Terrorism and extremism remains a significant problem in all regions of the Commonwealth, which makes a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration very important, alongside building community-level resilience to further radicalisation.
When a person leaves violent extremism behind, it may take months or years to find a sustainable way of living in the non-radical world.
The guide – produced by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) team – was launched at an event held in Kigali, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on Saturday.
Speaking at the event, Mark Albon Head of CVE Unit, at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “Rehabilitating people who have left violent extremism is essential to preventing future violence.
“This sits alongside CVE’s broader efforts to build resilience to violent extremism and strengthen good governance and the rule of law in the policies and practices applied to the management of terrorism.”
Government Heads, civil society members, youth leaders, and private sector representatives came together at the Hôtel Des Mille Collines on Wednesday morning to hear about the Commonwealth’s progress on key commitments like preventing the terrorist use of the internet and increasing youth and women’s involvement in global efforts to counter violent extremism.
They shared challenges and best practices from their own nations over the 90-minute event.
The Manual was presented as a key resource designed to help advance CVE priorities in the 54 member nations. It outlines ways policymakers and practitioners working in Commonwealth countries can support the proactive reintegration of violent extremists and their families, whilst keeping communities safe and stopping the spread of terrorist ideals.
Having participated either virtually, within their home country or across national borders, ‘returnees’ covered by the guide include men, women and children; those who physically fought in conflict, others who supported conflicts virtually or from afar, as well as individuals who were coercively or forcibly brought into terrorist groups or were married/ born into conflict.
This group may also include self-directed violent extremists who never joined a group but became involved with violent extremist ideas, people who have moved in and out of established groups and – sometimes - people whose ambitions to join violent extremist movements were thwarted, whether by law enforcement, family or other circumstances.
The guide states that disengagement from violent extremist groups is most often successful when the individual becomes connected and engaged somewhere – namely, their home community.
Building connections is key but the process requires a long-term focus and a commitment to providing opportunities for returnees to put their lives back together so that the community can be safer in the long term. It can also not be solely managed via a national security lens but must be considered in a community context too, the guide states.
Uza Mariya Didi, Minister of Defence, Republic of the Maldives, presented the Maldives’ experience in developing and implementing a National Action Plan to Counter Violent Extremism.
Young people make up 43% of population in the Maldives with two thirds connected to the internet.
Their strategy is to counter the false, negative messages which promote radicalisation – particularly those taking advantage of misinterpretation of religious texts.
“We need to ensure our positive messages are louder than those promoting radicalisation,” she said.
Meanwhile, Major General Joseph Nzabamwita, Secretary General of the National Intelligence and Security Service, Republic of Rwanda, shared Rwanda’s experience of in addressing terrorism.
Violent extremism is on the rise in the country, but authorities are dedicated to ensuring the past doesn’t repeat itself.
He said: “We need to ensure the best policies for Rwanda. We are building a resilient society, a country on the move that has rebuilt itself.
“But we’re not isolated from the rest of the world… terrorism is global.”
Christine Odera, Global Coordinator of Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network, Fahmida Faiza, Asia Regional Representative, Commonwealth Youth Council and Anna Sherburn, Deputy Head of CVE Unit, Commonwealth Secretariat, gave an overview of the Commonwealth projects that are increasing the role of women and young peacebuilders in building resilience against violent extremism.
Christine said: “Young people are at the centre of violent extremism across the Commonwealth. Al Shabaab translates to ‘youth’ and if you look at the make-up of groups like ISIS etc, the majority are young people.
“It is clear that failing to place this demographic at the centre of plans to combat terrorism is detrimental to all our efforts.
“We need dedicated centres to ensure strategies can be dealt with close to home; as well as national solutions.”
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal sovereign states. Its combined population is 2.5 billion, of which more than 60 per cent is aged 29 or under.
The Commonwealth supports international efforts to counter violent extremism in all its forms.
Commonwealth Heads of Government have affirmed that violent extremism represents a serious threat to international peace and security, shared values and aspirations, social harmony and economic and social development.
In line with the mandate given by leaders at their Malta summit, a dedicated unit was established within the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2017 to support national strategies to counter violent extremism (CVE).
Its programme work leverages decades of experience in supporting governments – for example in strengthening the rule of law, human rights and youth empowerment – while drawing on the shared values, cultural and regional diversity of the Commonwealth.
Heads have also previously encouraged Commonwealth member countries to work with the Commonwealth Secretariat CVE Unit and the Commonwealth Cadre of CVE Experts, to develop policies or action plans that actively involve young people and women in preventing and countering violent extremism and take action to counter the use of the internet by violent extremist groups.