Youth groups and civil society are dynamically engaging in violence prevention and peacebuilding. Some recognise their roles as agents of change. Others see them as difficult to include in policy-making discussions. Some may not think of them at all. But ignoring or underrating these stakeholders is a mistake. There is great potential to harness their energy and contribution for the challenges faced by politicians and countries around the world.
‘Young people are defining the terrain for youth inclusion and engagement,’ said Graeme Simpson, Director of Interpeace USA and lead author of the recent Progress Study for United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. At least 1 in 4 young people is affected by violence or armed conflict in some way. Youth have a critical role to play in promoting and maintaining international peace, security and development. ‘Young people talk about how peace, development and human rights are indivisible in their lives, and protection and prevention are inseparable.’ Graeme continued.
With this in mind, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation facilitated three sessions that brought together young peacebuilders, civil society and UN experts to discuss the impact of civil society space and young people’s inclusion in development, prevention and peacebuilding. It did so at the Stockholm Forum on Peace & Development hosted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
Moving into action: Youth, Peace and Security for Sustaining Peace
‘Practice what you preach!’, demanded Thevuni Kotigala, member of the Advisory Group of Experts for the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security. ‘How often do we see youth in leadership positions in the UN, NGOs?’, she asked, emphasising the fact that policies need to be put into practice. She highlighted the participatory process behind the Progress Study, presented to the Member States of the UN Security Council in April 2018. There is opportunity to build on that work and inspire increased political will to meaningfully engage youth in formal politics and policy discussions.
In interactive breakout groups, young peacebuilders led participants in discussions about on what is needed by multilateral institutions, governments and civil society to ensure that the findings and recommendations outlined in the Progress Study are implemented. In addition, groups discussed how new policies are needed to effectively and meaningfully engage young women and gender minorities in decision making. Some spoke about what is needed to increase political will to meaningfully include youth in official and unofficial policy processes as well as others underling examples of achievements.
Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Head of the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office, declared the readiness of his office to translate the Youth, Peace and Security agenda into action. He emphasised the need for financing citing their US$ 1.8 billion goal (1 dollar per young person) and highlighted the example of the special funding window of the UN Peacebuilding Fund for youth initiatives. He expressed hope that the ‘electrifying presentation to the Security Council by youth of the Advisory Group of Experts shook Council Members to their core’ and ‘will challenge the way we do business at the UN.’
Inclusivity within youth participation
Part two of the session on youth, peace and security, highlighted positive ways in which young people engage in their communities to promote social cohesion, mediate conflict and prevent violence.
Small groups discussed opportunities and successes in reaching out to young people most vulnerable to exclusion and building on established youth initiatives and networks. The groups called for the strengthening of youth engagement that is inclusive of the various backgrounds, perspectives and experiences that diverse youth represent. Panelist Wai Wai Nu noted the positive change youth promote every day, highlighting the ‘My friend’ social media campaign in Burma/Myanmar. The campaign celebrates inter-ethnic and inter-religious relationships and friendships to bring a positive narrative on societal diversity to the public.
Participants reiterated the need for innovative financing to support global and country-level youth networks, which work to promote youth as leaders in peace and development. Ultimately, the inclusion of young people is vital for achievement of the Sustaining Peace agenda and they are assets for the wider UN development agenda.
Setting the table with more places for civil society
Another session explored the use of international normative frameworks to counter the negative trends of shrinking civil society space. A vibrant civil society, including youth organising, is necessary for the inclusive societies envisioned in all major recent peace and development frameworks. To realise the Youth, Peace and Security agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, meaningful engagement of diverse communities throughout the world will require accessible governments and protected civic space.
‘Using progress toward Agenda 2030 as common ground can help open the space to create trust and better relationships between governments and civil society,’ emphasised panelist Beckie Malay, Global co-chair of Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP). Together with other panelists in this session, she shared experiences of Agenda 2030 paving the way for positive collaboration between civil society and governments. In his UN work Beniam Gebrezghi, Programme Specialist on Civil Society and Youth, UNDP Regional hub Bangkok, underscored the value that civil society can bring to governments in implementing programmes in support of the development agenda, as well as in reporting on progress each nation is making.
As recognised in Global Goals 16 and 17 of the 2030 Agenda, civil society’s expertise, implementation capacity and ability to reach and mobilise marginalised groups are needed to achieve inclusive societies that ‘leave no one behind’. Panellists and participants emphasised that civil society also functions as an independent monitor for Agenda 2030 implementation, both in providing input for Member States reporting on their progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals as well as through independent verification and reporting on achievements.
Ensuring International Norms are followed
Addressing the issue of shrinking space, panelists shared examples from the Philippines, Israel, and Belarus in which activists have been arrested or the threat of arrest, even when criminal laws are not enshrined, creates chilling effects on the activities of civil society actions. The perception of laws or witnessing of detentions has in some cases limited the level to which civil society is willing to engage. At the same time, in many of these same countries, positive civil society engagement and/or CSO–government dialogue related to the 2030 Agenda, resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and the Aarhus convention has provided entry-points to promote civic space through these and other international agreements.
A legitimate way for international stakeholders to promote space for political and civic engagement at the national level is to push governments to fulfil their commitments to international normative frameworks. The UN and other multilateral institutions play an important role in the promotion of this collaboration between governments and civil society actors. Panellists shared training they had undertaken both with civil society activists and governments to facilitate learning on Agenda 2030 and normative frameworks and human rights conventions, respectively.
To achieve the 2030 Agenda and Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security, multilateral institutions must act to ensure safe space for civil society and youth to work hand in hand with governments. In continuing to promote the presence of these and other groups in peace and development work, the Foundation will continue to highlight the importance of inclusivity in implementation of these international frameworks.