DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be back in Nouakchott. I am honored to represent the United States at this important event along with Deputy Under Secretary for Homeland Security Dr. Ronald Clark. The government and people of Mauritania have demonstrated vital leadership in convening this conference for the purpose of sharing experiences on how best to promote the region’s peaceful development and to protect the region against violent extremism. The issues we will consider over the next two days concern the nations of this region and my own country. Violent extremists have recruited men and women from the United States and from West and North Africa to commit atrocities against their fellow citizens. We gather here today to identify and to implement the best means of stopping these activities and thereby better defend our citizens. Mauritania’s success in this regard is instructive for us all.
- Mauritania and its neighbors face difficult security challenges along multiple fronts. The security forces must protect the people. The United States will continue to support those efforts. We have come to be most familiar with the role of national security and law enforcement services play to meet the most violent forms of the these challenges. The United States will continue to support the efforts of our partners in the region in that regard. However, I think everyone in this room recognizes that terrorists will not be defeated by the force of arms alone. While our military, intelligence, and law enforcement tools are vital to defending against the ravages of violent extremism in its current forms, only a truly comprehensive strategy, mobilizing a broad range of stakeholders, can address its underlying drivers.
- We face enemies dedicated to exploiting hatred, alienation, economic deprivation, and ignorance for their own destructive purposes. These enemies are well-organized, adaptable, and often use sophisticated messages and tactics to influence populations. That is why we must stand together in support of one another and vow to strengthen our collective efforts to eradicate the roots of violent extremism throughout the region and prevent the next generation of extremist threat from emerging.
And that is also why President Obama convened a White House summit last February on the topic of countering violent extremism. As many of you know, the White House meeting included more than 300 participants from national and local governments, civil society, multilateral bodies, and the global business and faith communities. It was a new and different type of global conversation about terrorism because it emphasized the need to (1) work proactively to tackle the underlying drivers of violent extremism, (2) include all of civil society in this work, (3) promote the role of good governance to protect and include all citizens and (4) maximize impact by integrating national and local, and government and non-governmental approaches.
- A key message from that summit was that we must effectively use the talents, creativity, and efforts of all citizens to promote tolerance and frustrate the recruitment and radicalization efforts aimed at vulnerable populations. In February, Secretary of State John Kerry noted that much of the work ahead will be “done quietly, without fanfare, in classrooms, in community centers, in workplaces, in houses of worship, on urban street corners, and in village markets.”
- During the February White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, the President Obama discussed several issues relevant to this week’s discussions:
– The first was the need to confront the warped ideologies espoused by terrorists. Violent extremist groups are mis-using traditional culture and religion to justify horrific atrocities, including mass rape and sexual slavery. In particular, they are misusing Islam. Yet, we know that in Africa, here in Mauritania, there are scholars and respected religious figures who could discredit such misuse. For example, Mauritania is a center of Islamic learning. Its scholars are well-equipped to respond to assaults on the practice of Islam and espouse messages of peace.
– Another theme President Obama raised was the urgency ofaddressing poverty and lack of economic opportunity, particularly among youth. President Obama specifically warned about the vulnerability of “people entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from injustice and the humiliations of corruption — that feeds instability and disorder, and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.”
- I am particularly concerned that the large number of refugee camps and displaced persons in the region represent a particularly serious vulnerability. Several states in the Sahel region are dealing with the challenge of managing refugee camps and displaced persons. Years of unresolved disputes in neighboring countries make refugees lose hope and become more vulnerable to recruitment, radicalization, and exploitation by violent extremist groups. We must address this situation lest these restless populations and camps become incubators of violent extremism.
– A third important theme for President Obama was the prevalence of unresolved political grievances that terrorists exploit. Once again, while political grievances can take many forms, violent extremists clearly seek out individuals and groups embittered by the lack of governmental accountability, the denial of basic human rights, and the lack of opportunities for political or social participation. Promoting good governance and protecting minority rights are not just the right thing for governments and for civic leaders to do, they are security imperatives.
- With that framework, President Obama described some of the push factors that make people more vulnerable to radicalization by violent extremists, who then wield their messages and ideologies to pull individuals, and even whole communities, into their orbit.
- Disrupting both these push and pull factors demands a ‘whole-of-society’ approach. The CVE agenda is fundamentally constructive and positive. It seeks to address tangible human needs and empower communities to physically, psychologically and intellectually resist the falsehoods and distortions of extremism.
- The White House CVE Summit emphasized a few areas that remain of critical importance as we move forward:
-First, the importance of identifying the drivers of violent extremism, particularly critical local factors, and the importance of creating and sustaining governmental, nongovernmental, and corporate networks against violent extremism. During this past year, a series of initiatives, conferences, and action plans have been developed to promote both learning processes and vital local, regional, and global networks. To build momentum for this effort, we are sponsoring an International CVE Research Conference this September in New York, which will culminate in the launch of a global network of local researchers to conduct community-based analysis on the drivers of violent extremism and facilitate the design, funding and dissemination of CVE-related research. I encourage participants at this Summit to contribute by supporting and sharing similar research to better identify the key drivers of violent extremism in Africa and highlight promising efforts to address it.
-Second, the value of empowering a broad range of partners in the struggle against violent extremism, with a particular emphasis on youth, religious leaders, women, and the victims of violent extremism. Local groups are best positioned to lead efforts to counter violent extremism, as they often have the greatest knowledge and credibility to address its underlying drivers.
– We should highlight as well the importance of engaging women and girls as important agents of change, as they are also on the frontline in this struggle. Violent extremist groups understand the critical role women play in raising their children and passing on values within their communities, and they are increasingly targeting women and girls as recruits. We must be just as proactive in including women in our response, as actors within governments, security services, and civil society.
-Third, we must strengthen human rights protections for members of all of our communities. When all communities feel protected and respected by the law, violent extremists struggle to exploit feelings of marginalization. We can strengthen our defenses by working now to build mutual trust and respect between police and security force and at-risk communities, and by improving accountability and respect for human rights within these forces. These security services must be well trained, well paid, and well led. Government and law enforcement can show their commitment to the communities they are meant to serve and help ease the tensions that violent extremists exploit.
– And fourth, to confront the warped ideology, we must amplify authentic voices from at-risk communities. That means empowering traditional and social media to discredit the messages of violent extremists with credible voices, while offering positive and empowering alternatives.
- Following the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February, regional summits were convened to provide national governments, religious leaders, local government representatives, civil society, private sector and academics the opportunity to exchange ideas and develop strategies or action plans appropriate for the region.
- Aside from the Mauritanian government’s organization of this regional conference, last month Ministry of Youth and Sports in Mauritania held a regional conference that devoted one day to promoting a regional youth network to support sustainable development and to defend youth against the destructive appeals of violent extremists. This is an excellent example of a specific, actionable outcome from a regional conference.
- In September, a global conference will meet on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York to review the progress made during the past year and identify the way forward. Our hope is that following the discussions over the next two days, even more useful ideas emerge which can be shared in September.
- Once again, I greatly appreciate the leadership president Aziz and his government has demonstrated in the area of CVE. We recognize that there are important influencers from other governments and civil society here at the conference and we greatly appreciate your engagement as well.
- I thank you for your attention and I look forward to today’s discussions.