‘Strengthening’ project: Seminar gathers experts and public authorities in Belgium to discuss radicalisation of youth

2017 Jun 1

On April 24th and 25th, the IJJO and the Belgian Federal Public Service of Justice co-organised a seminar regarding the Belgian juvenile justice approach to Counter Terrorism. This seminar focused on the methods Belgian organisations and municipality representatives use to identify radicalised youth, and their approach to prevent and counter this issue. 

This event was organised in the context of an IJJO led European project titled: ‘Strengthening Juvenile Justice Systems in the counter-terrorism context: capacity - building and peer learning among stakeholders’ (JUST-2015-JCOO-AG-TERR). One of its main objectives is to gather information, evidence and lessons learned from promising and validated policies, programmes and practices concerning terrorism and violent extremism in juveniles within 6 European juvenile justice systems.

This project, financed by the Justice Programme of the European Union, brings together a team of academics, representatives of ministries of justice and civil society organisations from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, The Netherlands, Romania, and Spain.

On the first day of this event, attendees listened to a panel of representatives from Belgian Municipalities in charge of counter-terrorism policies. The Panel was led by Cédric Foussard, IJJO International Affairs Director, and consisted of Olivier Vanderhaeghen, a Prevention Officer in Molenbeek, Brussels; Hadelin Feront, from Cell PRE-RAD and Bravvo, Brussels; as well as inspectors Santi and Houttenman from the Local Police in Brussels West.

Speakers presented their respective activities and organisations, which started at the beginning of the 2010 decade. The different programs cover the development of specific actions focusing on neighbourhoods where young people and children might be at risk of radicalisation. These programs are mainly based on the work with families and the community. The social impact of radicalised youth is a clear concern for local actors, as there is no specific profile for those at risk.

Emphasis was then placed on the importance of considering the specific vulnerabilities of children at risk of taking part in violent extremism, particularly for those children suffering mental disorders.  This panel session gave a very clear vision of the different important aspects when dealing with youth and violent extremism, from prevention programs to the investigation of those presenting serious risks to security.

On the second day, the IJJO and the Federal Public Service of Belgium organised a High-Level Conference with project partners and official national stakeholders to exchange on how juveniles involved in violent extremism are dealt with by the Belgium juvenile justice systems in Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia. Tarik Fraihi, from the Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis, presented statistical data regarding Belgian children “sympathisers” and gave an overview of the situation of returnees in Belgium. Then, Sophie Louis, a public prosecutor from Liege, explained how federal law involving endangered children operates within the French speaking region of Belgium.

To conclude the morning session, Stefaan Van Mulders, from the Agentschap Jongerenwelzijn (Youth Welfare Agency), presented the Flemish approach to juveniles involved in violent extremism, as well as the specific programs they have developed to target deprivation of liberty and after release follow-up.

In the afternoon, partners listened and participated in a debate between various panelists. The first debate, ‘Policy responses and specialized programmes to face terrorism and violent extremism in juveniles in Belgium’, involved Isabelle Seret, from the ‘Rien à Faire, Rien à Perdre’ project, Natacha David, project manager for the prevention of radicalisation at the municipality of Schaerbeek, and Fabienne Druant, a criminologist in Juvenile Affairs within the Public Prosecutor’s office.

Throughout the second debate ‘The juvenile’s unique situation and their protection under international and European Law in the context of counter terrorism’, partners participated in a discussion with Stephanie Grisard, co-agent of the government before the European court of Human Rights, and Tzeni Varfi, from Fair Trials International. Partners commented on how practices differ between each country, and what each has found to be successful.

During the evening, the IJJO organised the first meeting between the partners of two projects that the Observatory coordinates: ‘Strengthening Juvenile Justice Systems in the Counter Terrorism Context’ and ‘PRALT - The prevention of Juvenile Radicalisation: Promoting the use of alternatives to detention through judicial training’, around an exchange related to the implementation of the Neuchâtel Memorandum on Good Practices for Juvenile Justice in a Counterterrorism Context. This document acts as a guide for those who must develop and execute programs and policies regarding the specific circumstances surrounding children who are in the criminal justice system charged with committing acts of terrorism or violent extremism.

The IJJO wishes to thank the Ministry of Justice of Belgium for its great support in organising this seminar.