This policy brief examines the role former extremists and former combatants have in countering violent extremism (CVE). ‘The former’ as a special category of actor in CVE activities, including in peacebuilding settings, has gained significant attention in recent years. Various organisations and governments have utilised formers in CVE activities yet it remains unclear if and when formers can make a positive contribution to these efforts. The following brief brings together research on the subject to provide contexts in which formers do and do not play a positive role in CVE activities. Formers can often contribute to CVE work due to individual characteristics, such as charisma. However, the purpose of this brief is to identify characteristics attributable to the role of former extremists and former combatant. In doing so, it is possible to discuss the different contexts in which formers may contribute to CVE in a more general sense. Thus, the aim is not to evaluate the effectiveness of programmes involving formers but to provide a conceptual tool for identifying which activities may be appropriate for formers in various CVE settings. We argue that former combatants can play an active and productive role in CVE in contexts where formers have relatively more influence in communities than states, although these contexts are rare and have negative consequences, particularly for victims. Where formers do not fill a gap left by the state, formers have limited capacity to contribute to CVE beyond providing an important but short-term contribution to intelligence and counter-narratives.
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