Author: Alessandro Rosanò – University of Florence 


Since 1963, international organisations have promoted the conclusion of a number of treaties dealing with terrorism-related matters such as the extradition of persons having committed acts of terrorism, taking of hostages or the cooperation between states to prevent terrorist bombings. Other acts, adopted in the EU framework, focus on issues that may underline the possibility of a terrorist threat including the definition of terrorism, the recruitment of terrorists, hate crime, and hate speech.

However, it seems that a legally binding act dealing with deradicalisation has never been adopted by UN, the CoE, and the EU. The reason for this may be found in their limited powers and remit as international organisations. From a legal point, their limited powers make it difficult for them to stretch their competencies in order to adopt legally binding acts in relation to deradicalisation.

Lacking a legally binding foundation, it does not come as a surprise that international courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice, could not define what counts as radicalisation and/or deradicalisation either. However, both courts have dealt with issues that are related to them. Their respective positions could then provide guidance with regard to the relevant principles in the field of counter-radicalisation. This holds true to maintain the balance between the fight against terrorism and vouchsafing such fundamental rights and freedoms as the right to life, freedom of expression, the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as well as the right to privacy.

That being said, it is worth remembering that the UN, the CoE, and the EU have contributed to fight against radicalisation in their member countries by tackling radicalisation with non-binding acts which list possible interventions and measures for member states to implement. They propose intervention at schools, prisons and in effect to the Internet. 

As for the measures they have suggested in those acts, the three organisations have adopted a holistic approach regarding deradicalisation involving primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions. These organisations are of the opinion that their member countries should develop tailored approaches to counter radicalisation that would involve local communities including NGOs, families, and religious, cultural, and education leaders.

Furthermore, the member countries should develop and implement programmes targeted at youngsters, while pursuing initiatives supporting their access to the labour market or actively supporting recruitment of people from different backgrounds by police and law enforcement authorities.

For what concerns radicalisation in prison, the three international organisations under study propose that the member countries should offer education, vocational training, and work opportunities to inmates. At the same time, they should implement moral, spiritual, social, and health- and sports-based measures as they promote social rehabilitation. Risk assessment tools should be developed and most importantly, imprisonment should be an extrema ratio.

Considering the Internet, the main issue seems to be the removal of any terrorist content from it by national authorities to prevent the spread of extremist views and the recruitment of terrorists.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning that in May 2016, the European Commission, together with some IP companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube, reached an agreement towards setting up a code of conduct to control hate speech online. Accordingly, the social media companies must adopt rules or guidelines where they clarify how incitement to violence and hateful conduct will be prohibited. Furthermore, they must develop and implement processes to review notifications regarding hate speech in their services and remove or disable access to such content. Also, users must be educated about the types of content not permitted under the rules and community guidelines. In the first five years since its implementation, this code has proved extremely useful as the companies reviewed 89% of the flagged content within 24 hours and most of the prohibited content is rapidly removed.

Besides, the UN, the CoE, and the EU suggest that the member countries should fund research into the drivers of terrorism and violent extremism.

Notwithstanding the expanse of such measures, one should be aware that these measures have been suggested to the member states through legally non-binding acts. This means that their implementation is left to the discretion of the member states in these organisations. This may be a problem considering how it would lead to diverging approaches and uneven results in member states’ fight against radicalisation. Thus, there is a need for a new approach with a more binding role for international organisations. Considering the specific case of the EU, a supranational approach – rather than an intergovernmental – through the delegation of new competencies to it might prove beneficial in fight against radicalisation. For the time being, however, member states appear reticent to devolve any competencies and the development of a supranational approach to fight radicalisation appears highly unlikely.   

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