UNICRI and the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ - International Centre for Counter-terrorism (ICCT) have signed a new agreement for the continuation of their activities in the field of preventing and countering violent extremism.
The new multi-year project “Mali (Dis-) Engagement and Re-Integration related to Terrorism (MERIT)” is supported by the Royal Danish Embassy in Bamako, and is part of a broader effort to prevent and counter violent extremism in Mali. It aims to facilitate the rehabilitation and reintegration of released violent extremist offenders and reduce the risk of radicalisation among Malian youth.
ICCT and UNICRI are implementing the MERIT programme in close collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Faith, the Malian National Prison Administration (DNAPES), the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and other local partners, especially NGOs and CSOs.
The situation in Mali is critical: according to the UN Secretary-General’s Report, issued in March 2019, violence has reached unprecedented levels, with an alarming increase in the number of civilians killed. The growing presence of and attacks by extremist groups and the increase in intercommunal violence have created an explosive situation, undermining the capacity of the century-old dispute resolution mechanisms. Terrorist groups continue to target Malian security forces, MINUSMA and international forces. Instances of serious human rights violations and abuses have been widely documented. The humanitarian situation is increasingly fragile and insecurity is compromising the possibility to deploy personnel delivering essential health care and education services.
During the joint implementation of the Violent Extremist Offenders Rehabilitation and Reintegration programme (2016 – 2018), ICCT and UNICRI have identified several areas of work to enhance efforts in preventing and countering violent extremism in Mali. The MERIT project targets the prison environment as well as communities to facilitate effective reintegration and to reduce the risk of radicalisation in the population, especially among youth. Young people play a key role, as they represent the majority of the Malian population (almost 70%) and the future of the country. Their engagement in promoting alternatives to violence is therefore crucial for any counter-terrorism initiative to succeed.
The project envisages several activities including the finalization of the previously developed risk assessment tool to support authorities to evaluate the actual risks posed by violent extremists and the potential for a possible and effective reintegration in society.
Another important component is based on previous studies conducted by ICCT which have shown how young people are vulnerable to radicalization, both in and outside of the prison context. To address this issue, a set of initiatives will be developed to promote alternatives to violence among youth, by training Malian youth leaders in non-violent discourse and setting up mentoring schemes for youth leaders. This will be followed by youth engagement in promoting social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. This component envisages the implementation of dialogue sessions in prison, facilitating non-violent political discourse, and training youths to spread the message of non-violence through national and local communication channels. Throughout the implementation of the project, primary data will be collected to study the impact of extremism on young people in Mali and in the region.
The effectiveness and impact of the activities will be monitored and evaluated all over the project duration to assess achievements and long-term outcomes.