Elhadj As Sy, Caux, Switzerland IFRC Secretary General
Date: lundi, 24 juillet, 2017
Event: Caux Forum
Location: Switzerland

** 1 **

Introduction: ‘peace’, ‘inclusive peace’, ‘violent extremism’

Dear colleagues, dear Barbara, thank you for this invitation to join you today.

The Caux Forum and Initiatives for Change does remarkable work.  I recall your mediation work in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in Sierra Leone and much more.  You are an important member of the community of carers, the community of peacemakers, and I salute you for your work.

You have assembled a remarkable gathering today: I see every bit as much expertise in the audience as I do here on the panel.

The title of our debate today is ‘Towards an inclusive peace – tackling different forms of violent extremism’ – it gives us more than enough to think about.

So first, let’s reflect on the word ‘peace’.

On the one hand, ‘peace’ as an absence of violent conflict, and on the other hand, ‘peace’ as a sense of fundamental well-being, knowledge and equilibrium.

The quickest glance at the news tells us that the world is not at peace, and the quickest glance at history books teaches us more about war than peace.

For all the relative calmness and progress of the second half of the 20th Century and the early years of the 21st, we still see a world that is hurting due to increased fragility – fragility that is globalising at the pace of our fast-evolving world.

The 2016 Global Peace Index ranks countries’ levels of peacefulness by looking at their levels of safety and security, the extent of their domestic and international conflict, and their degree of militarization.

Of 170 countries examined, it finds 33 which are dangerously ‘unpeaceful’, and a further 71 only get as far as ‘medium peacefulness’ (if we can sensibly use such a term).

The Index shows that the world has become less peaceful since 2008, largely attributed to the rise of conflicts within states, the rise of terrorism, and increasing levels of criminality.

Add to that the fact that the number of displaced people and refugees is the highest since the end of the Second World War.  It stood at 66 million at the end of 2016, up by 10.3 million in a year.  It’s pertinent to mention the Second World – there may not be a World War, yet we are still a world at war.

The picture gets ever more complex, with the changing nature of armed conflict – the rise of internal conflict within states, and the rise of terrorism and particularly the type of small cell terrorism which can and does pop up anywhere.    The battefields of today are everywhere: they are not defined by geography; they are not places like Verdun and Waterloo and Solferino, where the Red Cross Movement was born.  The battlefields of today are on our streets, in our hospitals, in our places of worship.

I have also defined peace as a sense of balance, wellness and wholeness.

And we see a lack of ‘peace’ in a host of other ways: the rise of mental illness, of non-communicable lifestyle diseases, and in the cohabitation yet rising disparities between rich and poor, men and omen, rural and urban communities, and even this generation and the next.

So we are not a world at peace, and this leads me, second, to reflect on the more specific notion of ‘inclusive peace’.

We as humans and we as humanitarians are here for everyone, and that peace is not peace unless it is peace for all.

What we see is that even in largely peaceful countries, the peace is not inclusive: there are pockets of all our societies which are suffering, and which are left behind.

We see it in the growing numbers of people alienated economically and socially within their own societies: 2016 brought us spectacular evidence of popular anger in the developed world.

And we see it most obviously in the growth of violent and ideological extremism amongst religious, ethnic and social minorities.

Which leads me, third, to reflect on ‘tackling violent extremism’.

Because the peace which I have described has to be inclusive, and the essence of ‘tackling violent extremism’ is to understand that extremism comes from people being or feeling quite literally at the extremes … that is, on the periphery of or even fully ‘outside’ society.  Our huge yet simple task is to keep people inside their societies.

I see violent extremism as a phenomenon relying on a combination of global social, political and economic factors, overladen onto ideological and psychological factors.  In other words, ideology is not the sole explanation for extremism, and it’s a complex and sometimes of course an explosive mix.

One of the consequences of a globalised and media-linked world is globalised fragility, in which suffering and grievance easily cross borders.  The communities that we live in now are not only those of geographical space, but also those of ideals and aspirations.

Ideals and aspirations of course work largely for the common good.  But when they are frustrated, they work for the bad.  Some frustrations are felt directly, by millions and millions of our fellow human beings.  And others are felt vicariously or remotely, on behalf of others.  You don’t necessarily have to experience or witness other’s suffering to feel it.

And when frustrations are so great … and when the frustrated feel that they lack the means to address them through any formal or normal channels … then people take violent measures.

Some of them have economic means, and resort to violence out of perverted ideology; while others do so because when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose by taking violent action.

Your debate today sets out to examine some of the individual components of inclusion and exclusion: you have said that you will look at the six areas of ethnicity, gender, politics, religion, economics, the environment.

My perspective on dealing with violent extremism is in fact a little bit different, in looking at all these six components as one.

Why?  Because they are all so inextricably bound up in each other.  And because all of us have many rich and overlapping identities under those six headings and more, as well as one collective human identity. I refer you to a seminal publication on this topic: the Commonwealth’s Amartya Sen study of 2007, called ‘Civil Paths to Peace’.

And also because the key to understanding any of these six areas is to see that they need not be sources of division.  Our underlying themes today are oneness, inclusivity, humanity: without wishing to be seen to preach, I take the one powerful example of religion to illustrate our inherent interconnectedness.

I make the simple point that all religions (whatever their idea of God) are united in preaching loving your neighbour, and treating your neighbour as you would want to be treated yourself.

So, friends and colleagues, the primary lens through which I look at building peace and tackling violent extremism is that of inclusion and exclusion.  And rather than dwelling on the causes of exclusion, I want to dwell today on the best ways to foster inclusion.

** 2 **

The humanitarian response – in principle

So I ask, how does a humanitarian organisation like the IFRC build inclusive peace and tackle violent extremism?

Since this is the first time that I have mentioned my own organisation the IFRC today, let me remind you who we are.

We are the umbrella organisation which exists to serve the real Red Cross Red Crescent Movement on the ground:  its 191 National Societies, its 17 million volunteers and its 160,000 local branches – all rooted in local communities; all working to solve local community problems; all of whom are there before, during and after a crisis.

Now, some policy people and some political people would have us believe that peacebuilding is in fact another delicate subject for humanitarians.

There is real debate and real tension about whether humanitarians (who operate ‘on the basis of need alone’ and who can never further a political standpoint) can indeed do peace work, which can often be political by nature.

But who really cares about the blurring of boundaries between humanitarianism, development and peace-building?  Most important, do people who are in great need really care?  Experts talk with passion about the ‘nexus’ or overlapping of the three – but millions of people would never even see that they were apart…

Peace is something inherently at the core of the IFRC, and its peace work is centered on creating and sustaining inclusive societies – societies that work for all.  It is central to our understanding of ourselves and each other.

And this pursuit of peace in turn is directly derived from the seven fundamental principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement: Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary service, Unity and Universality.  These principles have been lovingly honed and debated over 100 years.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement may be best known for its emergency related work: for saving lives, for protecting livelihoods, and for strengthening recovery from disasters and crises.

But in the context of your event today, we are less well known for our work to promote social inclusion and a culture of non-violence and peace.

This is in fact one of the three Strategic Aims of our Strategy 2020, in which we have set out to promote a culture of non-violence and peace around three pillars:

·       the promotion of non-discrimination and respect for diversity

·       violence prevention, mitigation and response

·       intercultural, interreligious and intergenerational dialogue.

So the concept of peace is critical to us, and so therefore is its antithesis: it is the lack of the factors for peace that are the drivers of violent extremism.


** 3 **

The humanitarian response in practice: the role of volunteering, the role of education

The IFRC approach to building lasting and inclusive peace is about including, protecting and engaging individuals, families and communities … it’s about helping them develop their knowledge and capacities to find local solutions to local challenges ….

We build the environment for inclusive peace in two main ways.

So I will now look briefly at them: first the role of volunteering, above all for the young; and second the role of education – or what I call ‘Education Plus’ – above all for the young.

In all this, our primary focus is on young people for the obvious reason that they are the embodiment of the future … and also that they are disproportionately affected by the trials of the present.  That is why we focus on those who are or who may be ‘excluded’ or on the periphery: those out-of-school, those disabled, those forcibly displaced, orphaned, unaccompanied, separated from their families, living on the streets … or in conflict or fragile situations.


The role of volunteering, above all for the young

The first area in which the IFRC empowers young people to build the culture of inclusive peace is in the role of volunteering.  We have 17 million volunteers worldwide.

Volunteers by their very nature are peace-bearers: willingly making their contribution to their own society; and – because of their volunteer status – exerting all the more moral influence on those they help.

Volunteering is at the heart of community development and perhaps one of the most powerful ways to engage in the life of a community, to create social connection and to develop a sense of belonging.

It brings personal fulfilment and self-esteem.  It brings together people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions.  It helps to cultivate human values such as compassion and friendship.  It fosters respect for diversity.  It strengthens community support systems.  It reduces the possibility that vulnerable people will take up violent means.

For youth offenders, community voluntary service has the potential to be a lifeline in the struggle to avoid the circle of violence.  It can facilitate their reintegration into society.

In many cases, people who first benefited from the services of Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies later become volunteers in the programmes themselves.

Volunteers are the foundation of our strength in diversity. They are the backbone and engine of all our activities, delivering services and providing humanitarian assistance to millions of vulnerable people not only in times of disasters, but always.

For example, I think of the Italian Red Cross which runs Villa Mariani providing services to people with drug addiction.  It trains ex-drug users to run the services.

I think of the Serbian Red Cross social inclusion programmes for Roma children, which is implemented by many volunteers who were previously refugees.

I think of the Japanese Red Cross which offers pathways into social volunteering for children with disabilities.

Many people who have had to flee their home country have taken on volunteering roles in their new host countries, and many National Societies actively encourage this.  Those who give freely of their time and energies reap rewards almost as great as those that they help.  Blessed are those particular peacemakers.


The role of education, above all for the young

But the absolute foundation of the RCRC Movement’s approach to fostering an inclusive peace is the role of education, above all for the young.

Our approach to education is led not by older people imposing their will on younger people, but by young people themselves.

The RCRC Movement issued a Youth Declaration in July 2009, and it merits quoting in full: “In a world full of challenges, we the youth of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement commit ourselves to: 1. Inner change and the development of skills to promote harmony and positive attitudes within communities; and to 2. Live our seven Fundamental Principles as agents of behavioural change in our communities.”

And the great vehicle for this great aspiration is education.  By which I don’t mean the ‘cognitive’ education of helping children with the basics of the ‘Three Rs’ (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic).  …

That said, the Movement does in fact support cognitive education in post-disaster situations.  It builds and equips temporary or permanent schools in the wake of disaster; and it creates ‘safe spaces’ where children can have recreation, education, health and psychosocial support.

Education itself is another delicate subject for us, even amongst our own membership, because of the understandable concern that if we stray into cognitive education then we will have overreached or lost sight of our mandate.

Which is why we focus on the ‘non-cognitive’ education which teaches humanitarian skills and values, and abilities such as empathy, active listening, critical thinking, dropping bias and judgement, and promoting non-violent communication and mediation.  It is what I call ‘Education Plus’: value-added education which teaches values themselves.

We see education as being about enabling individuals to interpret situations from a humanitarian perspective …. to develop the knowledge, values and skills that transform the way they think and relate to each other …. and empowering them to take up active roles as responsible local and global citizens, helping and caring for themselves and others.


Much of this happens at the granular, local level.  The world over, RCRC National Societies run their own education programmes.

Many of them are in fact subsumed within wider sectoral programmes – for instance our first aid programmes are an element of our health work, and our ‘school safety’ programmes are an element of our disaster preparedness and disaster response work.

Even better known are our programmes of education and outreach to vulnerable people, and those who are excluded.

For instance, our National Societies in many countries (take Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Kenya, Malaysia, Thailand, Tunisia, Jordan, Guatemala, Honduras… and more…) work with people who have had to flee their home country and settle elsewhere.  They help with access to employment, training, and language courses.

Other National Societies – like Belarus, Bulgaria, Serbia, Australia – also work with people excluded because of their ethnicity.

A number of National Societies – like Germany, Vietnam, Australia, Spain, Cambodia – support people who are disabled.

Others – like Belgium, Australia, Ireland – support those who have been in prison.  A particular favourite programme of mine is a peer-to-peer training programme on health issues in Irish prisons, run by the Irish Red Cross.

All such programmes are run by individual National Societies.


But what I specifically want to tell you about today is a global initiative called YABC – Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change.

It was born at the time of the global RCRC Youth Declaration in 2008, and was four years in the preparation: a time in which it was fully field-tested.

In a nutshell, it is a toolkit – a curriculum for teaching the values of responsible individuals in responsible societies.

It’s made up of 56 different activities and exercises – most involve role plays, games, visualisations, and the like.  All involve interaction, and some of that interaction is physical – it even uses dance and sports.

If I look briefly at the menu of 56 YABC exercises…

I see one for instance called ‘Labelling’ – where people have a label affixed to their forehead which of course they can’t read themselves.  It could be ‘illegal immigrant’, or ‘mentally handicapped’, or ‘living with HIV’, or ‘homeless’ or ‘refugee’ or ‘drug addict’ or ‘alcoholic’ or ‘obese’ or more. They have to find out who and ‘what’ they are by discerning how others talk to them. It’s a fun exercise which serves to show how stereotypes and prejudices can lead to stigmatization, marginalisation and discrimination.

The power of these shared activities is immense.  In the last 4 years, we have trained almost 2,300 of our RCRC volunteers and staff in 131 countries, and they in turn have gone out and used these exercises in their families, schools, camps, youth clubs and communities.  After the training, every volunteer and every National Society agree a plan on how best to pass on and share the knowledge they have acquired.

Some of this peer-to-peer training is large scale and official – for instance the French Red Cross has a formal relationship with the Ministry of Education to conduct practical exercises to build life skills covering topics such as health, discrimination and violence, for 2 hours a week.

The exercises are also ‘formally’ and officially taught in places like Madagascar (with a focus on bullying in schools) and Pakistan (with a focus on improving service delivery in disaster situations).

When we last researched the global impact of YABC in 2013, we found that 620 RCRC volunteers trained in the YABC Toolkit had in turn reached a further 120,000 people.  So we can presume that the current aggregate of 2300 trained volunteers and staff have reached about half a million people.

In Martinique, in 12 months, one trained YABC peer educator alone reached around 1300 pupils in schools.

In the Pakistan Red Crescent, YABC games putting participants in the shoes of refugees or IDPs have been integrated into disaster response training.  Remarkable stories come out of YABC Pakistan, like the one about the young boys and men in tribal and mountainous areas who went through YABC training and then resolved collectively to convince their parents to send their sisters to school.

There are many many more examples.

And what effects do this training have?

Let me just quote a young girl in Palestine who said:

“As a nurse and paramedic, YABC strongly influenced my life and my relationships with others, especially those I serve. It helped me think positively, be less suspicious, and know how to connect with people. I now cultivate genuine and caring relationships that foster mutual understanding, create love and trust, offer support and open an opportunity for inner change.”

As we empower youth to reach out in their communities, we see how they really do promote changes of mindset and behaviour.

And the learning and education comes from within, in the true sense of the Latin word ‘e-duco’, I lead out or bring out.

** 4 **

The spirit of Solferino; youth as the torch-bearers of peace

In concluding a talk which has of necessity focused so heavily on how the RCRC Movement inculcates the principles and practice of peace, I take you back to where the RCRC Movement itself started, in Solferino, Italy.

I was there just a few weeks ago, on 24 June, 168 years to the day that the armies of three kings and emperors – those of France, Italy and Austria – did each other terrible damage.

On that day, I made the point that our battlefields now are sometimes those of nations, like in 1859, but more often – in 2017 – they are the battlefields of global scourges … like poverty, disease, migration, environmental degradation, and of course our topic today, violent extremism.

6,000 men died at Solferino in 1859.  Compare that with the most modern of battlefields: right now there are 5,000 new cases of cholera a day in Yemen – that is almost one Solferino death toll’s worth….

I like to quote the former UN Secretary General who said that there is no Plan B because there is no Planet B.

We don’t remember the names of the dead at Solferino, but we do remember the name of the rich Swiss banker Henri Dunant witnessed the carnage of the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino, and acted in shock and compassion.  He is the father of the Red Cross Movement.

He recruited volunteers to tend to the dead, the dying and wounded, and he proposed an agreed set of values and beliefs for the conduct of international affairs, and affairs between human beings.

I can assure you that the spirit of Solferino is alive and well, and that the flame of compassion burns bright, not just in the RCRC Movement but in so many young people, everywhere.  The spirit of Solferino reminds us that young people are the torch-bearers of a peace which is designed for all.

We were peace-bringers then and we are peace-bringers now.  And the beacons of peace are not the young people who want to avenge society, but those millions and millions more who want to play their part in society.

And the secret of empowering young people to usher in a better world is to educate them in humanitarian values.  ‘Education Plus.’

What strikes me every time that we celebrate Solferino is the preponderance of young people, bearing red crosses and red crescents on their t-shirts, who walk silently and respectfully in procession through that small town in Lombardy, holding the torches of compassion, and extolling the virtues of peace.

Peace in their own lives, peace in their own communities.  And it is education which has taught them that: education has e-ducavit – it has led them out, and led them on.

Speech data

National Societies


Conflict, Human related, Violence prevention


Caux forum