Washington, DC

19 February 2015

Secretary-General's Remarks at Summit for Countering Violent Extremism

Honourable Secretary of State John Kerry, Distinguished Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank President Barack Obama and Secretary Kerry for convening this important gathering on preventing violent extremism and thank you for your leadership and strong commitment, and eloquent speech and giving us good way forward so that we can work together to defeat this violent extremism and terrorism, and discuss how we can build upon what we have been doing so far.

Addressing this profound challenge in a manner that solves -- rather than multiplies -- the problem may be the greatest test our human family faces in the 21st century.

Let there be no doubt:  the emergence of a new generation of transnational terrorist groups including Da’esh and Boko Haram is a grave threat to international peace and security.

These extremists are pursuing a deliberate strategy of “shock and awful” – beheadings, burnings, and snuff films designed to polarize and terrorize, and provoke and divide us. The victims are as diverse as humankind itself.

But let us recognize that the vast majority of the victims are Muslims, across a broad arc of upheaval and distress.

Women and girls are subject to appalling, systematic abuse -- rape, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual slavery and other unspeakable horrors.

No cause or grievance can justify such crimes.  I commend Member States for their determined political will to defeat terrorist groups.  We must do all we can to neutralize this threat. That means responding decisively and concretely.  But it also means being mindful of the pitfalls.

Many years of our experience have proven that short-sighted policies, failed leadership and an utter disregard for human dignity and human rights have caused tremendous frustration and anger on the part of people who we serve.

We will never find our ways by discarding our moral compass.    

We need cool heads.  We need common sense. And we must never let fear rule.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In that spirit, I see four imperatives for our common efforts to protect people and uphold human dignity.

First, preventing violent extremism demands that we get to the roots.  Looking for the motivations behind extremism is a notoriously difficult exercise.

Yet we know that poisonous ideologies do not emerge from thin air.  Oppression, corruption and injustice are greenhouses for resentment.

Extremist leaders cultivate the alienation that festers.  They themselves are pretenders -- criminals, gangsters, thugs on the farthest fringes of the faiths they claim to represent.

Yet they prey on disaffected young people without jobs or even a sense of belonging where they were born.  And they exploit social media to boost their ranks and make fear go viral.

Extremists have a strategy for hate.  We need a comprehensive strategy for harmony, meaningful integration and peace.

Second, preventing violent extremism and promoting human rights go hand-in-hand.

Time and again we have seen that the most effective recruiting agents for extremists are the very actions taken against them.  All too often, counter-terrorism strategies lack basic elements of due process and respect for the rule of law.

Sweeping definitions of terrorism are often used to criminalize the legitimate actions of opposition groups, civil society organizations and human rights defenders.  Governments should not use the fight against terrorism and extremism as a pretext to attack one’s critics.

Extremists deliberately seek to incite such over-reactions. And we must not fall into those traps.

Third, preventing violent extremism requires an all-out approach.

Military operations are crucial to confront real threats. But bullets are not the “silver bullet”.

Missiles may kill terrorists. But good governance kills terrorism. We must remember that.

Human rights, accountable institutions, the equitable delivery of services, and political participation – these are among our most powerful weapons.

We must also teach our children compassion, diversity and empathy.  Education will play a decisive role -- in school and home alike -- in winning the battle for the minds of future generations.

Fourth, preventing violent extremism is a global challenge.

Violent extremism is not a North-South or East-West issue.  It is not confined to a particular region or religion.  It transcends borders and is present across the world.

No single country or organization, as just said by Secretary Kerry, can defeat terrorism and extremism on its own.  All countries -- along with regional and international organizations as well as political, religious, academic and civil society leaders -- should join hands to forge a multi-faceted response that respects international human rights and humanitarian law.

The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which was adopted by the Member States by consensus in 2006, provides a comprehensive framework.  Security Council Resolution 2178, adopted last September under Chapter VII of the Charter at a meeting chaired by President Barack Obama, has put further strength behind our collective efforts.

The United Nations is working to build capacity among Governments -- and bridges between people.

Make no mistake, when leaders call on communities to isolate themselves or run away, extremists rejoice.

I am also concerned by anti-immigrant forces and extremists feeding off one another in a death spiral of intolerance.

The international community must pull together its collective wisdom and best practices. 

The UN system stands ready to work on a comprehensive multi-stakeholder plan of action to prevent violent extremism that will be presented to the full membership of the United Nations General Assembly later this year.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the first step of such a plan, I myself as Secretary-General and the President of the UN General Assembly of the United Nations, in cooperation with the UN Alliance of Civilizations, plan to convene a special event in the coming months that will bring together faith leaders from all around the world to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation.  We will utilize the platform of the United Nations to send a powerful message of tolerance, solidarity and reconciliation.

Honourable Secretary Kerry,

Distinguished Ministers,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is much pain in today’s world.  Innocents gunned down in schools and offices.  Girls brutally kidnapped and abused. Bombs claiming lives every day.

It can be overwhelming.  It is certainly heart breaking.

At the same time, I take heart at the acts of heroism and solidarity that are so often on display at times of test like this.

I take heart when I read of a Muslim grocery clerk spiriting Jewish patrons to safety in a Paris grocery store … or when Christians open a cathedral to Muslims fleeing carnage in the Central African Republic … or when thousands counter terrible bloodshed with marches of solidarity from Copenhagen to Chapel Hill.

That is the heart we need.  Our future depends on it.

And I count on your strong leadership and political will to defeat terrorism and extremism. You can count on the United Nations.

I thank you very much, thank you.