Youth and Sustainable Peace

October 2, 2018
Youth and Sustainable Peace
Ally Dunhill
Ally Dunhill Non-Resident Fellow in Rights Education

Children and young people suffer the most from the impact of war and in post conflict rebuilding.  According to a recent Save the Children report, children and young people are more at risk in conflict situations now, than they have been at any time in the last 20 years. Yet they are not responsible for any of the decisions or the actions that led to conflict or to the policies that were developed afterwards, all of which directly impact on them. The good news is that many young women and men are committed to preventing violence and generating peace around the world and States are recognising the valuable and insightful input that young people can have, when they are given the opportunity to participate and engage with decision-making bodies.

Encouraging States to involve young people in decision-making processes surrounding issues of security, conflict and peace has taken a step forward with the new UN Security Council Resolution 2419 (2018) that reaffirms the commitment by States, to the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2250 (2015) on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS).  Resolution 2250 was the first resolution fully dedicated to the vital and positive role young people play in the creation and ongoing promotion of international peace and security. Resolution 2419 is calling for increasing the role of young people in negotiating and implementing peace agreements. In recognizing the role young people can play in preventing violence and generating peace, this Resolution calls for all States and other relevant actors to take into account the views of youth in all peace and security discussions. To do this, States must enable and ensure young people’s participation is equivalent to others at decision‑making levels.

To support, increase and ensure the engagement and participation of young people, the United Nations has just launched a new Youth Strategy, Youth 2030 – Working with and for Young People.  The aim of the strategy is to guide all UN bodies, UN regional organizations and its Member States, and ensure the alignment of all processes, to work with and for young people. This new Youth Strategy provides an ‘umbrella framework’ to deliver meaningful engagement with young people, through five priority areas.  The five priority areas are:

  • Engagement, participation and advocacy – to amplify youth voices for the promotion of a peaceful, just and sustainable world.
  • Access to quality education and health services – to support young people’s greater access to quality education and health services.
  • Economic empowerment through decent work – to support young people’s greater access to decent work and productive employment.
  • Youth and human rights and civic participation – to protect and promote the rights of young people and support their civic and political engagement.
  • Peace and resilience building – to support young people as catalysts for Peace and Security & Humanitarian Action.

This Strategy is to be driven by a High-Level Steering Committee, and will include the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, who will chair this committee, and representatives from global youth led organisations. The Strategy is applicable from now till 2030. During that time action plans will be reviewed and readjusted every four years to ensure the objectives of the Strategy are being met.

This Strategy is reinforced by a range of previous and current practices of States acknowledging the benefits and supporting the meaningful participation of young people.  Ambassador Irina Schoulgin Nyoni, from Sweden’s Permanent Mission to the UN, stated during a UN Security Council briefing in 2018, that,

“An inclusive peace is a credible and sustainable peace. It is crucial that all segments of society – not least women and youth – are engaged in the political process, and that key stakeholders, beyond armed groups, are included. In parallel to the political process, it is necessary to enhance national reconciliation and transitional justice efforts in order to lay the ground for sustainable peace and stability.”

Another example of States recognising the value and the positive impact of involving young people has come from the United Arab Emirates during the UAE Statement at the Security Council Open Debate on Youth, Peace and Security.  Mr. Saud Al Shamsi, UAE Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN explained that,

“in our quest for peace and security, youth are “indispensable allies”. And here I would like to underscore the importance of the work of young women especially. … Taking note of the high numbers of youth that experience violence worldwide highlighted in the study [Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security], and against a backdrop of a region beset by conflict in recent years, the United Arab Emirates looks to its youth, and the youth of the Arab world, as positive drivers of peace.”

“It is common understanding that maintaining peace is not merely ensuring the absence of violence. The UAE holds the view that many of the challenges in our region cannot be solved without exploring the potential of youth and their active involvement.  Our role as policy-makers is to provide youth with the proper tools for success – a good education, competitive job markets, equal opportunities, and a nurturing environment – all of which, as the Progress Study shows, are some of the factors that tip the scales in favor of growth and peace.”

 He continued

“it is our duty as Member States to mainstream and embrace youth in our work at the United Nation as one of the solutions to reach our goals. ….. we encourage all States to launch their programs for youth delegates and enrich the work of the General Assembly with a youth perspective.”

All States should recognise the value and potential of involving young people. There are approximately 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 29 years, in the world today. This is the largest youth population in the history of humankind. These young people have ideas, ideals and innovations that, if embraced could positively and peacefully transform the future. Their voices should be encouraged and listened to on all matters that affect them, none more so than issues of peace and security.

Young people are continually demonstrating their ability and enthusiasm to participate in such processes. At the Global Forum in Young People, Peace and Security in 2015, young people confirmed their commitment to live in a peaceful global society and to make their voices heard. At this event, the Amman Youth Declaration was presented, which was created in consultation with nearly twelve thousand young people from around the world. According to, Youth4Peace, the Amman Youth Declaration is, “a common vision and roadmap towards a strengthened policy framework to support us in transforming conflict, preventing and countering violence and building sustainable peace.” The Declaration was developed through a participatory process, and demonstrates the ability of young people to transition from passive recipients of processes, to active agents. The Declaration states that young people will,

  • Build on the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and acknowledge that the main responsibility of the Security Council under the Charter is to maintain international peace and security;
  • Refer to the need to recognise and support the role of youth in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 16 defined by the United Nations in the Post-2015 Development Agenda;
  • Recall the importance of the Guiding Principles on Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding in creating a foundation that ensures young people’s participation and contribution to building peace, including in conflict and post-conflict contexts;
  • Recognise that we, youth, are engaged in shaping lasting peace in our communities as positive contributors to peace, justice and reconciliation;
  • Acknowledge the ongoing work of national and international governments and organisations to engage youth in building peace;
  • Recognise the vulnerable status of many young people including refugees and internally displaced persons;
  • Call on governmental and non-governmental organisations, associations and agencies including youth-led civil society to partner with us to ensure the implementation of [ a range of] action points.

This agreed vision, created and presented by young people, demonstrates the aspirational levels of commitment they have to actively participate to prevent violence and generate peace around the world.

There is however, a negative stereotypical image of young people that may have a counterproductive impact on acknowledging and supporting young people’s positive participation. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), violence involving young people, is a global public health problem. They refer to examples of bullying and physical fighting but expand to severe sexual and physical assault and to homicide, which involves mostly males. This image of young people, as potential perpetrators of violence is distorted as most young people are not involved in these acts of violence. Negative images of young people create challenges for those who try to convince decision-makers to give young people an opportunity to participate in making-decisions on peace and security. This discourse is recalcitrant and needs to be challenged.

One of those challenging the negative stereotypical image of young people, is Her Excellency, Dina Kawar, the Ambassador of Jordan to the United States. Prior to the unanimous adoption of Resolution 2250 she provided her support for giving young people an opportunity to participate by stating, “What we seek is to draw the world’s attention to ensure that young people are given the attention they deserve at a time when the world is a theatre for an increasing number of negative issues.” Simply put, not all young people are violent.

What can be done to increase the participation of youth in decisions and processes impacting their lives? Especially young women? Young people have identified possible solutions. The Amman Youth Declaration, amongst its various proposals for engagement and participation, also identified gender inequalities as a barrier to young women. The declaration contains a range of mechanisms that would support and increase gender awareness to prevent violence and generate peace around the world. These mechanisms include:

  • Local authorities and national governments must ensure that young men and women have equal opportunities and access to education and employment and create mechanisms to tackle gender discrimination in those environments, recognising that the marginalisation of particular groups such as women is detrimental to building sustainable peace in all societies.
  • International agencies, national governments and donors must identify and support youth-led organizations which address gender inequality and empower young women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution as those are crucial partners in peacebuilding efforts;
  • International agencies, national governments and local authorities must implement internationally agreed commitments to promote and protect the rights of girls, prevent gender-based violence and end impunity for crimes such as child, early and forced marriage, sexual and domestic violence, femicide and female genital mutilation. Gender-based violence hinders the development and meaningful participation of young people in peacebuilding processes. Additionally, sexual and gender-based violence is linked to broader issues of insecurity and hampers negotiations in the context of peace agreements and ceasefires.
  • Local authorities and national governments should establish temporary special measures, including minimum quotas, for the participation of girls and women in all decision- and policy-making levels by 2018. Such measures ensure that women’s perspectives and interests will be represented and they effectively combat the persistent exclusion of women from the political environment;
  • Youth-led peace organisations must continuously be gender sensitive in all their actions and strive to ensure inclusiveness.

These mechanisms, are crucial to give a gendered balance in all discussions and decision-making processes to prevent violence and generate peace around the world.

It is crucial that there is alignment of all UN processes to the newly launched Youth Strategy and this must include all organisations that work with, and on, youth. Connections, associations and synergies must be a priority for all involved in this field and all work should be continually reviewed by, and from the perspectives of, young people. This then should be publicly shared in regards to what has been achieved, what has worked well or not well, what lessons can be learnt and how can the effective and efficient practices be shared.

An example of such practices was requested in the Resolution 2250 , in which the Secretary-General of the United Nations requested that “a progress study on the youth’s positive contribution to peace processes and conflict resolution, in order to recommend effective responses at local, national, regional and international levels” be carried out. The first progress study, “Missing Peace: independent progress study on youth and peace and security” was delivered to the Security Council in March 2018.  According to Graeme Simpson, who led on the Missing Peace study, this investigation was specifically organised so that the voices of young people, “who would not ordinarily have had the chance to participate in this sort of policy process” were included.  The progress study incorporated the views of 4230 young people from 44 countries and youth were members of the Advisory Group of Experts to the study.  “The Missing Peace” study calls upon “Governments and international actors … to undergo a seismic shift and recognize young people as the ‘missing peace’”.  The study challenges stereotypical conceptions of young people and provides a wide range of examples of young people’s contributions to peace and security, and the positive impact of their participation.

Ensuring effective participation of youth in discussions and decisions about peace and security is a complex task.  It is difficult to assume that just because youth participated in a process that their contribution and input had a substantive impact or reception. Participation can widely range from superficial or tokenistic, such as when young people are consulted with but are never provided with feedback or follow-up or their views are disregarded; to a position where young people are directly involved, initiating ideas and sharing the decision-making with those responsible for decisions.  The latter can provide a meaningful youth-centred, young-enabling and youth-empowering process, where young people and their communities, achieve real benefits and get the opportunity to plan together and advance sustainable peace and security.

Roger Hart’s (1992) ‘Ladder of Participation’, offers a useful way to differentiate between the very different roles and degrees of participation young people can partake. When a study is about young people, for them to have a high level of participation, requires the young people themselves to be involved in all stages of the process. Young people have a profound knowledge about their lived experiences and should not just be a partner in a study but, ‘agents of change’ as explained in work by Shawn Ginwright and Taj James. Therefore, considering young people as ‘agents of change’ affirms their position as key stakeholders in preventing violence and generating peace around the world.

“The Missing Peace” validates the positive role that young people can have in contributing to sustainable peace. The study sets out how Resolution 2250 can be implemented and provides examples of young people’s successful participation in formal and informal peace processes. Many young people want to participate, they want their voice to be listened to and they want to have a positive impact on preventing violence and generating peace around the world; they need to be given the opportunities for this. There are many important advantages to listening to and giving young people an opportunity to actively participate in such processes.  Apart from the obvious outcome of reducing and preventing violence, generating and sustaining peace; providing opportunities for meaningful participation to young people supports their confidence and knowledge and can lead to role modelling – where active youth discuss the positive aspects of participation within their community and peer groups. This in turn can create a wave, or a movement, where more and more young people are encouraged to talk about and understand the benefits of peace and security. Therefore, the message of sustainable peace is disseminated much wider than any government campaign could ever reach.

In summary, recognising, empowering and facilitating young people to have an opportunity to actively participate to prevent violence and generate peace around the world, is the current message from all the recent youth, peace and security events and resolutions. The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake affirms that “Young people are active partners [and] they need to have a seat at the table”.  Young people can support the prevention of violence and generate peace around the world, if they are invited and supported to participate and are listened to as we seek to achieve sustainable peace.