Young people call on UN to recognise their role as peace-builders

Global youth forum demands affirmation of the impact of young people on conflict resolution, saying their efforts remain largely invisible and unrecognized.

A declaration drawn up at the global youth forum says that young people are tired of being labelled as potential perpetrators of violence. Photograph: United Network of Young Peacebuilders.

Young people from across the globe have called on world leaders to include their voices in discussions around peace and security and to refrain from merely framing them as perpetrators of violence.

At the Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security, held in Amman, Jordan, over the weekend, delegates from 100 countries said young people were often ignored in discussions around conflict, even though they are deeply affected by it, and called on the UN security council to adopt a resolution that guarantees them a seat at the table.

“Young people are highly engaged in transforming conflict, countering violence and building peace. Yet our efforts remain largely invisible, unrecognised and even undermined due to a lack of adequate participatory and inclusive mechanisms and opportunities to partner with decision-making bodies,” said the declaration adopted at the two-day conference, organised by a number of organisations and UN agencies, including the United Network of Young Peace Builders (Unoy).

It added that young people were tired of being labelled as potential perpetrators of violence “despite the fact that most young people are not involved in armed conflict or violence. This framing is a harmful reduction of the role young people play in preventing violence and transforming conflicts.”

The declaration urged governments to prioritise opportunities for youth employment and future leadership, and to ensure that girls and boys have equal access to education.

Almost half the world’s population is under the age of 25 (pdf), and of these, 1.2 billion people are aged between 15 and 24. Including young people in issues that affect them, such as conflict, can help to prevent them from turning to violence, said Unoy, adding that young people need more support to resist pressures to join extreme groups.

We want youth to be seen as part of the solution, not the problem in today's world

Yousef Assidiq, JustUnity

Yousef Assidiq, 26, the co-founder of JustUnity, an NGO that works on preventing radicalisation and extremism in Norway, said: “We want youth to be seen as part of the solution, not the problem in today’s world … often, these declarations become just another piece of paper, but we didn’t come here for that. I’m here today to make history.”

Assidiq said that in the past six months his organisation has worked with more than 30 young people in Norway who had been identified as being at risk of travelling to Syria to join Isis, and it had prevented them from doing so.

To prevent radicalisation, he said, JustUnity focuses on the personal circumstances of the vulnerable young people it works with. “We find out their strengths, weaknesses, dreams – we identify their personal problems and struggles and help them overcome them.

 

Difficult personal circumstances, says Assidiq, are often the push factor that leads young people to become radicalised. “They have personal issues in their lives that they overcome, then they are faced with other challenges. They need support.”

Rashid Zuberu, representing Unoy, said the youth forum aimed to bring together young people and various stakeholders, including UN agencies working in the area of peace and conflict resolution, “to forge a common agenda on the recognition of the immense impact youth are playing in the global quest for peace, and to adopt a resolution stating clear objectives and actions on what we want as young people and why there is the need to include young people in decision-making at the national and global level and also at the various negotiating tables during peace process”.

Brenda Torres Garcia, 17, from the children’s peace movement in Colombia, said the forum had provided a significant platform to hear from young people about “their important roles in peace-building and security around the world”.

Garcia, who joined the children’s peace movement in her country at the age of seven, said that the forum’s commitment was to spread this information with other young people around the world, reaching out to global decision-makers to get them to support the Amman declaration.

Garcia added: “We need the engagement and support of media to spread this information and to support us in order to create the sense at social level about the important role that we as young people have in the creation of a lasting peace in the world.”