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Ján Figeľ's speech at Forum Paix et Sécurité Pan-Africain in Dakar, Senegal

In my speech, I want to address three issues: i) EU approach to resilience, ii) EU approach to counter-radicalisation and iii) importance of freedom of religion or belief and interreligious dialogue

1) EU approach to resilience

  • In June 2017, the EU presented a new strategy for more resilient states and societies around the world, promoting a more structural and long-term approach to vulnerabilities, with the aim to prevent them to turn into crisis.

  • It is based on the EU global strategy, which speaks of resilience as "a broad concept encompassing all individuals and the whole of society" that features "democracy, trust in institutions and sustainable development, and the capacity to reform". Support to resilience at all levels is also an integral part of the new European Consensus on Development.

  • The European Union's unique contribution to stability in the Sahel region is a good example of this resilience approach: European humanitarian aid helps to manage the immediate crisis of displaced people, while our development cooperation tackles the longer-term root causes of poverty, by supporting complementary actions for job creation, access to education, governance, health and climate mitigation.

  • In addition, the EU is a security provider to the region. The EU supports the G5 Sahel Joint force, with the aim to fight terrorism and enhance cross-border cooperation. All of these actions support the resilience of the region.

  • Identifying and building upon existing positive sources of resilience is as important as tracking and responding to vulnerabilities. Such factors may take the form of institutionalised or informal democratic and good governance or justice systems, non-state institutions and organisations, embedded cultural norms and practices or ad hoc community-driven solutions that complement state capacities or compensate for their absence. Resilience has to be addressed at multiple levels – state, society and community.

  • This is an important aspect in the context of the specific challenge of strengthening the resilience of societies against terrorism and violent extremism.

2) EU approach to counter-radicalisation

  • Radicalisation is the first step potentially to violent extremism and terrorism – but there is no automaticity. Addressing the causes of radicalisation and terrorist recruitment is a key priority for the EU. The pull and push factors that determine the drivers of radicalisation classically can be structural, individual and enabling factors; they are on the one hand almost everywhere identical, but at the same time also much depend on specific local circumstances. Radicalisation happens locally but concerns whole societies and leaves roles and responsibilities for each, also governments.

  • The EU's counter-radicalisation strategy was updated in 2016 and now lists the following measures requiring action: (i) still the need to understand; (ii) the need to bring justice and security to all, (iii) the need for voices of mainstream and common values to prevail; (iv) the need for governments to enhance their communications; (v) the support to counter narratives; (vi) engagement with front line professionals such as teachers, psychologists etc; (vii) the building of resilience; (viii) the countering of online radicalisation and (ix) reinforced rehabilitation and disengagement programmes.

  • This strategy is firmly rooted in the UN framework and standards set, notably the UN Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) Action Plan to which we actively contributed and that the EU fully subscribes to and seeks to implement. The EU also gets inspiration of the work it does within the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) that has adopted an important document, the 'Lifecycle of Radicalisation' Toolkit with 9 best practice documents for each of the three phases of radicalisation: (i) prevention; (ii) detection/identification, (iii) rehabilitation/reintegration as well as (iv) cross cutting aspects.

  • In its conclusions of 19 June 2017 on EU External Action on Counter-Terrorism, the European Council recalled that "The EU is particularly well positioned to counter terrorism and violent extremism in a unique and integrated manner with the extensive set of instruments at its disposal. These instruments allow the EU to address the root causes of radicalization, to support social and economic development, the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights."

  • The EU mainstreams CVE into assistance programmes. Priority countries at present are the MENA region and the Arab world, but we also very actively engaged in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel . Main efforts consist in raising awareness of counter radicalisation, empower youth and women, provide training and mentoring where needed etc.

  • The EU is also part of a small group called 'Donor community of Practitioners on Development and PVE' led by DK and the US that seeks to identify best practice in external assistance to resilience.

  • In the conclusions of 19 June, the Council of 28 EU countries also called "for increased engagement in the field of P/Preventing Violent Extremism, including at the global level." and for "particular focus" to "be placed on the role of women, youth, civil society, victims of terrorism, and religious and community leaders as change agents in society."

  • We have seen that in the area of countering violent extremism:

  • investment in prevention is key and most urgent;

  • involvement of front line practitioners too;

  • the use of credible voices has proven very efficient;

  • only a multi-agency and whole society approach bring tangible results;

  • do tailor-made interventions based on solid research on the specific local context as this can differ quite a bit and thus the response has to match.

3) Freedom of Religion or Belief and Promotion of inter-religious dialogue

  • The UNGA 71 (December 2016) EU FoRB resolution, in addition to maintaining the updates of previous years, explicitly refers to the importance of a comprehensive and inclusive community-based preventive approach, to fight against acts of terrorisms.

  • An inclusive and participative approach to resilience against terrorism and violent extremism necessarily includes religious leaders, as these influential agents of change in their communities are best placed to counter religious justifications for violent extremism.

  • The EU supports initiatives in the field of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in the spirit of openness, engagement, and mutual understanding, including in the framework of UNESCO, the UN Alliance of Civilisations, the Anna Lindh Foundation, and the Istanbul process.

Protection and Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief

  • Inter-religious dialogue to foster mutual understanding and tolerance and build mutual trust goes hand in hand with the protection and promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief. EU is determinate to promote, in its external human rights policy, freedom of religion or belief as a right to be exercised by everyone everywhere, based on the principles of equality, non-discrimination and universality. The limitations to FORB are in accordance with international standards and must be strictly interpreted. Limitations for other reasons, such as national security, are not permitted.

  • The most specific EU financial tool with an explicit commitment to promote FoRB is the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). The EIDHR now covers FoRB-related activities in all regions of the world with around 40 FoRB related projects, accounting for more than 15,000,000 euros. Moreover, the 2017 global call for proposals will also address freedom of religion and belief, including the promotion of dialogue, and emphasising the role of religious and other leaders in these processes.

  • The EU is strongly committed to continue to engage with international organisations in this area. Examples of cooperation are the Marrakesh Declaration of January 2016, which was a significant development in taking forward the principle of affirming the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries and the Rabat Action Plan.

The EU believes that Freedom of religion or belief is fundamental Human Rights, which needs to be upholding for all and everywhere. This fundamental rights is so important because it is about human dignity which is at the core of the human rights agenda. Freedom of religion or belief is more important for societies and for good governance than for religions. History shows that religion always survive even in totalitarian regimes while societies suffer from divisions and persecutions. Peaceful and cohesive societies require this fundamental freedom to thrive.

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