Remarks at a UN Security Council Meeting on the Cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 17, 2016


Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you also, Assistant Secretary-General Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Opeleyeru, and Dr. Diagne for joining us. Our discussion today is a timely one.

Over the past two years, Member States of the United Nations have shown an unprecedented willingness to collaborate on preventing violent extremism. In this Council in December 2014, Resolution 2178 called on states to engage local communities and non-governmental actors to counter violent extremism. That was a major step forward. For the first time, the need to counter violent extremism was recognized in a Security Council resolution, and an essential element of the solution was identified. Then in January of this year, the Secretary-General presented his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism to the General Assembly, which included wise recommendations well worth implementing, such as the call for the development of national and regional action plans to prevent violent extremism. And this past July, in its fifth review of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy, the General Assembly urged states to unite against violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism.  

The United States welcomes the steps the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – the steps taken to partner with the UN on this agenda, together with other organizations. We are appreciative of the OIC’s supportive statements of January 16 and April 8 for the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism. I would highlight in particular the fruitfulness of the cooperation between the OIC and the Global Counterterrorism Forum in bringing together a diverse group of religious scholars, academics, government officials, and experts in the field of education and preventing violent extremism to discuss best practices and the role of religious education in promoting peace.

So how can we build on this recent work by the UN and the OIC to create an even stronger strategic partnership? One way would be to create a high-level coordinator for the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy. Such a coordinator would improve communication between the UN and the OIC on counterterrorism issues – speaking authoritatively from the UN side, with a single voice on behalf of the multitude of UN entities engaged in countering violent extremism. The coordinator could be a more effective liaison between the UN and the OIC than is possible under the current framework – which could benefit both organizations. In addition, the coordinator could harness the potential of the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force to provide technical and other assistance to Member States and international organizations. Accordingly, we urge all states, particularly OIC members, to express support for such a Coordinator to the incoming Secretary-General and his transition team. There is no single step that would do more to strengthen the strategic partnership between the UN and the OIC.

A second way to enhance the strategic partnership is to recommit ourselves to upholding human rights in all of our activities to counter violent extremism. It is easy for all of us to say that we respect and promote human rights in our CVE efforts. But what matters is whether we actually protect these rights in practice – the right to freedom of expression, to freedom of association, to peaceful assembly. It is vital that the UN and the OIC enshrine human rights in their CVE strategies, and that they act when states fail to do so. Of course, these rights are intrinsically important because our people – all people – are entitled to them. But these rights are also practically important – indeed, essential – to successfully counter violent extremism. Voices from outside governments – from civil society, from community activists, from youth leaders – often have more credibility with their peers, with their fellow citizens, than we as government officials do on this topic. They are, generally speaking, better advocates for moderation, understanding, and peace than we are. We need to ensure that these voices have the freedom, the space, and the confidence to speak.

Third, we must rededicate ourselves to working to counter intolerance and discrimination against any religious group, including Muslims, in each of our countries. Here at the UN, we all often emphasize and reemphasize that terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion or nationality. But we are not the audience we need to convince. We must continue to do all that we can to convey this message within our own societies. In the 2015 White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, President Obama noted that inexcusable acts of violence have been committed in the United States and around the world by people of different faiths – that this is not unique to any one group, or to one geography, or to one period of time. This principle is a fundamental part of the United States’ national strategy to counter violent extremism.

We must not lose the momentum we have built – here at the UN, in partnership with the OIC and other groups, and within our own states and societies – in countering violent extremism.

Thank you, Mr. President.