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Panel Discussions - Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Young Peacebuilders

On September 6, 2012, IPI co-hosted an event with Save the Children and the Permanent Mission of Norway, entitled “Children, Youth and Peacebuilding.” The event focused on youth participation in peacebuilding efforts around the world, and featured seven teenage representatives from Uganda, Nepal, Albania, and Guatemala.

The youths spoke on behalf of children who were abducted and used as soldiers, children whose families were broken up by war, and children who are dealing with psychological damage caused by violence. The representatives shared their struggles living through armed conflict, as well as their success stories organizing peace efforts and mobilizing youth on grassroots levels.

“Children all over have a very distinct experience in armed conflict,” said Ambassador Geir Pedersen of Norway during his opening remarks. “They have distinct needs and distinct capacities for recovering and contributing to peacebuilding.” Ambassador Pedersen’s introduction was followed by a video from Save the Children, which documented the organization’s advocacy efforts to support children caught in violence. The initiative is child-led and contains a proposal for a UN Security Council resolution on Children, Youth and Peacebuilding.

“We are endured, we are killed, we are raped, we are physically and emotionally traumatized by the use of violence,” said Erblin Shehu, a teenager from Albania. “We are saying to you that we are not too young to choose something better.” He added, “We children know the meaning of conflict because we are living in it. Some adults think and say that we are too young to be involved in solving conflict. But are we old enough to be soldiers?”

The proposed resolution is modeled after Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which was the first Security Council resolution that required parties in conflict to respect women’s rights and to support women’s participation in peace negotiations. Save the Children hopes that the proposed resolution on children can ensure similar spaces for youth affected by conflict to openly participate in peace processes.

“When you know what the absence of peace is, I think you really understand why it is essential to build it,” said Ishmael Beah, who spoke along with three other panelists from the UN community. Mr. Beah is a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. He is now an author and a UNICEF advocate for Children Affected by War.

Other speakers included Mr. Henk-Jan Brinkman, Chief of the Policy, Planning and Application Branch of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO); Mr. Anuraj Jha, a Program Officer from the Office of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict; and Ms. Annette Giertsen, a senior adviser from Save the Children Norway.

The event was moderated by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations.

The event concluded with parting messages from the children, who joined each other in the front of the hall and addressed the audience in their native languages, and with this comment from IPI board member Ann Phillips: “I leave here with a lighter heart, because if you are the future, the future looks pretty darn good.” 

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