Prepared by Ijechi Nwaozuzu
Jayathma Wickramanayake (left), Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, addresses the Security Council along with Sophia Pierre-Antoine (right), Member of the Global Advisory Council of the World Young Women Christian Association (Photo Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten)
On 23 April 2018, under the Presidency of Peru, the United Nations Security Council held an open debate on “Youth, Peace and Security”. Building on the landmark Security Council Resolution 2250, the debate was framed as an opportunity to analyse the contribution of youth to conflict prevention and resolution in the pursuit of sustainable peace. Specifically, the debate incorporated a discussion on findings and recommendations of the independent Progress Study on youth, peace and security, which recognised, among other elements, the importance of tackling negative stereotypes of young women and girls through recognising their capacity to cause transformative change, as well as improving recourse to justice for young women and sexual and gender minorities in conflict countries. As the Council is currently discussing the draft resolution on youth, peace and security led by Peru and Sweden, many speakers acknowledged the synergy between the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) and Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agendas, and called for the penholders to integrate both. For the first time, the Council was also briefed by two civil society youth briefers, who reiterated the importance of including young women and girls at all stages of decision-making processes, and called for the international community to commit to comprehensive disarmament for achieving sustainable peace.
As two years have passed since the Council’s last YPS engagement, speakers lauded Peru’s initiative in reviving discussions on the engagement of youth in the maintenance of international peace and security. The debate, along with the ongoing discussion on a draft resolution, reflected Peru’s determination in fostering the implementation of the YPS Agenda. It also provided space for strengthening the relationship between the WPS and YPS Agendas, as suggested by France, Ireland and Canada. Speakers affirmed support for recommendations provided in the Progress Study, including the creation of an ad-hoc tripartite group and Informal Expert Group for YPS, to be included in a discussed draft resolution to institutionalise and ensure the implementation of the YPS Agenda. As a penholder, the representative of Peru expressed his hope that the draft resolution, if adopted, will reflect “a radical shift” that acknowledges young people as a missing element in the global pursuit of sustainable peace.
Mr. Graeme Simpson, lead author of ‘The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security’, prefaced discussions by highlighting the Progress Study’s findings. One of the study’s main findings was that the youth population represents a “microcosm of wider society” though its social, political and cultural diversity. Therefore, for peace and security policy and programming to be effective, it has to incorporate the experiences of young people, which vary over time and in response to their changing social, political and cultural landscapes. Mr. Simpson reiterated the study’s recommendations, including around the need to ensure greater investments in the capacity, agency and leadership of youths; build national, regional and global partnerships with youth advisory boards and women’s groups; and produce both age and gender disaggregated data to assess their effectiveness. He also stressed that Member States and the multilateral system must move from remedial responses to genuine prevention efforts which requires a significant shift from investing in ‘hard security’ to investing in youth‑led peace work based on resilience.
Similarly, many speakers affirmed the importance of including youth perspectives and participation at all levels of peace work. Expressing concerns about unsubstantiated claims on the linkages between youth and violent extremism, the representatives of France, Bolivia and Kuwait pointed out the importance of eradicating negative stereotypes around youth as a challenge, as opposed to a solution, for sustainable peace. Many also shared specific initiatives. The representative of Switzerland shared her country’s initiatives, including a Civil Society Support Room, which hosts more than 1,000 participants under the age of 30 as representatives of over 400 Syrian civil society organisations that participate in United Nations‑led peace talks. Meanwhile, other speakers expressed their support for an increase of youth participation in political and peace processes.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, pointed out the growing global distrust of youth towards governmental authority, and the continuous exclusion of youth from social, political and economic life. This exclusion and distrust not only ignore the agency and potential of youth in supporting conflict prevention and peacebuilding, but also threaten international peace and security. Ms. Sophia Pierre-Antoine, Member of the Global Advisory Council of the World Young Women Christian Association, listed examples of youth initiatives in communities scarred by weak rule of law, including where young men form patrol groups to protect their communities yet are vilified as troublemakers. At the same time, representatives shared practices that support the agency of youth. Ms. Kessy Ekomo-Soignet, Executive Director of URU, highlighted the CAR government’s recent efforts to recognise the efforts of youth organisations in peace and political processes.
Along with youth briefers, Ms. Sophia Pierre-Antoine and Ms. Kessy Ekomo-Soignet, the Special Envoy on Youth allocated specific attention to the inclusion of young women and girls as partners in the Council’s work on conflict prevention and sustaining peace. Ms. Ekomo-Soignet also recommended various forms of partnership that the Council can take, including: adopting and establishing a quota to ensure direct participation of youths, especially young women and girls, at all stages of the conflict cycle; institutionalising measures to bridge the gap between youth and decision-makers at local levels through establishing civil dialogues and discussions on resource-allocation; and focusing on the rule of law and putting an end to impunity.
High youth unemployment rates and lack of access to resources in conflict and post-conflict countries was recognised in the debate as a catalyst for conflict, as frustration from lack of opportunities and resources can be quickly exploited by extremist groups seeking recruitment and facilitate instability within communities. The representative of Croatia pointed out that violent extremism is often met with incomprehensive policy responses. In order to be effective in prevention, some speakers recommended early warning mechanisms, ensuring opportunities and access to resources, as well as implementing DDR programs for former youth combatants and child soldiers. The representative of Lebanon shared his government’s inclusion of youth empowerment as one of nine pillars in the country’s new counter-terrorism policy. However, in discussing the threat of extremism as an outcome of a lack of employment and access to resources, speakers veered dangerously close to focusing on a militarised counter-terrorism framework as a response to the problem that is caused merely by power relations and the lack of access to resources. Some recommendations also rechanneled attention away from the needs and capacity of youth, and perpetuated the negative stereotype of youths’ vulnerability to violent extremism as an obstacle to sustainable peace.
Many speakers focused on the creativity and innovation delivered by youth as critical tools to build lasting peace in conflict-affected countries. The representatives of Monaco, Panama and The Maldives shared each of their countries’ initiatives in engaging youth through arts, sports, culture, technology and the media. The representative of Monaco also warned the international community to not underestimate the ability of sports in building national cohesion and preventing conflict. In 2017, Iraq’s youth parliament held its first session, contributing to building a free and democratic space. Ultimately, speakers suggested the development of actionable frameworks that would enable youth, Member States, multilateral organisations, civil society and other actors to collaborate efforts in supporting youth innovation and build sustainable peace.
While all speakers at the debate noted the importance of youth participation at all levels of decision-making, only 15 speakers (20%) recognised the unique role of young women and girls. The representatives of Ireland and Canada specifically pointed out the synergy between the WPS and YPS Agendas, highlighting synergies and suggesting to leverage platform to build an action on sustainable peace. The representative of Canada, in particular, emphasised his country’s commitment to allocate $150 million to civil society organisation that are working on the rights of women and girls and promoting gender equality in conflict countries. Overall, the debate missed a very necessary gendered focus, with only brief references to engaging with women’s groups and eradicating sexual violence. Instead, speakers focused on topics concerning education, employment, socio-economic stability, access to resources and implementation.
Speakers affirmed the meaningful role of youth participation in social cohesion and peacebuilding, especially at local and community levels. In particular, they noted that youth organisations possess the greatest potential to effectively utilise new technologies and social media for peace. As noted by the representative of Bolivia, youth organisations and their civil society partners also have the ability to best understand local dynamics and on-the-ground perspectives, as well as to mobilise their peers. To increase youth participation, Mr. Simpson highlighted the importance of combating versions of masculine politics that continue to exclude women, youth and other marginalised groups in political processes. In agreement with this view, the representative of The Netherlands shared her country’s joint initiative with the Malian Government in supporting youth participation programmes in Mali, and the representative of Qatar shared his country’s establishment of an Advisory Committee on Youth to complete state efforts to promote the role of youth in society. However, only 20 speakers (26%) specified the inclusion of young women and girls. Mr. Simpson and the representative of Sweden noted the importance of ensuring gender equality and utilising gender-disaggregated data, in addition to age-disaggregated data, to recognise the specific challenges and diversity of experiences faced by young men and women in conflict.
The debate surfaced the role of high rates of unemployment in exacerbating conflict and violence, with many speakers calling for increasing employment opportunities for youths in post-conflict countries. The representative of Argentina highlighted the cyclical pattern where lack of employment opportunities extend beyond conflict into post-conflict settings due to a lower-skilled population and reduced foreign investments spurred on by conflict in the first place. As a result, vulnerable groups are forced to continue participating in war-based sub-economies due to a lack of employable skills and resources. In affirming this reality, many speakers called for comprehensive educational and labour reforms as a means of conflict prevention. The representative of Equatorial Guinea shared his country’s 2020 National Development Plan, which includes reforms to increase access to housing and economic opportunities for youths. Similarly, the representative of Kazakhstan shared his country’s adoption of a comprehensive set of policies to support intensive job creation and educational opportunities for youths, including scholarship programmes and a $600 million investment towards the prevention of youth extremism.
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding
Many speakers stressed the necessity of developing socio-economic reintegration programmes for youths in the reconstruction and peacebuilding phases. Initiatives relating to mentoring programmes and employment opportunities were shared by some speakers as positive steps in conflict prevention and rehabilitation of youths affected by conflict. The representative of Argentina invited other Member States to take guidance from his country’s reintegration programmes for Argentina has been building capacities for youths, particularly ex-combatants and those that have become physically disabled due to war, in the form of job training programmes. In similar vein, the representative of Iraq mentioned his country’s efforts in encouraging the Iraqi diaspora to return and contribute efforts towards reconstruction, and to act as mentors for youths to prevent them from joining extremist groups. However, few speakers noted the importance of gender planning in rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. Only the representative of Germany highlighted, as a good practice, the African Women’s Leaders Network and its mentoring programme for young women and girls.
Despite the efforts of Peru to facilitate a comprehensive conversation on concrete operational directions for the peace and security community to work with young people in new and innovative ways, disarmament was rarely discussed as a necessary component of conflict prevention and a tool to encourage the participation of youth in political processes. This was an evident gap in the midst of calls for conflict prevention mechanisms to include youth engagement. Only Ms. Pierre-Antoine emphasised the increasing push-back from youths against weaponised forces, including recent demonstrations in the US. However, no speaker picked up on disarmament as a means of conflict prevention. In light of the adoption of resolution, it is important to follow the guidance of Security Council Resolution 2282, including around ensuring women’s participation in the design and implementation of efforts related to the prevention, combating and eradication of the illicit transfer, and the destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons.
Also, it is important to note that the YPS Agenda should not be used to strengthen the UN work on counter-terrorism. While the lack of access to resources by youth can be an important trigger of vioent and engagement in violent extremism, this problem should be addressed through a conflict prevention lens that focuses on strengthening mechanisms that work in the society, including accountable institutions, rule of law and equal access to political, social and economic resources. To prevent conflicts, it is important to prevent root causes of conflict by inclusiveness, rights and political economies of justice and peace. This requires: 1) providing effective reparations for the harms of militarism suffered by civilians, and 2) guaranteeing strong social institutions that ensure realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.
As youth engagement gains momentum within the Security Council’s work, it is important to ensure comprehensive inclusiveness. While Kessy Ekomo-Soignet and the representatives of Finland and Indonesia emphasised the inclusion of marginalised youths from rural and LGBTQI communities, many failed to discuss the inclusion of internally-displaced or refugee youths as similar agents of positive change. This was concerning in the face of passionate calls by all other speakers to ensure inclusive participation of youths, and Resolution 2250’s emphasis to leave no youth behind. The representatives of Poland, Ethiopia, the US and Bangladesh alluded to the importance of ensuring the participation of internally-displaced youths, with the latter two sharing initiatives established by youth activists in Bangladesh to include the empowerment of Rohingya refugees. Similar calls should be strengthened in order to ensure that young women and girls are not only at the table in peace negotiations, but also in political governance, disarmament, as well as international processes and negotiations. Where needed, temporary special measures should be developed and implemented to support such inclusion, including through legislative reform and flexible financing for women and youth organisations.