In recent years, preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization leading to terrorism (VERLT) – often also referred to as CVE/PVE – has been an area of increasing focus at the international, regional and national levels. In the prison context, this focus also gained ground due to fears that prisons could represent breeding grounds for VERLT and due to increasing numbers of prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offences.
While there has been a growing body of work about radicalization to terrorism in prisons and the management of violent extremist offenders, tailored tools with a specific focus to promote independent detention monitoring in this field appeared to be missing. The new ODIHR and PRI publication seeks to close this gap by providing tailored guidance to detention monitors – including National Preventive Mechanism (NPMs), National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and civil society – on human rights risks arising in preventing and countering VERLT in prisons.
The Guide is structured in two main parts. The first provides an overview of some of the key concepts and factors conducive to terrorism and VERLT, both within and outside of prisons. In doing so, it essentially highlights the importance of independent detention monitoring in preventing and countering VERLT because a lack of respect for human rights represents a factor conducive to VERLT. Inhumane prison conditions, overcrowding, poor prison management and discrimination, can all contribute to the spreading of VERLT by driving individuals into the hands of terrorist or violent extremist groups in prison. Independent detention monitoring is key for the protection of human rights in prisons and therefore also a basis of all successful efforts to prevent and counter radicalization to terrorism or violence in prisons.
The second part looks in detail at a number of specific human rights risk areas in preventing and countering radicalization to terrorism and spreading of VERLT in prisons. It discusses human rights implications of indicators to identify prisoners who may be “vulnerable” or “at risk” of radicalization to terrorism, classification, risks and needs assessments; placement and security regimes imposed on (suspected) violent extremist prisoners; questions related to access and design of rehabilitation and reintegration programmes; as well as institutional and staff issues. For each of those risk areas, the guide highlights relevant issues for detention monitors to consider and assess in carrying out their work; and it discusses specific practical challenges that may arise when examining VERLT-related issues in detention monitoring.
ODIHR and PRI presented the new Guide on 15 July 2021 at a webinar on The role of independent detention monitoring in protecting human rights in prisons while preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization to terrorism. Following the presentation of the publication, the webinar saw a panel discussion of international and national experts – including detention monitors as well as human rights and VERLT practitioners – who reflected on key human rights issues and the specific challenges detention monitors face in this field.
With this initiative, ODIHR and PRI seek to promote independent detention monitoring and oversight as well as mutual dialogue between monitors, prison administrations and other relevant authorities in strengthening human rights protections while preventing and countering radicalization to terrorism or violence in prisons.