SOURCE at the United Nations: debating the globalisation of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

The report, which was based in part on research conducted by Ben Hayes in the framework of the SOURCE project and co-published with the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute, investigates whether policies which claim to tackle terrorism in more intelligent and holistic ways instead undermine human rights and the pluralism and independence of civil society.

Arun and Ben were joined by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, who provided a foreword to the report, Faiza Patel, of the Brennan Center for Justice, and Amrit Singh, of the Open Society Justice Initiative – two organisations which have also produced detailed and critical insights on the development of CVE policies (see here and here respectively).

The event was well-attended – all 130 places were booked in advance – and following presentations by each of the speakers, a lively debate ensued. The panellists were united in expressing a healthy degree of scepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of CVE policies at both the national and international level. These views were challenged from the audience by representatives of the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate and Member State proponents of CVE policies, who argue that despite the controversies, practical actions to combat “radicalisation” and extremist ideology remains both a moral and political imperative.

At the heart of the debate were recurrent themes that have dogged the development of CVE policies since their inception: questions regarding legal and political accountability engendered by the use of “soft-law” and national action plans that exclude critical voices and parliamentary oversight; the potential for overtly political policing and the “misuse” of CVE frameworks by democratic, authoritarian and repressive regimes alike; the predilection for programmes that focus overwhelmingly on so-called “Islamic extremism” over that of the growing threat of the Far Right; the lack of definitional certainty in respect to the concepts of “extremism”, “radicalisation” and “terrorism” itself; the overemphasis on ideology in lieu of a broader social and political analysis of the factors that cause these phenomena to exist in the first place; the over-reliance on surveillance and the enlisting of non-policing bodies in the monitoring of targeted communities, which compromise the professional ethics of public and private sector workers; the co-option of civil society and community groups in the promotion and implementation of CVE projects; the stigmatisation of targeted religious groups and communities as inherently “extremist”; and the unchecked censorship of social media and internet content branded “extremism” under the guise of CVE.

Ultimately, the event demonstrated the gaping schism between human rights groups, who have been almost unanimous in their critique of CVE policies, and policy-makers and practitioners, who remain resolute in their defence.

For more information on the issues raised in the debate see “It’s Time to Put CVE to Bed”, published by Just Security by Emmanuel Mauleón of the Brennan Centre.

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