Open Debate: Maintenance of international peace and security: the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

  • Peace, Rights and Security
Statement delivered by Ambassador Jim McLay, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 23 April 2015.

Thank you Mr President and thank you to Jordan for convening this truly important debate, indeed I think I can say at this stage, a quite extraordinary event, for all sorts of reasons. You have emphasised, I believe, the importance of the occasion by bringing your Crown Prince to the table, your country’s future, your Kingdom's future. Can I also thank our two briefers. Professor Peter Neumann and Dr Scott Atran for their quite remarkable presentations. As I listened to you gentlemen, I couldn’t help but ask why I’ve had to sit for four months, at this particular table before I heard an outside contribution of that sort of value and that sort of experience. This Security Council needs to hear more of such wisdom and such knowledge.

Through you, Mr Chairman, can I thank His Royal Highness for his presence today and his insightful comments. Not commentary on youth, which is all I can offer, but commentary by youth. And extraordinarily valuable for that reason alone.

As others have done Mr President, we should start by acknowledging that youth has been radicalised throughout history.

But, in times past, the dissemination of radical ideas, radical advocacy and radical recruitment, took weeks, months, even years.

Today, those same messages are transmitted with instant effect.

The social media and communication skills of groups such as Da’esh, have accelerated and globalised the dissemination process, and made it even more difficult to undertake effective counter-measures.

Too often, the damage has been done; the evil has been spread, before we even know it.

Tools of this modern world, which we now take for granted, combined with the increasingly young demographic of many countries, contribute to an environment where those with ill intent can target, exploit and radicalise the young, with previously unimaginable speed, and previously unparalleled intensity.

It’s wrong to lay blame for violent extremism at the feet of young; indeed, we are grateful to Jordan for focusing today’s debate on the role that youth can play in combatting violent extremism.

On this occasion, New Zealand therefore takes this opportunity to offer just three suggestions for better tackling the radicalisation of youth.

First, governments must recognise that national and local context really do matter.

Even if it’s sometimes presented as an international message and in an international package, the real factors that motivate young people to follow an extremist path are almost always local as Dr Atran emphasised in his presentation.

If we are going to address youth radicalisation successfully, we must identify the domestic or local pressures that marginalise our vulnerable youth.

We must ask how terrorist groups are so successful in exploiting and manipulating these pressures in order to radicalise and to recruit? Do they make youth dream, as Dr Atran suggested.

We must then specifically tailor our responses to those factors, governments, communities and youth all working together in partnership.

The resulting Counter Violent Extremism or CVE programmes must demonstrate to our youth that they can have a real stake in their society, and must help to develop trust in state authority – and with youth, again as Dr Atran emphasised, with youth getting them to trust state authority isn’t going to be easy, it never has been easy, they aren’t necessarily attracted by any notions of the modern nation state.

These partnerships of trust should be based on an understanding of radicalisation that goes far beyond the security lens; so we also thank Jordan for giving this debate that broader perspective as well.

If we treat at-risk youth only as objects of security concern, we grossly over-simplify the issue and we perpetuate the marginalisation that often contributes to violent extremism.

Partnerships with youth and with their communities must be based on inclusion and on respect.

Families are often the ‘first responders’ to those starting down the path to violent extremism; and those families must be supported in their efforts to challenge propaganda, to provide leadership, and to offer credible, alternative narratives. To give them the stake in society of which Professor Neumann spoke, reversing that sense of exclusion.

Secondly, we must empower our youth to create a social force – their own social force – not one that we control - which rejects violence as a means of achieving their goals. Dr Atran described such a programme in North West Pakistan.

This Council emphasised that very point last year in Resolution 2178, which encourages States to empower community leaders, families, parents and fellow youth to meet the challenge of violent extremism.

Too often, Mr President, families and communities have watched, helplessly, as groups like Da’esh spread their message of hate by using the tools of the modern age with skill and with sophistication. We need, as Professor Neumann urged, tailored solutions using those very tools.

But, even as young people are the targets of radicalisation and violent extremism, those same young people are also very well-equipped to combat that messaging; and they can do so at the technological, ideological and social level which they know and which they understand, which they can use to advantage.

The most effective CVE programmes are those that harness the energy, the passion and the creativity of young people – those who are already collaborating online, and who naturally respond to that sort of challenge.

Third, we urge states to contribute to, and draw from the experience of others, not least in respect of effective measures initiated by youth themselves.

We welcome recent efforts to coordinate international activity and to share experiences, such as the White House Summit on CVE, and the work of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum, particularly the Abu Dhabi Memorandum on CVE.

And so, Mr President, as this Council and UN counter-terrorism entities focus on supporting States to implement resolutions to counter violent extremism, we very strongly urge that we make building durable partnerships with our young people – partnerships that promote peace and combat violent extremism – that we make that an essential feature of the measures we adopt.

The Secretary-General reminded us that youth represent promise, not peril. We should never regard youth as a problem Mr President; we should regard youth as a solution.

This is the last time I will speak in this open chamber, so I want to thank my colleagues for their friendship, for their collegiality, for their support and I suspect, sometimes, for their patience. And I wish this Council well, as it deals with the many threats to international peace and security. In te reo Māori, Kia ora, e noho rā. Thank you. Goodbye.


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