Bern, 19.02.2015 – Washington, 19.02.2015 – The speach of Swiss Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.
Secretary Kerry Ladies and gentlemen I would like to thank our host, the United States, for inviting us to Washington for this important gathering. Switzerland is strongly committed to countering violent extremism. This is one of the main challenges of our generation. Terrorism is an attack on our values. The killing of innocent children, women, and men and the enormous suffering inflicted upon civilians by terrorist groups has no justification in any religion and is unacceptable. Terrorism is also an attack on our security. Terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and Nigeria have become major drivers of war. Attacks by radicalized citizens pose a threat to Muslim- and non-Muslim societies alike. When Switzerland chaired the OSCE last year, the sense of shared concern about foreign fighters was palpable – as was the determination to come up with common answers. The prevention of violent extremism is a Swiss priority within our overall effort to counter terrorism. We have taken strong measures to block the financing of terrorism. We are also reinforcing our law enforcement capacity to counter terrorism, and we are currently analysing needs and ways of further strengthening our set of instruments to deal with the challenge of foreign fighters. But a sustainable solution will require all of us to prevent the fires of terrorism from igniting in the first place. We need a broad strategy that goes beyond relying on fire fighters whenever such fires break out. Switzerland considers the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy particularly important. We also co-sponsored last year’s Security Council Resolution 2178 on Foreign Terrorist Fighters, which provides a foundation in international law for efforts to counter violent extremism. We must act against terrorism in full respect of human rights and the rule of law. In situations of armed conflicts, all parties must comply with international humanitarian law. With this in mind, let me make three points on the prevention of violent extremism from a Swiss perspective: First, countering violent extremism is a security imperative that calls for a broad societal response. We must address the grievances of those vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment by terrorist groups. We need to provide these – often young – people with alternative opportunities, a sense of belonging, a purpose in life. This is a tremendous task. It will take time, persistence, and determination. But such a long-term approach to prevention is key to extinguishing the fires of terrorism. Second, Switzerland’s own efforts to prevent radicalization at home are shaped by bottom-up solutions designed to empower people and local communities. Under our federal system, Swiss communal and regional authorities and a multitude of civil society actors, including religious organizations, play an active role in promoting a favourable socio-economic environment and integrating communities. Private sector companies are contributing with jobs and vocational education and training. The “earn while you learn” model offers important advantages: as employees, the apprentices get recognition and self-esteem and as trainees, they can be confident that the skills they are acquiring are in demand by the private sector. 60% of all upper secondary students in Switzerland are enrolled in such combined vocational programmes (OECD average: 13%). Youth unemployment is very low (3.5% compared with an OECD average of 14.6% and an average of more than 25% in the Middle East and North Africa, which is the region with the highest youth unemployment rate). Good economic integration, careful urban planning, and local subsidized housing schemes have also helped prevent the emergence of ghettos in Switzerland – a country where about a quarter of the population are foreign nationals. Third and last, this bottom-up and inclusive perspective also informs Switzerland’s foreign policy approach to countering violent extremism. Whether it concerns local community development in the Western Balkans, youth employment in Kyrgyzstan, demobilizing child soldiers in Myanmar, vocational training in Tunisia or the promotion of inclusive political participation of actors who can speak credibly to youth at risk of radicalization in several other MENA countries – we are taking a wide range of relevant development and peacebuilding measures to foster resilient societies. Swiss development cooperation is increasingly shifting its focus to fragile contexts, which are often breeding grounds for terrorism. By the same token, Switzerland is also a strong supporter of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund. We are pleased that this innovative public private partnership scheme has found a home in Geneva – a global centre of peace and humanitarian action. This fund provides a great opportunity for all of us to channel our efforts and collectively implement a long-term strategy to prevent the fires of terrorism from igniting. Switzerland has contributed 5 million US dollars to this fund for its first four years. We are ready to actively support the fund’s efforts to generate private sector interest in common action to create jobs for young people – for example by offering to the fund’s pilot countries Bangladesh, Mali, Morocco and Nigeria the organization and financing of roundtables to engage relevant partners. We invite our partners to join us and help empower the GCERF to empower people and become an encouragement for youth around the world.