The Globalization of Countering Violent Extremism Policies

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Date: 
October 10, 2018

Transnational Institute’s March 2018 report, The Globalisation of Countering Violent Extremism Policies, Undermining Human Rights, Instrumentalizing Civil Society, which includes a foreword by United Nations Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, analyzes the globalization of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) policies and their institutionalization within three international bodies in particular: the European Union, the United Nations, and the Global Counterterrorism Forum. Researchers Arun Kundnani and Ben Hayes argue that the most problematic practices of CVE frameworks are being globalized. These deeply flawed and controversial elements include the vague and undefined terminology, racial and religious profiling, intrusions into privacy, and lack of transparency from policymakers. When the current CVE policies are stripped of sanitized rhetoric it is clear that these policies operate on surveillance and censorship. As a result, CVE policies shrink the space for civil society.

The researchers assert that the term ‘violent extremism’ is invoked today with such frequency and abandon that it has become synonymous with terrorism itself. The report shows that governments are adopting policies that anticipate violent extremism via sweeping pre-emptive screenings and criminal regulations. The report urges the international human rights community to critically evaluate new CVE institutions, practices and laws, and to pay close attention to the globalization of problematic CVE policies.  

A small number of western countries and organizations have pioneered CVE policies, which are in turn uncritically adopted at the international level. The report references policy-making within the EU, UN, and GCTF. These government CVE policies have significantly expanded their methods for countering terrorism and shifted their targets from terrorist organizations to religious ideology and identity. While some policymakers, namely from the UK and EU, have recently taken steps to address extremism in all its forms, the Trump administration instead has emphasized policies that pinpoint on pre-emptive action against “radical Islam”. With the far right in or close to power in key liberal democratic states, the researchers are especially concerned that international CVE policies will continue to resemble  ‘white man’s justice’ that perpetuates the political violence against ‘Muslim Extremism’. Thus, it lacks the basic legal legitimacy necessary for success.

The process of developing CVE policies, the researchers argue, also fails to consider crucial debates on the legitimacy and effectiveness of these policies. In the case of the UN,  the more holistic approaches to countering extremism, recommended by the Secretary-General and the Human Rights Council, continue to be overshadowed by the top-down approach of the highly-coercive Security Council. The report highlights how voices from grass-roots community activists have been substituted by the louder cries from government-funded “CVE entrepreneurs.” The TNI report sheds light on the problematic fact that international entities are advancing CVE policies without a firm grounding in international law, and with significant disregard for human rights. The researchers suggest developing a framework for critical assessment including twelve tests that evaluate the overall legitimacy of CVE policies, which are outlined in the report. The framework should be based on an objective assessment of policy coherence and consistency as well as the legal and political accountability of policymakers and practitioners. Ultimately, CVE policies should first and foremost prioritize fundamental rights.  This timely report aims to prompt a critical evaluation of CVE policies which are being transposed onto the global stage.

Read the Full Report.