The promotion of peace through youth lens

In the current times, there is a common agreement among all experts about the profound importance of the direct participation of youth in shaping the future of mankind and the valuable contribution that youth can make in all sectors of society. For this reason, it is necessary to disseminate among youth the ideals of peace, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and human solidarity.

As indicated by the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, in the speech delivered in the ceremony of his swearing on 12 December 2016 in New York, “We must build on the work that has been done with the support of Member States, the Youth Envoy and civil society. But this cannot be an initiative by old people discussing younger generation. The United Nations must empower young people, increase their participation in society and their access to education, training and jobs”.

In accordance with the United Nations the current generation of youth is the largest one ever, and in this context it is vital to involve youth, and youth led and youth-focused organizations in the work of the United Nations at the national, regional and international levels. 

Despite of the increasing role played by the young people in the world affairs, currently over 73 million of young people are unemployed. For this reason, Member States pledged in the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” adopted by Heads of State and Government on 25 September 2015 to build dynamic, sustainable, innovative and people centred economies, promoting youth employment and women’s economic empowerment, in particular, and decent work for all and to eradicate forced labour and human trafficking and end child labour in all its forms. 

In the Goal 4 on “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”, the General Assembly agreed that by 2030 substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. 

In 1965, in resolution 2037 (XX), the General Assembly endorsed the Declaration on the Promotion among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding between Peoples, by which proclaimed that “young people shall be brought up in the spirit of peace, justice, freedom, mutual respect and understanding in order to promote equal rights for all human beings and all nations, economic and social progress, disarmament and the maintenance of international peace and security” (Principle I) and that “exchanges, travel, tourism, meetings, the study of foreign languages, the twinning of towns and universities without discrimination and similar activities should be encouraged and facilitated among young people of all countries” (Principle IV). 

From 1965 to 1975, both the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council emphasized three basic themes in the field of youth: participation, development and peace. The need for an international policy on youth was emphasized as well. In 1979, the General Assembly, by resolution 34/151, designated 1985 as International Youth Year: Participation, Development and Peace.

The observance of the International Youth Year offered a useful and significant opportunity for drawing attention to the situation and the specific needs and aspirations of youth, for increasing co-operation at all levels in dealing with youth issues, for undertaking concerted action programmes in favour of youth and for improving the participation of young people in the study, decision-making processes and resolution of major national, regional and international problems. 

In 1995, on the tenth anniversary of International Youth Year, the United Nations strengthened its commitment to young people by directing the international community’s response to the challenges to youth into the next millennium. It did this by adopting an international strategy—the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond.

Each of the ten priority areas identified by the international community is presented in terms of principal issues, specific objectives and the actions proposed to be taken by various actors to achieve those objectives. Objectives and actions reflect the three themes of International Youth Year: Participation, Development and Peace; they are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.

The ten fields of action identified by the international community are education, employment, hunger and poverty, health, environment, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, leisure-time activities, girls and young women and the full and effective participation of youth in the life of society and in decision-making. The Programme of Action does not exclude the possibility of new priorities which may be identified in the future.

In accordance with the World Programme of Action for Youth, programmes aimed at learning peacemaking and conflict resolution should be encouraged and designed by Governments and educational institutions for introduction to schools at all levels. Children and youth should be informed of cultural differences in their own societies and given opportunities to learn about different cultures as well as tolerance and mutual respect for cultural and religious diversity. Governments and educational institutions should formulate and implement educational programmes which promote and strengthen respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms and enhance the values of peace, solidarity, tolerance, responsibility and respect for the diversity and rights of others.

Since development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, the World Programme also suggests that governments should promote a culture of peace, tolerance and dialogue, including in both formal and non-formal education.

The World Programme of Action for Youth also indicated that governments should protect young persons in situations of armed conflict, post-conflict settings and settings involving refugees and internally displaced persons, where youth are at risk of violence and where their ability to seek and receive redress is often restricted, bearing in mind that peace is inextricably linked with equality between young women and young men and development, that armed and other types of conflicts and terrorism and hostage-taking still persist in many parts of the world, and that aggression, foreign occupation and ethnic and other types of conflicts are an ongoing reality affecting young persons in nearly every region, from which they need to be protected.

Taking into account that 600 million young people live in fragile and conflict-affected settings, on 9 December 2015 the United Nations Security Council adopted an historic resolution on youth, peace and security, which for the first time in its history focuses entirely on the role of young men and women in peacebuilding and countering violent extremism. The resolution, sponsored by Jordan, represents an unprecedented acknowledgment of the urgent need to engage young peacebuilders in promoting peace and countering extremism. The resolution also positions youth and youth-led organizations as important partners in the global efforts to counter violent extremism and promote lasting peace. The resolution also urges Member States to consider ways to increase inclusive representation of youth in decision-making at all levels and to offer mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflict in partnership with young people. 

This important resolution responds to the limited opportunities for young people to participate in formal peace processes by calling for the inclusion of youth in peace negotiations and peacebuilding efforts. And finally, with regard to countering violent extremism, the resolution stresses the importance of addressing conditions and factors leading to the rise of radicalization and violent extremism among youth. It also notes the important role young women and men can play as positive role models in preventing and countering violent extremism.

As indicated by Ms. Matilda Flemming, leading coordinator at the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, “young people alone by no means have the answers to the challenges the world and communities around the world are facing. Neither do older generations. By bringing together the vision of young people today, and the experience of older generations, new answers to challenges are created”. 

David Fernandez Puyana, PhD, LLM and MA