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Minister vaunts Swiss model to halt extremism

By Simon Bradley, Geneva

Switzerland’s federal structure and urban planning can help prevent the creation of ghettos and thus close the door on violent extremism, declared Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter at a conference in Geneva on Friday. 

“Terrorism continues to spread around the globe and constitutes one of the gravest threats to international peace and security,” Burkhalter told 600 officials, including 32 ministers and deputy ministers, gathered at a high-level conference on preventing violent extremism. The United Nations and Switzerland hosted the event. 

Over the two days, delegates took stock of worldwide efforts to halt radicalisation and shared best practices. The meeting follows UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s launch in January of a global action plan and request to all countries to come up with national plans to address the problem.

The meeting represents a turning point for the UN, ten years after the UN General Assembly adopted a global anti-terrorism strategy on September 8, 2006 – a mainly security-driven approach, which will be examined by member states in June 2016. 

“In recent years the international community’s response to violent extremism has centred on countering the threat, but security and military efforts alone cannot defeat this scourge,” Ban told reporters on Friday. “We need a more comprehensive and balanced approach.” 

Unique structure

In his speech to delegates, Burkhalter outlined Swiss efforts, while stressing the benefits of its unique set-up. 

“My country’s federalist structure rests on the belief that a culture of dialogue, compromise, inclusive decentralised solutions and respect for minorities and the separation of powers constitute the foundation for peace,” he declared. 

“The principle of subsidiarity guarantees that decisions are made as closely as possible to our citizens and take account of their needs. Thus local communities play a key role in integrating people from different backgrounds. And they also help us to identify the kind of behaviour liable to lead to violence.” 

He said urban planning that prevents the creation of ghettos “is the key that will allow us to close the door on violent extremism and open the gate to inclusive societies”. 

New strategy 

Last September the Swiss government approved a new counter-terrorism strategy, which focuses on prevention, law enforcement, protection and crisis management. 

The strategy aims to prevent radicalisation through education and jobs, and measures focusing on prisons, youth centres and places of worship, via dialogue with vulnerable communities, and by preventing the stigmatisation of minorities. 

Burkhalter said considerable time and money were required, but “investing in the prevention of violent extremism costs far less than mitigating its consequences”.

International action

Didier Burkhalter said Switzerland also contributes towards the fight against extremism via its foreign development strategies, which focus on young people and women. 

Switzerland also supports various institutions based in Geneva. It founded the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), which have developed expertise and earned recognition internationally in areas related to the prevention of violent extremism. 

Geneva hosts the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF). Switzerland has donated CHF4.7 million ($4.9 million) to the public-private partnership (total budget CHF30 million) which channels funds from private and public donors to grass-roots organisations in a bid to strengthen resilience to violent extremism at the local level. GCERF is starting to fund projects in Bangladesh, Mali and Nigeria. Burkhalter said these will soon be joined by Kosovo, Myanmar and Kenya. Many more countries have expressed an interest.



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