Youth, Peace, Security Agenda Starting to Make Difference for Young People in Conflict Zones, But Much Work Remains, Advocates Tell Security Council

SC/13886
17 July 2019
8577th Meeting (PM)

Youth, Peace, Security Agenda Starting to Make Difference for Young People in Conflict Zones, But Much Work Remains, Advocates Tell Security Council

General Assembly, Economic and Social Council Better Placed to Handle Youth Issues, Says Russian Federation’s Representative

The Security Council’s youth, peace and security agenda is beginning to make a difference for young people in conflict zones and other vulnerable situations, but much work remains to effectively incorporate their voices, energy and ideas into efforts to build and sustain peace, youth advocates told the 15-member organ today.

Wevyn Muganda, Programme Director for HAKI Africa, a national human rights organization in Kenya, said that, if fully implemented, the youth, peace and security agenda can transform the lives of young people and societies.  She went on to describe her Sundays spent with young people in informal “chill spots”, known in Mombasa as maskani, where she connects with influencers and activists.  She added that her blog, “Beyond the Lines”, has helped to build an online community of peacebuilders and activists.  “[United Nations] Security Council resolution 2250 (2015) has secured me and my young peers a seat in the car,” she said, emphasizing that young people must be at the wheel to reach the desired destination.  She noted, however, that police have been accused of entering these spaces to harass and illegally arrest young people.

Sofia Ramyar, Executive Director of Afghans for Progressive Thinking, said that the bombing of her family’s home in 1995 and life as a refugee in Pakistan led her to work for peaceful coexistence in Afghanistan, with human rights for all.  “I want to assure you that the youth, peace and security agenda is preparing a generation of young women and men in Afghanistan that will lead our country towards peace, development and prosperity,” she said, while acknowledging that hierarchical relationships between men and women, as well as between elders and youth, remain dominant.  “This needs to change,” she stressed.

Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, said “our effort to build and sustain peace needs to be democratized to include the communities most affected”, pointing out that young people provide the best chance for achieving that.  In an increasingly globalized world, Member States must keep going back to Security Council resolutions 2250 (2015) and 2419 (2018) to ensure that youth perspectives are not distorted by stereotypes that associate young people with violence, she emphasized.  With 408 million of the world’s 1.8 billion young people living in contexts affected by armed conflict, “we need to engage young people not only as beneficiaries, but as equal partners in all our efforts, especially our efforts to prevent conflict and build peace”, she added.

In the ensuing debate, Council members agreed on the importance of giving young people a bigger say in peace and security matters, with many underscoring the need to address root causes of conflict, combat terrorism and violent extremism, provide better education and dignified employment, promote the rights of women and girls, and address the challenges of climate change.

Equatorial Guinea’s representative, speaking also on behalf of Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, urged support for national Governments and regional organizations in implementing the youth, peace and security agenda at the national level.  With many young people living in fragile countries, especially in Africa, the African Union attaches great importance to youth inclusion, he said.  Several African countries are working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to support initiatives for reducing the radicalization of young people, he noted.

Kuwait’s representative said many young people in the Middle East face challenges to the attainment of their aspirations, with poverty depriving them of the right to dignity and terrorism hijacking their innocence.  He went on to highlight progress in implementing the youth, peace and security agenda in such places as Colombia, Iraq and Kosovo.

Indonesia’s representative declared:  “It is time that we transform our youth from a demographic dividend into a peace dividend,” emphasizing that the youth, peace and security agenda is not meant for Council members alone, but for all Member States.  He went on to cite his country’s experience in empowering young people to combat radicalization, including its adoption of legislation integrating youth empowerment into the national development plan.

The representative of the United States said the Council should hear directly from young people more often.  While diplomats spend a lot of time talking behind closed doors, the reality is that young people are driving and setting the political agenda, she noted.  “They are the change that is happening,” working to end tyranny and speaking up for human rights and accountability, she added.

Agreeing that the United Nations must pay greater attention to youth, the Russian Federation’s representative emphasized, however, that the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and their subsidiary bodies are better placed to address the subject.  Bringing it before the Council does not help the work of the Special Envoy on Youth, he said, warning also that some external players use radicalized youth to overthrow legitimate Governments.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Dominican Republic, France, Poland, Belgium and Peru.

The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:02 p.m.

Briefings

JAYATHMA WICKRAMANAYAKE, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth, said that, in an increasingly globalized world, Member States must keep going back to Security Council resolutions 2250 (2015) and 2419 (2018) on youth, peace and security to ensure that youth perspectives are not distorted by contagious stereotypes that associate young people with violence.  With 408 million of the world’s 1.8 billion young people living in contexts affected by armed conflict, “we need to engage young people not only as beneficiaries, but as equal partners in all our efforts, especially our efforts to prevent conflict and build peace”, she said.  Since the release of “The Missing Peace:  Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security” in September 2018, the youth, peace and security agenda has entered a new phase, with the focus shifting towards implementation at multiple levels amidst expanding stakeholder support, she added, noting that young people are reclaiming the narrative on youth, peace and security.

She went on to state that, instead of waiting to be invited to decision‑making forums, they are coming forward with alternative and innovative solutions.  In recent months, however, young peacebuilders and human rights defenders have been subjected to threats, intimidation, violence, arbitrary arrest and retaliation, she said, calling upon Governments to uphold the fundamental rights of young people, including the right to free expression online and offline.  With the 2018 adoption of Youth 2030, the United Nations youth strategy, the youth, peace and security agenda has been institutionalized within the Organization, setting a new path for supporting young people and creating an enabling environment for their contributions to peace and security, she said, adding that an action plan to support its implementation is under development amid a surge in programming and funding, including $37 million allocated by the Peacebuilding Fund since 2016 to support the inclusion and participation of young people.

However, the United Nations still falls short of meeting the needs of youth groups and networks on the ground that often run on minimal resources, she noted, encouraging special political missions and peacekeeping operations involved in youth, peace and security initiatives to appoint youth focal points to implement the youth, peace and security agenda within their respective mandates.  Announcing the launch of a policy paper titled “We are here:  An integrated approach to youth‑inclusive peace processes”, she said it highlights the roles that young people can play in peace processes from their own points of view.  However, successful implementation of the youth, peace and security agenda requires greater political will and ownership on the part of Member States, as well as programme funding and institutional support for capacity-building, she emphasized.  “Our effort to build and sustain peace needs to be democratized to include the communities most affected,” she added, pointing out that young people provide the best chance for achieving that.

WEVYN MUGANDA, Programme Director for HAKI Africa in Kenya, described young people as agents of change, saying that, if fully implemented, Council resolutions 2250 (2015) and 2419 (2018) on youth, peace and security have the power to transform the lives of young people and societies.  HAKI Africa has engaged thousands of young people in human rights and peacebuilding efforts through human rights education, youth-led social activities with justice actors, youth reintegration into communities and support for the formulation and implementation of legislative and policy frameworks.

She went on to describe her Sundays spent with young people in informal “chill spots”, known in Mombasa as maskani, where young people gather during their free time.  The police have been accused of entering these spaces to harass and illegally arrest them, she said, noting, however, that it is within these spaces that HAKI Africa identified the most powerful influencers and activists.  “I love the Internet,” she said, explaining that she publishes youth-friendly articles through her blog, “Beyond the Lines”.  To date, the blog has reached more than 110,000 young people and helped to build an online community of peacebuilders and active citizens, she said, adding that she also launched an initiative to film conversations happening in “maskani” to amplify the voices of excluded young people.

Member States, she continued, can take three key steps:  enhance the participation of young people in decision-making processes at all levels; protect the human rights of all individuals, with a particular focus on youth; and ensure greater accountability and more regular reporting in the Security Council on how well it is doing with and on youth.  “UN Security Council resolution 2250 (2015) has secured me and my young peers a seat in the car,” she said, emphasizing the need for young people to be in the driver’s or co-driver’s seat in order to reach the desired destination.

SOFIA RAMYAR, Executive Director, Afghans for Progressive Thinking, recalled the tragic moment when a helicopter bombed her family’s home in Kabul in 1995, their escape to Pakistan, and living in refugee camps without papers.  That experience prompted her to return to Kabul, attend school and work for peaceful coexistence in Afghanistan, with basic human rights for all, she said.  Pointing out that young people form the majority of Afghanistan’s population, she said they are strategically placed to push for structural changes, especially now that the country is closer than ever to a peace agreement.  “I want to assure you that the youth, peace and security agenda is preparing a generation of young women and men in Afghanistan that will lead our country towards peace, development and prosperity,” she added.  Afghans for Progressive Thinking has conducted many debates and dialogues in support of the youth, peace and security agenda while also working with the Government on a practical action plan, she said.

Nonetheless, hierarchical relationships between men and women, and between elders and youth, throughout Afghan society still dominate, she said, emphasizing:  “This needs to change.”  She recommended that the United Nations take a long-term approach and design policies that make youth an integral part of decision-making processes.  The inclusion of young people in the Government of Afghanistan has been encouraging, but it is not sustainable, she said, adding that youth must also be allowed to play a key role at all stages of Afghanistan’s peace process.  As the largest segment of Afghan society, they have the highest stake in that process, she pointed out, underlining that they must be seen as equal partners, not project implementers or grantees.  The Office of the Special Envoy on Youth, for its part, is uniquely positioned to encourage the development of national action plans for resolution 2250 (2015) and to evaluate the effectiveness of their implementation, she said, adding that well-established local youth organizations would be ideal partners in such an effort.

Statements

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), noting that more than half of the world’s population are below the age of 30, said their voices must be properly reflected in long-term visions.  When political processes are inclusive, they are one third more likely to be sustainable, he added.  Emphasizing the importance of youth participation in preventing and resolving conflict, he said young women are effective in mediating local ceasefires.  The Government of the United Kingdom supports a Commonwealth network of young women mediators and is also the largest bilateral donor for the “Education Cannot Wait” initiative, he said.  Referring to the Special Envoy’s paper “We Are Here”, he told her:  “You are here and you were heard.”

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), also speaking on behalf of South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire, commended the respective initiatives of Jordan and Peru for the adoption of the historic resolutions 2250 (2015) and 2419 (2018), saying the two are fundamental to ensuring priority for young people in international governance frameworks and peacebuilding.  Citing Colombia’s pilot project for integrating former combatants into ecotourism, he urged support for national Governments and regional organizations in implementing the resolutions at the national level.  He went on to point out that many youth live in fragile countries, especially in Africa, emphasizing that the African Union attaches great importance to the inclusion of young people.  For instance, several African countries worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to support initiatives for reducing the radicalization of young people, he noted.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said that his country has several mechanisms in place to improve the involvement of young people in foreign policy, including “Bringing the United Nations into Classrooms”, the “Youth Peace Prize” and a programme that has been sending youth delegates to the United Nations since 2006.  Germany also has a youth strategy and is in the process of creating a regulatory impact‑assessment tool, called the Youth Check, to highlight the expected effects of planned legislation on young people and their future, he said, expressing support for initiatives for the Council to invite youth briefers on a regular basis.

CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) said the Council should hear directly from young people more often, noting that, when a generation cannot get an education or start a family because of war, it can take years to recover.  The Council must work harder to prevent conflicts before they begin and focus on how to harness the power of young people.  Noting that diplomats spend a lot of time talking behind closed doors, she said the reality is that young people are driving and setting the political agenda.  “They are the change that is happening,” working to end tyranny and speaking up for human rights and accountability.  She called attention to her own country’s investment in leadership exchange programmes and partnerships with youth around the world, citing an event earlier this year during the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, where youth delegates highlighted their exclusion from political processes.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), describing the proliferation of conflict as a major obstacle to the contributions of youth to peace and security, said many young people in the Middle East face challenges to the attainment of their aspirations, with poverty depriving them of the right to dignity and terrorism hijacking their innocence.  Emphasizing the need to address the root causes of conflict, he highlighted progress in implementing the youth, peace and security agenda in such places as Colombia, Iraq and Kosovo.  He went on to underscore the need to implement sustainable development and investment to build the capacities of young people and to prevent them from falling into crime and extremism.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) emphasized the need to create suitable conditions for youth participation, including by addressing root causes of conflict.  In protracted conflicts, disempowered youth are easy prey for armed groups, either as victims or as tools of war.  Underscoring that the youth, peace and security agenda is not meant for Council members alone, but for all Member States, he cited Indonesia’s experience in empowering young people to combat radicalization, including its adoption of legislation integrating youth empowerment into the national development plan and the appointment of about 780 youth ambassadors in 13 provinces to help fight terrorism and violent extremism.  “It is time that we transform our youth from a demographic dividend into a peace dividend,” he said.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said his delegation agrees fully that there is need to pay greater attention to the issue of youth within the United Nations system, but bringing the subject to the Security Council does not help the work of the Special Envoy.  Noting that such a position might lead some delegations to believe that the Russian Federation does not deem the issue of youth important, he emphasized that, on the contrary, his country’s Government takes active measures to interact with young people, not only at the federal level, but also at the municipal level.  In October 2017, he recalled, the Russian Federation hosted the World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi.  He went on to stress that States must address poverty, illiteracy and unemployment among young people, pointing out that, in Gaza, for example, the unemployment rate is approaching 50 per cent, providing a breeding ground for radicalization.  Warning against external who use radicalized youth to overthrow legitimate Governments, he stressed the important role of regional organizations in addressing youth radicalization.  He went on to state that the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and their subsidiary bodies can deal with youth issues, underlining that discussing or not discussing an issue in the Security Council is not a measure of the importance the organ attaches to it.  This is a matter of division of labour, he affirmed.

WU HAITAO (China) said youth plays an important role in socioeconomic development and is taking action to promote global peace and stability.  Noting the need to implement the two resolutions on youth, peace and security, he said young people must be protected from harm during armed conflict.  To foster an environment in which youth can achieve their full potential, States must address poverty and other root causes of conflict, he said, emphasizing the need to step up efforts to resolve regional “hotspots” by involving young people in peace processes.  The United Nations can improve its coordination with regional organizations to give greater support for youth-related projects while also helping Governments to establish national youth strategies, he said.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said the first International Symposium on Youth Participation in Peace Processes, held in Helsinki on 5 and 6 March, was an excellent platform from which to hear from young people.  Youth in conflict zones are exposed to all forms of violence, and protection of their human rights, therefore, remains a priority, he emphasized.  Describing young people as allies in resolving conflicts and transforming society, he said guaranteeing their participation in such processes is crucial.  The reintegration programme supported by the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, the African Union’s appointment of a special envoy on youth, peace and security, and the youth strategy of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) are examples of good practices in implementing Council resolutions on youth, peace and security, he said, proposing the creation of a network of young mediators at the regional level and the establishment of an informal expert group on youth, peace and security.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said young people and youth organizations do not wait for the Council to do anything for them, noting that they are already contributing to peace and security.  However, their vast potential will not be realized if they are displaced, radicalized and excluded from social, economic and political life, he emphasized.  This is why empowering youth is a priority of the Government of France, he said, pointing out that the Government has allocated a budget to support the efforts of some African countries, including Niger and Burkina Faso, in countering fake news that radicalizes youth.  Young people recently met in Paris to address the issue of inequality and their recommendations will be presented to the G7 countries, he said, underlining the importance of more systematically including youth participation when the Council discusses country‑specific situations.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said there is nothing in the Charter of the United Nations that prohibits the Council from discussing youth, peace and security.  While emphasizing the special challenges faced by girls and young persons with disabilities in conflict situations, he said men are also victims of patriarchal mindsets.  Noting that today’s youth have enormous power, dedication and a strong voice, he said they are also increasingly frustrated and losing trust in authorities, Governments and leaders.  It is crucial to start a partnership dialogue with young people and work together for sustainable development, he stressed.  Calling special attention to the teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, he described her as a voice of youth in the global discussion on climate change.  She continues to emphasize that change is coming “whether we like it or not”, and that the international community must care for the future it wants for its children, he pointed out.

KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) said youth participation can increase the legitimacy and sustainability of peace processes and mediation efforts, but genuine inclusion requires that young people be recognized as equal and strong actors, as seen in Colombia and Afghanistan.  The opinions and needs of young people must be at the heart of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes, as well as efforts to combat violent extremism, she added.  With two thirds of the world’s Internet users under the age of 35, social media can facilitate youth participation, she said, citing the use of social media during the high-level forum on revitalizing South Sudan’s Revitalized Peace Agreement.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity, saying that implementation of the Council’s two resolutions on youth, peace and security requires that Governments engage in dialogue with youth organizations and take their opinions into account when designing policies and programmes.  Welcoming efforts made by some United Nations missions, notably those in Colombia, Kosovo and Iraq, to put the two resolutions into practice, he also emphasized that the youth, peace and security agenda is closely linked to implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and recommended adequate and predictable financing for organizations run by and for young people.  The Council must continue to promote this important issue through regular follow‑up, he said, adding that his delegation looks forward to the Secretary‑General’s report on the subject in 2020.

For information media. Not an official record.