The international conference on the Role of Youth in Countering Radicalism, Extremism and Terrorism was held in Tashkent on 18 February 2021. The event was organised by the Agency for Youth Affairs of Uzbekistan, the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Youth Union of Uzbekistan, German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the OSCE and UNDP project coordinators in Uzbekistan, and the UNODC Regional Office for Central Asia.
Speaking at the opening of the event, SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov stated that the economic and social problems caused by the pandemic, such as a decline in the level of education, as well as a sharp increase in unemployment and poverty, were primarily affecting young people who were experiencing difficulties with self-realisation and fear of the future.
In this situation, he said, young people were becoming the target of terrorist groups and extremist movements that were trying to influence them and lure them into their destructive activities by manipulating the still immature minds of young men and women. These groups engage in aggressive propaganda and recruitment; they operate through cross-border networks and use modern information technology.
Quoting statistics from the SCO RATS, Vladimir Norov noted that last year alone, the SCO member states had to restrict access to more than 23,000 online resources containing materials of a terrorist and extremist nature, including 326 accounts on social media.
In this context, the SCO member states reaffirmed their commitment to expansion of multilateral cooperation to counter the use of ICT for terrorist, separatist, extremist and other criminal purposes at the SCO summit in Moscow in November 2020. The SCO leaders also recognised the need to develop universal and legally binding instruments under the auspices of the UN in order to ensure comprehensive international information security and to counter information crime.
The Secretary-General reminded the audience that heads of the SCO member states had adopted a Joint Appeal to Young People at the summit in Qingdao in 2018, after President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev proposed the initiative during the summit in 2017. The Appeal as well as the Programme of Action to fulfil its provisions are aimed at the implementation of specific joint measures to prevent the involvement of the younger generation in the activities of terrorist and radical groups, as well as at the establishment of closer cooperation between youth organisations to jointly fight manifestations of international terrorism, separatism and extremism.
In this regard, he especially emphasised that during the Moscow SCO summit, the parties reaffirmed their readiness to continue the consistent implementation of those highly important documents that had given a powerful impetus to the further development of youth policy. They have also promoted many useful and important youth initiatives aimed at fostering the younger generation's ability to resist various destructive forces that try to instil the ideas of extremism, fanaticism and violence in the minds of young people.
In this context Vladimir Norov underscored that developing digital literacy and a healthy digital culture was one of the drivers of the young generation's creative social and business activity in the information era, promoting their creative self-realisation and reducing the digital divide, which is essential for economic growth.
According to Vladimir Norov, the aforementioned drivers are of particular importance because by 2030, so-called smart jobs will account for about 30 percent of the global employment market, while the global economy will grow to 13.4 trillion euros thanks to the widespread introduction of digital technologies. As a result, hundreds of millions of people and, above all, young people will have to urgently learn new skills or even change their professions.
In this regard, it is becoming more relevant than ever for the SCO countries to expand the use of digital technologies in education and vocational training in order to prepare the younger generation for the changing economy and post-industrial society.
In this regard, he underscored the urgency of the Uzbek President's initiative to develop cooperation programmes for improvement of digital literacy and poverty reduction in the SCO countries, advanced at last year's summit.
He expressed confidence that the joint development and implementation of the cooperation programmes proposed by the president of Uzbekistan would undoubtedly contribute to a significant increase in employment and a decrease in poverty among young people in the SCO space.
According to Vladimir Norov, poverty is one of the main factors in the radicalisation of young people and their involvement in extremist and terrorist activity.
With regard to implementing a comprehensive state policy to improve human capital and promoting young people's civic engagement, the SCO Secretary-General praised a recent statement by Mr Mirziyoyev at the Youth Forum of Uzbekistan, as well as his proposal to declare 2021 the Year of Supporting Youth and Strengthening the Health of the Population in Uzbekistan.
He also noted that the initiative was especially consonant with the decision to hold the Year of SCO Culture in 2021, to once again remind the public of the rich and unique historical, cultural and civilisational heritage of the peoples of the SCO countries and the importance of enlightenment and teaching the younger generation in the spirit of patriotism, moral strength, tolerance, humanism, mutual respect and the ability to conduct an inter-civilisational dialogue.
Vladimir Norov expressed confidence that young people, with their energy, and innovative and bold ideas, are an important support for the further development of the SCO in various areas, including education, self-expression, realising young people's creative potential and professional achievements.
He also updated the participants on the events organised by the SCO Youth Council aimed at stimulating entrepreneurial initiative and promoting innovative projects based on digital technologies.
The 2020 events supported by the SCO Secretariat and involving the SCO Youth Council included the International Technology Transfer Conference, the 2nd Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, the SCO Young Scientists Conclave, the AGORA: SCOLAR Vision Youth Conference, and the opening of the SCO China Technology Transfer Centre in Qingdao as a platform for the SCO International Youth Business Incubator initiative.
He especially noted China's initiative to establish the SCO International Youth Business Incubator and also India's plan to hold the annual Forum of Youth Startups and create a working group for the development of startups in the SCO.
According to the Secretary-General, given that the 20th anniversary of the SCO is coming up this year, several events have been planned as part of the Tajik chairmanship to ensure the greater involvement of young people in the political, economic and cultural life in the countries of the SCO region. One of the events is an international conference on strengthening multilateral cooperation to prevent young people's involvement in destructive groups, which is to be held next August.