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Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor: Opening Remarks - Regional Conference on Countering Violent Extremism

Thank you and good morning, Deputy President Ruto, Cabinet Secretary Nkaisserry, Ambassador Juma, distinguished guests.

I am honored to lead the U.S. delegation to the East African regional CVE Summit and am happy to see so many partners gathered here in support of our shared struggle against violent extremism.

I applaud the GOK for its leadership in hosting this regional summit. It is very important and showcases an very impressive commitment to strengthening CVE efforts.

Kenya, like its neighbors, has faced difficult terrorism challenges, and I know I speak for everyone in offering my condolences to the citizens of Kenya and other East African nations that have experienced loss and trauma at the hands of violent extremists.

Only yesterday, terrorists exploded a car bomb in Somalia, and of course the recent Garissa attacks in Kenya remain fresh in our minds.

No region, country or community is immune to the threat of violent extremism.

We stand together in support of one another and vow to strengthen our collective efforts, not only to defeat Al Shabab militarily but also to eradicate the roots of violent extremism throughout the region and prevent the next generation of extremist threat from emerging.

In this effort, we are learning from a clear lesson of the past decade: while our military, intelligence, and law enforcement tools are vital to defeating violent extremism in its current forms, only a truly comprehensive strategy, mobilizing a broad range of stakeholders, can address its underlying drivers.

This is why President Obama convened a White House summit last February.

As many of you know personally, this 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 preventively to tackle the underlying drivers of VE, 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.

At the White House Summit, President Obama described how violent extremism breeds by exploiting a range of economic, social, and political grievances.

When people “feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities,” he argued, “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 the injustice and the humiliation of corruption – that feeds instability and disorder and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.”

He explained that social marginalization “feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey.”

Political grievances matter, he said because “when people are oppressed, and human rights are denied – particularly along sectarian or ethnic lines – when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.”

With these words, President Obama described some of the push factors that make people more vulnerable to radicalization by violent extremists, who then wield their narratives, 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.

While we rely upon government security and law enforcement services to defeat the active terrorists, becoming more proactive, working to prevent the NEXT generation of violent extremism, requires everyone to become part of the solution.

And the preventive 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.

I’ve attended several regional CVE summits, and each reflects the dominant concerns within the hosting region.

This is why Kenya’s regional CVE summit is so important.

While summits in Oslo and Tirana focused largely on individual FTF recruitment, this summit usefully expands the agenda to examine community mobilization by terror networks.

The agenda will seek to integrate lessons from the emergence of – and responses to – insurgencies, which can emerge from push factors similar to those that create vulnerabilities to violent extremism.

Yet the key new insight we bring to this discussion of addressing push factors is the value of non-governmental action.

For example, civil society can give at-risk populations like youth a new sense of purpose and community by engaging them through educational, service or mentoring programs.

Similarly, the private sector can expand opportunities in vulnerable communities to enable greater economic security.

Religious and cultural leaders can lend their voices to challenge extremist narratives and propaganda.

And governments have complex roles.

To enable civil society to contribute to the prevention effort, governments need to protect space for those groups to act.

To be frank, this is why the United States is disappointed that some of the Kenyan civil society groups so central to the discussion about security and terrorism such as Muhuri and Haki Africa, which President Obama welcomed at the February White House summit – are not able to participate in our discussion today.

Governments are stronger in their fight against extremism when they make all citizens feel included, protected and respected.

At a minimum, governments should not create grievances by tolerating incompetence, corruption, or the abuse of human rights.

As Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon remarked at the Summit in February, “governments should not use the fight against terrorism and extremism as a pretext to attack one's critics.

Extremists deliberately seek to incite such overreactions, and we must not fall into those traps.”

The Term “government” does not just mean national authorities, of course.

Local government is at the front-line in both identifying early signs of radicalization and partnering with communities to counter it.

Cities and other sub-national actors are vital to this effort, and their contributions to CVE are growing every month.

To support their efforts, we anticipate launching a ‘Strong Cities Network’ at the September CVE Leaders’ event in New York, which will connect municipal policymakers and practitioners from around the world to identify and exchange best CVE practices.

We strongly encourage cities from across this region to become members of this new platform.

As participants work on their national action plans and anticipate the next high-level summit on the margins of the UNGA this September, let me briefly remind us of the agenda that states and civil society crafted in February:

��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� First, we must better understand the threat of violent extremism at the local and regional levels.

That means strengthening our research and information-sharing on the key drivers of radicalization and the most effective strategies for building community resilience to prevent this.

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 East Africa and highlight promising efforts to address it.

��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Second, we must empower civil society as core 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.

Because civil society plays such a critical role in countering violent extremism, they must have a meaningful seat at the table and safe space to operate.

That is why the U.S. is supporting efforts by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to work with countries around the world to develop inclusive CVE strategies that draw on a range of stakeholders both in and out of government.

In developing our own U.S. domestic National Action Plan, painstaking and patient relationship building and consultation with civil society made all the difference.

My colleague Dr. Ronald Clark from our Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is here today and would be happy to share the US experience with those who are interested.

When I visited the region earlier this year, promising community-driven CVE initiatives in Mombasa and in Zanzibar showed me how communities were improving cooperation with security forces and how local government was beginning to test innovative efforts of community service and religious scholarship to help at risk youth, former VE recruits, come back into society.

Supporting youth in this manner is critical to countering violent extremism in the long run.

Last month at the European regional CVE summit in Oslo, Norway, participants launched a regional youth network against violent extremism.

This network will serve as a platform for young people to share their challenges in pushing back against radical recruiters and propaganda, and to exchange youth-driven approaches and technologies for countering violent extremism.

I hope civil society representatives at today’s summit consider adopting a similar model for East Africa.

I would be remiss to not also mention the importance of women and girls, who as victims, potential recruits and perpetrators of violent extremism, are also on the frontline in this struggle.

��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Third, we must strengthen human rights protections for members of all of our communities, with a renewed focus on including ethnic and religious minorities.

When all communities feel protected and respected by the law, violent extremists struggle to exploit feelings of marginalization.

Too often, however, there is deep mistrust between marginalized communities and security and police forces.

The mistrust is exploited by violent extremists to infiltrate members of marginalized communities, who are in turn less likely to cooperate with police and security forces to drive extremists out.

We can avoid this trap 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.

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.

��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Fourth, we must counter the narratives of violent extremists by amplifying authentic voices from at-risk communities.

That means harnessing the power and reach of traditional and social media to discredit the messages of violent extremists with credible voices, while offering positive and empowering alternatives.

It is clear that there will be a long-term need to maintain this messaging effort, and I encourage governments and civil society participants gathered here to think about developing a platform that could coordinate and sustain this effort.

Such a platform could support new initiatives, such as providing social media training to mainstream religious scholars to better disseminate their message to at-risk audiences, or by developing public messaging campaigns with popular voices from arts, sports and entertainment to challenge extremist propaganda.

��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� And finally, we must address the social and economic grievances that violent extremists exploit by working with at-risk communities to better understand those grievances and design effective responses, whether they are in the areas of social services, education, employment opportunities, or security and justice.

I’d like to highlight these areas as key opportunities for large institutional financial actors such as the World Bank or the African Development Bank as well as bilateral foreign donors.

But we must be realistic as we seek to take on “root causes” – recognizing that we cannot address every area or cause in the short term.

Governments in their NAPs should think deeply about the areas or communities that are MOST vulnerable to the lure of extremism.

Prioritizing and focusing prevention efforts in these communities is absolutely critical in creating a NAP that can actually be implemented and yield results.

Furthermore, the NAPs can then become useful tools for dialogue with outside actors who wish to use mainstream economic and development tools to support governments and communities in our shared fight against violent extremism.

We will leave this Summit with not only new ideas, but a renewed sense of partnership and determination to tackle the threat of violent extremism.

And in September at the 70th UNGA, we will learn how each of your governments or organizations is stepping up to meet this generational challenge.

There is no single way forward, and as Ambassador Juma said, no silver bullet, no one government or organization has a monopoly on good ideas.

I am confident that with the energy and talent gathered in this room, we can move forward together, and have even more to share in the global discussion in New York this September.