New York

23 April 2015

Secretary-General's remarks at Open Debate on the Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace [as delivered]

I am honoured by the presence of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Al Hussein Bin Abdullah II of Jordan – which has so ably led the Security Council this month.

His Royal Highness is the youngest person ever to chair a meeting of the Security Council. This is perfect for today’s discussion.

He is not yet 21 years old – but he is already a leader in the 21st century. I thank him for presiding over this important session. Shukran.

Excellencies, I am deeply grateful to Jordan for its many contributions to the United Nations – on peace, development and human rights.

I especially appreciate the many Jordanians serving as my senior advisors, including High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; Ms. Rima Khalaf, Executive Secretary of ESCWA; Ms. Sima Bahous, Assistant Secretary-General of UNDP; and my Youth Envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi, who is with me here today.

The role of youth lies at the heart of international peace and security. 

We have to encourage young people to take up the causes of peace, diversity and mutual respect.

Youth represent promise – not peril.

While some young people do commit heinous acts of violence, the overwhelming majority yearn for peace, especially in conflict situations. 

Many of those who commit violence are victimized by depraved adults who abuse youthful innocence.

Over and over we see young people bearing the brunt of violent extremism. We cannot forget the girls in Chibok, Nigeria. We remember the students killed by Shabaab in Garissa, Kenya – and those massacred by the Taliban in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Violent extremists deliberately target youth for exercising their human rights.

I am distressed by the tragedy of young people who are conscripted, kidnapped and killed.

But I am also impressed by young people who survive war and champion peace.

In Sierra Leone, I cheered at a football match of amputees who had lost limbs in the conflict. They taught me the true meaning of recovery.

Earlier this year, the Security Council heard from a young woman named Ilwad Elman whose father was a peace activist in Somalia. When he was assassinated, she had to move to Canada. She could have enjoyed a comfortable life there in Canada – but she went back to Somalia to lead an NGO helping victims of gender-based violence.

I met a Syrian girl in a refugee camp who dreams of becoming a doctor so she can help others.

My Youth Envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi, says that young people drive change but they are not in the driver’s seat.

I agree – and I call for giving them the “licence” to steer our future.

They have idealism, creativity and unprecedented powers to network. They often understand the complexities of war and the requirements for peace.

Here is a message recently posted on Facebook by the Dream Achievers Youth Organization in Kenya. It says: “Let all youth across East Africa turn away from joining militia groups and rather focus on solidarity, tolerance and intercultural understanding.”

There are countless youth groups that want to wage peace, not war.

They want to fight injustice, not people.

I applaud these heroes – and especially the heroines. Gender equality is fundamental to combating violent extremism.

Youth suffer on the frontlines of war – but they are rarely in the backrooms where peace talks are held.

I call for giving young people a seat at the negotiating table. They pay a price for the fighting – and they deserve to help structure the healing.

This is essential to lasting stability.

Youth organizations can help in peacebuilding – if we scale up their activities and invest in their ideas.

Education is critical. I join the call of High Commissioner Zeid for deploying “weapons of mass instruction” to foster a culture of peace ? “weapons of mass instruction” instead of “destruction”.

This is more than a clever slogan – it is an effective strategy.

Youth peace groups, especially in conflict-torn areas, deserve our unstinting support.

Even in peaceful countries, youth policies are underfunded – and they are not applied to security issues.

Young people are inheriting the world. With more resources, they can be a force for peace, reconciliation and democratic governance.

The United Nations is working to listen to youth and respond to their concerns.

We have launched the “Guiding Principles on Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding.”

I thank our Peacebuilding Support Office, the Alliance of Civilizations and UN agencies and partners that contributed.

I am also developing a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism that will seek to engage and empower youth. I am going to submit it to the General Assembly later this year.

Too often, the speeches in this Council focus on problems in the search for solutions.

Today, let us see young people as the solution to our most vexing problems.

They yearn for a more just and peaceful world – and with our help, they can create it.

Thank you.

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