Eliasson: End the Negative Narrative on Youth

A panel of civil society youth advocates and experts discussed Resolution 2250—the United Nations Security Council’s recent resolution on youth, peace and security—and offered insight on its implementation, and ways to channel young people’s participation in peacebuilding.

Advocacy for such a resolution began in 2012, inspired by the similarly inclusive Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. “Let’s not wait 15 years to implement Resolution 2250, as we did with Resolution 1325,” said Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN.

Dina Kawar, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the UN, said the passage of Resolution 2250 in December 2015 was the capstone to a year of milestones on youth issues under Jordan’s leadership—an Open Security Council debate in April, the Amman Youth Declaration in August, and finally, adoption of the resolution in December.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson reflected on the common perception of youth as threats to global security. All this negative talk about young people has implications beyond mere language, he argued.

While young people are being blamed for violence in conflict zones or policy-makers try to find the best way to prevent them from joining violent extremist groups, the most obvious partner—other young people—who have a shared interest in achieving these goals, can be overlooked as partners, he emphasized.

The young panelists from the Central African Republic (CAR), Pakistan, and Lebanon who joined him on stage were evidence of the positive contributions youth can make to peace, he said. “We must remember the positive narrative that can be created. If you look at the people at this podium and outside, there is so much entrepreneurship, aspiration, at having a chance to grab an issue and take hold of it,” he said. “We must not ask ourselves what we can do for youth, but what we can do with youth.”

Martine Ekomo-Soignet of the Central African Republic (CAR) cited the significance of Resolution 2250 in her own life. Cultural attitudes in her country, she said, make people anticipate that young people cause violence, rather than participate in curbing it. Shifting to a more positive narrative inspired her to found her own peace organization, URU (“take off” in English), she said.

Raising awareness about Resolution 2250 is “not just the work of the international community,” she said. “It is the work of the youth-led organizations to make this document vibrant, alive, for all the other young people.”

Through URU, she plans to emphasize that the newly elected President in CAR, together with the youth, peace & security UN mandate, “means a new dynamic, new opportunities for young people.”

One change she hopes to see the new government support is a mechanism to sustain young people’s participation in domestic politics. “Even though there are young people who are very involved, often they are doing things for a short period, there’s no long-term approach of the involvement of young people,” she said.

“I hope with this resolution, we will not be seen just as beneficiaries, [but] as stakeholders, co-creators,” she said. “I hope we will not be just a quota, but part of all the work on peace, security, and development.”

Saba Ismail, from Pakistan, described the “holistic” approach taken by her organization on peacebuilding, Aware Girls. “In our model, we keep young people at the center, engaging them as partners in preventing violent extremism and promoting peace, because we believe that there are millions of young people out there who are not buying the agenda of the militant extremist groups and they are a huge resource for us,” she said.

From firsthand experience, Ms. Ismail said she understood that young men and women experience conflict differently, and thus it would be essential to engage young people of both genders. “Research has shown gender equal societies are more resilient to conflict and violent extremism,” she said. “Peace is not only about men.”

Looking forward, Ms. Ismail was optimistic about overcoming the democratic deficit she perceived for young people in her country through Resolution 2250. “In Pakistan, I am going to use this resolution to engage young people in peacebuilding at the policy level, and hold policymakers accountable if they don’t,” she said.

Yasmine Nasser El Masri, a young Lebanese women serving as a Project Coordinator at Search for Common Ground, lamented the exclusion of youth from the peace processes of Lebanon’s conflict-ridden recent history. Despite this, “they insisted on working together and overcame all kinds of dividing lines in Lebanon such as sectarianism to achieve peace, security and social cohesion,” she said. “I think it was a proof what happened in Lebanon with the civil movement, which is a youth movement.” She cited examples of young people taking ownership of issues from policing to waste management through Search for Common Ground projects.

In Lebanon, a country to which more than 1 million Syrian refugees have fled, she learned the value of listening to Syrian youths. “They want to be doctors, teachers, lawyers, and mothers. They have big dreams,” she said. “It’s all about embracing them. Believe in them because they believe in themselves. They know they are going to be the future of Syria.”

On the subject of Syria, Mr. Eliasson said one of the real losses of the refugee crisis was the inability of so many young people to go to school.

Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Oscar Fernandez-Taranco spoke to the UN’s responsibility in translating the mandate outlined by this resolution into action. “The issue now is to track what we do concretely to make this happen,” he said. The Peacebuilding Fund, for instance, will be funding youth-led organizations in the field, he said.

A member of the audience asked the young peacebuilders to share where they drew the courage to operate in such challenging contexts. Ms. Ekomo-Soignet answered that she was empowered by realizing that she was not acting alone. “At the beginning I was a bit scared, people coming every time like, ‘Do you think you are the one able to change CAR?’” she said. “And day after day I met some other young people around me, and I realize, somehow, they are all big dreamers, and with a vision for our country.”

The event was co-organized with the Permanent Missions of Jordan and Sweden to the UN, and the UN’s inter-agency Working Group on Youth and Peacebuilding.

Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations, IPI, made welcoming remarks, and Saji Prelis, Program Director, Search for Common Ground and Co-Chair of the Working Group on Youth and Peacebuilding, moderated the conversation.

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