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Doha, Counterterrorism

UNOCT Annual Forum of Beneficiaries of Technical Assistance: Remarks by the Director of UNICRI, Antonia Maria De Meo

Doha, Qatar -


The United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and the State of Qatar convened the first Annual Forum of Beneficiaries of Technical Assistance in Doha (28-29 March 2022). Bringing together recipients, providers and donors of technical and capacity-building assistance in counter-terrorism and prevention and countering of violent extremism (CT/PCVE), the objective of the Beneficiaries Forum was to review the results-based performance and progress of UNOCT programmes, projects and activities funded by the State of Qatar with the goal of improving programme design and delivery.

The present remarks were delivered by the Director of UNICRI, Antonia Marie De Meo, during the Forum Session II: "Opportunities and Challenges in the Design and Delivery of Counter-Terrorism Technical and Capacity-Building Assistance."


Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to join you today on behalf of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI).  I would like to express my appreciation to our gracious hosts, the State of Qatar and our partners in the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), for facilitating this unique forum.

I am delighted to participate in this session focused on opportunities and challenges in the design and delivery of technical assistance and capacity building. As the only United Nations research and training institute in the field of criminal justice and crime prevention, UNICRI uses a learning-based approach.  We pilot, test, analyze, and seek to constantly improve our delivery of technical assistance and capacity building.

One of the most relevant examples is our work with UNOCT and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on an independent synthesis of project findings implemented by UN entities under the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Known as a ‘metasynthesis’, this initiative aggregates findings and lessons learned from 118 evaluation and oversight reports – something never before done since the adoption of the Strategy 15 years ago in 2006.

The resulting report, entitled “Learn better, together”, highlights that collectively the United Nations is making progress. UNICRI found evidence that Compact entities are delivering a wide variety of technical assistance and support to Member States. The evidence shows behavioural change in the near and medium-terms – which is excellent – but there was not enough information on long-term changes to instill a culture of peace, justice, rule of law, and human rights. In other words, we are on the right track and important work remains to be done.

Our metasynthesis report concludes with a recommendation that to complete the picture, a full-fledged independent evaluation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy is needed. This will allow us to understand in detail what is and is not working in the design and implementation of our counter-terrorism programmes. The full evaluation UNICRI is proposing is an essential next step to answering many of the questions we are discussing here today.

Another relevant example is UNICRI’s programme on countering radicalisation and violent extremism in the Sahel-Maghreb region.  UNICRI worked with 80 civil society organizations over five years to test different tools and approaches. I’d like to briefly share with you four key takeaways we learned in relation to the design and implementation of counter-terrorism programmes.

Firstly, Research. The best designed programmes start with robust research. Any intervention must be informed by sound knowledge of local and wider political, economic, and cultural dynamics. Countries may experience similiar problems, but there will be different causes and manifestations, depending on their unique contexts, so tailoring interventions based on in-depth research is fundamental.

Secondly, Time. While security landscapes can change unexpectedly, it takes time to carry out research, design projects, mobilize funding, and launch implementation. By the time activities commence, the situation on the ground may not match initial assumptions. This requires flexibility in our implementation, calling for us to adapt to changing conditions, trends, and vulnerabilities in a timely manner.

Thirdly, local and community-based approaches. While international technical assistance plays a key role, true change belongs to the people, their governments, and civil society. UN entities should seek out local organisations to take up the mantle of our work and to be our partners, because the best designed and most successful projects are those that go on after our work has ended, those that endure in situ.  Solutions designed as long-term processes, geared towards building more inclusive and tolerant societies, are more likely to bring about meaningful change. We must work with local partners to build social bonds and civic responsibilities as a prerequisite for healthy and safe societies.

Fourthly, Religion. Although terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religious belief, some terrorist groups, across the spectrum, have used distorted narratives.  In certain circumstances, they have manipulated religion as a pretext. For many people, religion is a powerful part of their daily lives, and for some children, religious schools are their only education. This underscores the need for us to build upon the beneficial roles of religion in delivering assistance programmes.   

Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to review our final report on this five-year programme in the Sahel-Maghreb, called “Many Hands on an Elephant”. I am sure it will resonate as we continue our dialogue on impactful technical assistance to counter terrorism.

At UNICRI we are committed to working together with other counter-terrorism entities at international and national levels.  Thank you for your attention.