateswomen of the Club de Madrid can play a significant role in mobilizing this political will.

I count on you to support my forthcoming Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, in the same way that the Club de Madrid contributed to the development and adoption of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy ten years ago.

Thank you.