Over 450 peace agreements have been signed globally in the last two decades. Data on youth participation in these processes is scarce, but this much is clear: young people are often marginalized in political decision-making, conflict prevention and mediation processes.
Our world today is very young: 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24. Of these, 600 million live in fragile and conflict affected states. Studies have found that younger generations have the least trust in political institutions. Young people seem to be losing faith in traditional institutions like governments, media, businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These institutions are perceived as having often failed in adequately representing, engaging or addressing the growing needs of this demographic.
This has not stopped young people all over the world becoming increasingly active in, participating in and supporting peace processes. And they are also organizing themselves to overcome obstacles to inclusion. On 5 and 6 March 2019, the very first International Symposium on Youth Participation in Peace Processes took place in Helsinki, Finland. The event was co-sponsored by the Governments of Finland, Qatar, and Colombia, and co-organized by the office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, and Search For Common Ground in partnership with the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Development Programme and the United Network of Young Peacebuilders.
The symposium gathered more than 30 young peacebuilders from conflict-affected countries and government officials from Colombia, Finland and Qatar, professional mediators, the President of the General Assembly and representatives from international and regional organizations (European Union, African Union, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), including the UN, to call for a space for young women and men in ongoing and future peace processes. In the margins of the meeting, we asked four young peacebuilders from Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar and South Sudan about the importance of meaningfully including the youth in peace processes, and what they expect from the UN and the wider international community.
“The advantage of including youth in peace processes is that we can contribute creative ideas on how to do the implementation, how to make a better negotiation, how to design programs that are more inclusive. [...] Another advantage of having young people is that that’s going to guarantee the sustainability of any peace agreement in the long term. Young people are the ones who are going to live with the effects of any peace agreement, and without them we can’t guarantee any type of sustainability of these processes.”
“The UN can empower the youth to really take on these processes, by helping to find channels in which the local governments and the youth can move forward the implementation of National Action Plans for the resolutions 2250 and 2419. In our case in Colombia now we have a commitment from the Government to start this implementation, we have the willingness from the youth and the UN can help us to move this even further.”
“The participation and inclusion of Afghan youth in peace processes is extremely important. [...] Since Afghan youth form the major part of the population they should be included in peace negotiations and the peace process. The statistics show that 63% of Afghan youth are below 25. It means they are the major part of Afghanistan. [...] Afghan youth can help make the peace process be more sustainable. It would be more stable because they don’t want the next generation to feel the same experiences.”
“As a young person, I would request the international community, when they come to countries, when they come to the organizations to offer their support, they need to be keener and more curious: Do those specific organizations deserve the support? Because when it comes to the designing and the formulation of proposals, it is easy to transfer beautiful and brilliant ideas on paper, but when it comes to the implementation of those ideas and proposals in youth affairs, I think it needs more time, more efforts and it needs more attention to figure out if those ideas and proposals will be implemented in a very good way, or will they just be something symbolic.”
Michael Wani, South Sudan
“I think the narrative needs to change from other people telling stories about youth. I think it’s important that youth tell their own story. [...] Peace is not only about settling it at a negotiations table, but how to involve young people in peace processes? How to even have young people become mediators, not necessarily on the high level, but at the local level, because we realized that we have so much of local conflicts that are not attended to. So, I think the international community can be able to work with the young people in their respective capacities, in their respective countries, so that they are able to advance the spirit of peace. [...] The United Nations and the international community need to treat young people as partners in peace. We’re not partners in violence. “
“I think the United Nations and international community needs to look at international legal instruments that empower young people to claim those places, because if we don’t have these legal, recognized international instrument, it’s very difficult for young people to really get into that. There is no entry point. When you listen to the conversation on the experiences in South Sudan, Colombia, in Myanmar, in the Philippines, you realize that young people have to find their own way in to those spaces. We are calling on the international community: Why can’t we have a legal framework that really empowers the youth to really be engaged in those kinds of processes?”
“Having them [young people] in the process makes them more encouraged to be working towards a peaceful society. Having them from an earlier age in the peace process is also helpful in the long run for the country’s peacebuilding process.”
“Instead of setting up all these methods or frameworks or lists on how to include, I would prefer more to open up space for youth to find in their own way, a creative way of inclusion.”
“As the UN, it is very important to accommodate them [youth], to welcome them and to support them, to give space, more on opening up. So that is very important for youth to be in the peace process.”
One of the key outputs of the Symposium will be the release of a global policy paper, which explores the diverse forms of youth participation in past and current peace processes, and analyzes good practices and lessons learned from examples of youth inclusion in formal peace processes and mediation efforts around the globe. The Symposium was also another milestone to strengthen the global network of young peacebuilders, who continue to unite their voices to increasingly recognize and support the positive contribution of young women and men to sustaining peace.
Participate in the discussion by using the hashtag #Youth4Peace
Title picture: Members of the audience at a performance put on by the youth theatre project in Gao, Mali, which promotes peace and reconciliation. This project was supported by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). UN Photo/Marco Dormino