No definition of "violent extremism"

The UN has no definition of terrorism. The reason that it cannot define terrorism is because the 56 UN member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) insist on distinguishing terrorism from "armed struggle" against their preferred targets. The recent effort at the UN to shift attention from terrorism to countering violent extremism presented the possibility of avoiding definitional issues and defining "violent extremism." Instead, the definition question has been subject to the same pressures, with the result that the UN is also unable to define violent extremism.


  • Activities of the United Nations system in implementing the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Report of the Secretary-General, A/70/826, April 13, 2016

    "4..Violent extremism is a diverse phenomenon, without an internationally agreed definition..."
  • Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, Report of the Secretary General, A/70/674, January 7, 2016

    "2... Violent extremism is a diverse phenomenon, without clear definition...
    5...Definitions of 'terrorism' and 'violent extremism' are the prerogative of Member States and must be consistent with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law. Just as the General Assembly has taken a practical approach to counter-terrorism through the adoption by consensus of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, this Plan of Action pursues a practical approach to preventing violent extremism, without venturing to address questions of definition."

General Assembly

  • United Nations General Assembly, 102nd plenary meeting, 72nd session, New York, June 26, 2018

    Sudan: "The term 'violent extremism' does not currently have a common consensual definition."

    Pakistan: "Another important issue that remained at the core of the discussions this year was the concept of preventing violent extremism. Two years ago, when the General Assembly unanimously agreed to implement measures to curb what at that time was deemed the new phenomenon of violent extremism, it was expected that with time we would be able to remove the confusion about what exactly that entailed."

  • United Nations General Assembly, 101st plenary meeting, 72nd session, New York, June 26, 2018

    Bangladesh: "We would consider it counter-productive to question or redefine the notion of violent extremism itself when a number of Member States, including ours, have acknowledged the threats it poses as conducive to terrorism."

    Egypt: "However, some States insist on this non-constructive ambiguity regarding the term 'violent extremism conducive to terrorism'."

    Syria: "Our partners in the United Nations should acknowledge, during the course of the review, that there are differences of opinion regarding the definition and explanation of the concept of violent extremism conducive to terrorism, and that there are national considerations that govern the approach adopted by every State to combating extremism."

  • 'Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism The Way Forward,' hosted by the United Nations and the Government of Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, April 7-8, 2016

    Pakistan: "[V]iolent extremism has no definition. The Secretary-General accepts this in the report. But at least a shared understanding of this term is necessary if we are to have a meaningful discussion on it... Violent extremism is ... distinct from terrorism in our understanding..."

    Oman: "Extremism is a concept that has no precise definition..."
  • General Assembly Debate on Secretary General's Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, February 12 and February 16, 2016
    • Algeria's Statement, February 16, 2016

      "My delegation stresses the need to agree upon an accurate definition of terrorism. Such a definition ... should avoid any confusion between acts of terrorism and the legitimate struggle of peoples under colonial or foreign occupation to achieve their inalienable rights to self-determination and to peace..."

    • Saudi Arabia's Statement on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), February 12, 2016

      "While the OIC emphasizes that there is no agreed definition of violent extremism, it fully subscribes to the need to prevent this phenomenon."