New York, 11 October – The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the international NGO Peace Boat co-organized an event on Friday 11 October, coinciding with the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. Approximately 75 young people between the ages of 18 and 30 participated in the full-day programme, called “Youth Champions for Securing our Common Future”.
The event was part of UNODA’s “#Youth4Disarmament” initiative, aimed at connecting young people with experts to learn about today’s international security challenges, the work of the United Nations, and how they can become involved. The first part of the event took place at UN Headquarters and the afternoon programme was held onboard Peace Boat, which had docked in New York one day earlier. The day featured keynote speakers, educational panel discussions, workshops, and musical performances. The participating “Youth Champions” had the opportunity to engage with UNODA officials, diplomats and civil society representatives who are working towards disarmament worldwide.
The Youth Champions started the day at UN Headquarters by attending a meeting of the First Committee general debate, where delegates discussed issues related to international security and disarmament. The Chair of the First Committee opened the meeting with a short address to welcome the participating youth.
After observing the debate, the Youth Champions engaged in a programme on “Building Empathy through learning from Atomic Bomb Survivors”, moderated by Youth Champion Ms. Bélen Bianco. The participants were welcomed by Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and Mr. Akira Kawasaki, a member of Peace Boat’s Executive Committee, both of whom stressed the importance of youth participation in disarmament and arms control.
These first remarks were followed by the testimony of Mr. Toshiki Fujimori, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, who shared his memories of 6 August 1945 and discussed the importance of nuclear disarmament. The testimonies of Mr. Fujimori and other survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings form a clarion call for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons.
Next, the Youth Champions watched the documentary film “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard”, written and directed by Mr. Bryan Reichhardt. The film explores the story of young students in Japan and the United States who, in the aftermath of World War II, built bridges and confidence through a people-to-people exchange. The message of this film is clear: we can become positive agents of peace, regardless of the circumstances.
The programme for the afternoon revolved around the UN Secretary General’s Disarmament Agenda, entitled “Securing our Common Future”. After boarding the Peace Boat, the Youth Champions had the opportunity to engage with UNODA officials and representatives of States and civil society. Mr. Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High Representative at UNODA, opened the dialogue with welcoming remarks. Ms. Emilie McGlone, Director of Peace Boat US, then introduced the origin and objectives of the international NGO dedicated to promoting peace, human rights, and sustainability.
Following Ms. McGlone’s introduction, disarmament experts from UNODA, member States and civil society took the floor to discuss disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control priorities that are outlined in the UN Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament. Speaking to the Agenda’s first pillar – “Disarmament to save humanity” – Ms. Rebecca Hallin from the Permanent Mission of the European Union to the United Nations, Mr. Chris King, Deputy Chief of UNODA’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch, and Mr. Murphy Yanashima from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons talked about the danger of nuclear weapons and the need for their elimination.
Turning to the Agenda’s second pillar – “Disarmament that saves lives” – Mr. Sospeter Karani of the Permanent Mission of Kenya to the United Nations, Mr. Marcellus Henderson of Non-Violence International, and Ms. Fiona Simpson, Political Affairs Officer at UNODA, addressed the topic of small arms and light weapons, illustrating the issues and the detrimental effects related to weapons trafficking and the small arms trade.
With regard to the Agenda’s third pillar – “Disarmament for future generations” – Ms. Amy Dowler, Political Affairs Officer from UNODA, joined Ms. Charlotte Skerten from the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations and Ms. Isabelle Jones of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to highlight the theme of the Lethal Autonomous Weapons System, or LAWS.
After the presentations, the Youth Champions broke into smaller groups for thematic discussions amongst themselves and with the experts. They presented the results of their deliberations and put forward proposals to take steps forward in disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation.
The day ended with an appeal to the youth by Mr. Toshiki Fujimori, the survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, to continue to take action for disarmament. Peace Boat founder Mr. Yoshioka Tatsuya and UNODA Director Mr. Thomas Markram offered concluding remarks.
Drafted by Martin Desbiolles