On Monday 23 April 2018, the Life & Peace Institute (LPI) took part in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Open debate on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) in New York City. Center stage of the debate was the newly-released independent Progress Study on UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250 on young people’s participation in peace processes, titled ”The Missing Peace: Independent Global Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security”. LPI contributed a submission to the report, 'Being and Becoming A Peacebuilder', based on its experience in supporting over 20,000 hours of youth-led dialogue in diverse settings in the Horn of Africa.
Many of LPI’s insights and recommendations were echoed in the final Progress Study and were also poignantly put by the UNSC debate’s three youth ‘briefers’, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; Ms. Sophia Pierre-Antoine, Member of the Advisory Council of the World Young Women Christian Association; and Ms. Kessy Ekomo-Soignet, Executive Director of the Organisation URU, Central African Republic. It was the first time in the UNSC’s 73-year long history that young women from civil society addressed the Council, a clear indication of how invisible young people have been in global policy-making fora to date and thus how long overdue the YPS agenda is.
The debate itself, framed as an opportunity to analyse the contribution of youth to conflict prevention and resolution in the pursuit of sustainable peace, proved to engage the governments of the world as 72 member states took to the floor in an 8.5 hour uninterrupted debate with near-unanimous support for the YPS agenda. The highlight was undoubtedly the powerful statements by the three briefers alongside of the lead author, Graeme Simpson, with a clarion call regarding the peacebuilding work of young people: “recognize it, fund it, scale it up, protect it” – and to “walk the talk” by collectively investing $1.8 billion by 2025, $1 per young person, to realize the commitments in the UNSCR 2250.
From the member states’ side, many of the speakers in the debate highlighted issues such as high youth unemployment rates and lack of access to resources as a cause for youth frustration and subsequent propensity for violence, which in turn is exploited by so-called extremist groups and as such, rationalized investment in the YPS agenda as a countering violent extremism measure. While such a framing, perhaps, provides member states with a greater and urgent impetus to invest in youth, it also veers dangerously close to perpetuating the negative stereotype of youth’s inherent susceptibility to violent extremism. The Progress Study clearly shows that such stereotypes are often unsubstantiated and steer attention away from the agency and positive contributions of young people to peace; and risks placing the YPS agenda in the highly securitized arena of counter-terrorism when the YPS agenda precisely seeks to ‘de-securitise’ youth – to not be seen as threats or problems to be solved by their governments, but as partners for peace. In response to the recurrently made link between violent extremism and youth, the lead author Mr. Simpson tweeted “it is only by countering the violence of exclusion that we can counter the violence of extremism”.
Another reflection from participating in the debate was instigated by questions overheard in the corridors before the debate: “Will the YPS agenda become the next Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda with all the resources and investment? Will the agendas compete for policy priority and financing or be integrated? What can YPS learn from how the WPS agenda was rolled out?”. The actual debate, surprisingly, was a rather gender-void discussion of youth (and thus with a slight bias towards young men, especially as it related to violence), where only 15 of the 72 speakers recognized the unique role of young women and girls and only a handful specifically highlighted the synergy between the WPS and YPS agendas. For LPI, it is clear that the two agendas are to be seen as synergetic, mutually reinforcing in ‘tag-teaming’ to topple exclusion as they both address inequalities and power imbalances in society. A siloed approach to inclusion will not work because marginalization does not work in a siloed manner, it compounds and as such, all inclusion-aimed agendas need to join together to achieve ‘compounded inclusion’.
A final reflection comes from the many examples cited by member states of how they are already investing in YPS in their national contexts – various youth policies, funds, structures, initiatives around job creation, education and arts, sports, technology and the like. Many of the cited initiatives were laudable and serve as an important existing foundation from which to launch concerted UNSCR 2250 efforts in national contexts in the coming years. However, a key distinction that LPI makes in its submission to the YPS Progress Study is around its experience that the most effective YPS efforts are where young people are not just the targets or the beneficiaries of interventions or policy, but own and lead their initiatives. As such, there is a need to begin to more clearly distinguish between youth-targeted/youth-focused interventions and youth-led peacebuilding, and to further build the evidence base for the necessity to help shift more investments towards the latter.
What is next? It is still not entirely clear, but at the level of the UN, the Governments of Sweden and Peru have put forward a draft follow-up resolution to allow for periodic follow-up of the progress of UNSCR 2250, which may meet resistance by some permanent UNSC members who believe that the YPS agenda does not belong in the Council and should rather be relegated to specialized UN platforms and organs. This is likely not a particular disdain for the agenda per se, but a general push back on the opening up of space for non-state actors, such as the briefers, in the Council and deliberations on issues that are not seen as ‘hard security’. Addressing shrinking civil society space is not just needed in national contexts, but also increasingly in global fora as well. On a positive note, other countries are already running with the agenda with Finland being the pioneer by starting to draft a UNSCR 2250 national action plan together with Finnish youth organisations.
On the Progress Study itself, the long version will be released in early fall and a number of launches of the Study will be held in key capitals around the world. LPI is planning to collaborate with the YPS Progress Study Secretariat to launch the Study in the Horn of Africa, featuring the amazing youth-led peacebuilding efforts in the region, including those supported by LPI.
LPI is currently supporting 12 projects which engage over 5,500 young people in 29 unique locations and commits to further intensify its support to youth-led peacebuilding efforts across its programmes. Grounded in this programmatic work, LPI also seeks to contribute innovations in analysis, programming and evaluation to help operationalize the YPS agenda – more will be shared soon on these developments.
In closing, while the official roadmap towards YPS implementation is still not clear, the answer to ‘what’s next’ depends on all of us, and after an inspiring week in New York, LPI is energized to be a part of the community that collectively heeds the YPS call and takes responsibility to find small, big and diverse answers on how to make the aspirations of YPS a reality for and with the 500 million young men and women who are directly affected by armed conflict.