New hope in our bid to counter violent extremism

Flags of Commonwealth countries were flying at half-mast at Marlborough House, following one of several terror attacks to hit the UK in 2017. The Countering Violent Extremism Unit, a CHOGM 2015 mandate, was set up to help member countries affected by this problem

“Hate and intolerance are the currency of violent extremism,” says Mark Albon. “We must make it ‘our common cause’ to offer strong alternative narratives that emphasise people’s fundamental human rights, build inclusivity in our societies and diminish the efforts of those who would seek to sow division and discord across the world.” Mr Albon is head of the new Countering Violent Extremism Unit at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Mr Albon was speaking in the lead up to a training course for youth leaders aimed at countering violent radicalisation among young people.

Organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Council of Europe, the five-day course took place in December 2017 at Marlborough House in London.

The course brought together 37 participants aged between 19 and 30 from 22 Commonwealth countries, with many cultures and faiths and those of none represented. The delegates were youth workers, activists, teachers, policy officers, lawyers and government officials.

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland and Australia’s High Commissioner to London, Alexander Downer, sign their agreement, 10 November 2017.

Following a mandate at CHOGM 2015 to establish the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Unit, we opened it in January 2017. The unit has successfully developed a new CVE Strategy for the Commonwealth based on extensive consultations with member countries and a wide variety of experts and stakeholders. The strategy identifies specific and relevant CVE activities and draws upon existing expertise and best practice among member states and the broader Commonwealth family.

The United Kingdom pledged £5 million – £1 million per year for five years – to the unit. Then, in 2017, we were delighted to receive further backing for the project from Australia. In November, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland and the Australian high commissioner, Alexander Downer, signed a memorandum of understanding. Under its terms, Australia commits to providing AUS$2.5 million over four years to support the unit’s work.

AUS $0.5 million

committed by Australia to countering violent extremism

The Commonwealth advantage in countering extremism

The Secretariat is uniquely placed to assist member countries in sharing good practice and harnessing the role of governments and individuals. By doing so we can enhance the resilience of society to violent extremist messages.

Our programme work leverages on decades of experience in supporting governments – for example in strengthening the rule of law, human rights and youth empowerment. It also draws on the shared values and cultural and regional diversity of the Commonwealth.

By using non-coercive approaches to address the drivers of violent extremism, we aim to reduce the vulnerabilities of at-risk communities. To achieve this, we:

  • respond to mutually identified gaps in the capacity of member governments
  • map existing support mechanisms and resources
  • exchange experiences and practices
  • harness the “network of networks” that is the Commonwealth.

We recognise that violent extremists are adept at exploiting their own cross-border networks to recruit and to use violence. So, to stop them, we must be just as adept at utilising ours.

Following the signing of the memorandum, High Commissioner Downer said, “I’m delighted to be signing this agreement with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. The Australian Government is very pleased to be supporting the unit within the Commonwealth Secretariat, dedicated to countering violent extremism.

“We see the Commonwealth as having a really important role to play, in particular in benchmarking the policies that are pursued by Commonwealth countries to counter violent extremism. So we are happy to be providing financial support and moral and political support for this project.”

Mr Albon said, “Australia has made an important financial contribution to the consolidation of the Commonwealth’s efforts to support member countries in their efforts to counter violent extremism. Australia also has a great deal of technical and human expertise upon which we hope to draw as we expand the capacity-building and experience-sharing activities with those Commonwealth countries dealing with ongoing threats of violent extremism.”

Watch: Mark Albon, Head of the Commonwealth Countering Violent Extremism Unit, at Marlborough House, London, 2017

“Australia has made an important financial contribution to the consolidation of the Commonwealth’s efforts to support member countries in their efforts to counter violent extremism.” Mark Albon, Head of the Commonwealth Countering Violent Extremism Unit