Empowering Youth to Build and Sustain Peace – Status review two years after the adoption of UNSCR 2250

Impuls 11/2017 by Gizem Kilinç, UNOY Peacebuilders and Peter van Sluijs, CSPPS

Several assertions have trapped youth in a dichotomous viewpoint of perpetrator/victim that fails to recognise young people’s potential to be part of the solution. References to youth in relation to peace and security issues are often primarily rooted in seeing them as the problem. The 9 of December 2015 was a crucial turning point in this narrative, when the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. Resolution 2250 marks the formal recognition of the positive role of young women and men for the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security. What led to this shift? Why is young people’s participation in peacebuilding important? This article will discuss why youth are key in building peaceful and inclusive societies, present the activities implemented to date to bridge the gaps in knowledge and evidence on young people’s contributions to peace processes and conflict resolution. The article will conclude with reflection on the direction forward for the Youth, Peace and Security agenda.

Why Youth engagement matters

Resolution 2250 builds on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which has opened up avenues for the participation of traditionally excluded civil society actors such as women and young people. A growing body of knowledge on women in peace and security has revealed that inclusivity is key to reaching sustainable peace. Broadening participation in peace and transition processes beyond armed parties will increase the legitimacy of the dialogue and give all groups in society a stake in building a peaceful future. Young people’s participation is especially crucial as they will disproportionately bear the impact of the existence or non-existence of peace agreements and can take ownership of these decisions in the long term.

Today there are 1.8 billion young people worldwide between the ages of 10 and 24 – more than 600 million live in fragile or conflict-affected contexts. The collapse of the state and social fabric in a conflict-torn country deprives youth from basic services such as the education system, employment prospects, and opportunities for political participation. The structural exclusion and marginalisation of young people blocks their transition to adulthood and often leads to a loss of trust towards their governments and other power holders. Young people are therefore well-positioned to push peace talks beyond hard security issues to address the underlying tensions and root causes of the conflict.

The creation of strong partnerships between young peacebuilders, civil society organisations (CSOs), UN agencies and UN Member States has also paved the way for the adoption of UNSCR 2250. There was a strong push for an international policy framework on youth, peace and security from youth-led civil society such as the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY Peacebuilders) - with the support of Cordaid, Search for Common Ground and World Vision. In 2012, the Working Group on Youth and Peacebuilding was established as part of the broader UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, providing support and guidance to an ever-growing community of practice on youth, peace and security. The leadership of Jordan - a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2015 - in organising the first high-level thematic debate on Youth, Peace and Security at the Security Council and the Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security in Amman was essential to gather political support for the drafting and adoption of what later became UNSCR 2250.

Insights on progress made

With the adoption of resolution 2250, the Youth, Peace and Security agenda has been formally established as a policy domain at the global level. Building a robust and knowledge-driven foundation for the operationalisation of this new agenda has been a key priority ever since. Resolution 2250 requests the UN Secretary-General “to carry out a Progress Study on the youth’s positive contribution to peace processes and conflict resolution, in order to recommend effective responses at local, national, regional and international levels”. Despite the numerous examples of youth-led peacebuilding initiatives around the world, very little data has captured their geographical spread and scope, activities, strengths, challenges and needs. The Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Securityis intended to bridge this evidence gap.

While the Progress Study is expected to be finalised and presented to the UN Security Council in April 2018, there are already some key messages that have emerged throughout the research process. The core problem is young people’s systemic exclusion through political, cultural and economic barriers that prevent their participation in decision-making processes, access to social services, and economic empowerment. The multi-layered experiences of young people’s marginalisation due to their membership in certain demographic groups (women, migrant, refugee, ethnic minority, unemployed) needs to be examined and fully understood. The Progress Study calls for a prevention approach that counters this “violence of exclusion” of young people. 

An effective prevention strategy requires a shift from investing in “problem-solving” to “funding the upside”. A problem-solving approach is oriented around youth bulge theory, a theory correlating large youth populations with increased civil conflict, and thus the minority of young people that turn to violence. Instead, the international community must support and sustain the energy, innovation and resilience of young people as key stakeholders in preventing violence and building peace in their communities. For this to happen it is of key importance to create an enabling environment that addresses exclusionary forces (that inhibit recognition and proper valuation of young people’s peacebuilding and prevention of violence efforts).

Mapping a Sector

As a contribution to the progress study Mapping a Sector: Bridging the Evidence Gap on Youth-Driven Peacebuilding, by UNOY Peacebuilders and Search for Common Ground, provides a first global overview of the youth-led peacebuilding community and their activities, achievements, strengths and needs of youth-led organisations, as reported by them.

The study shows that while youth organisations primarily focus on youth empowerment for conflict transformation at the local level, a majority of the respondents also work with local and national decision makers as well as older people in their communities. Other organisations focus specifically on internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, the security sector, and ex-combatants at the national and international level. In this sense, youth-led organisations are not very different from other national, community based and international peacebuilding CSOs. 

The survey findings also indicate the importance of investing in youth and peacebuilding activities, including developing direct partnerships with youth-led organisations, providing training and capacity building to help youth-led organisations to monitor and evaluate their work for sustainability, and earmarking funding that is accessible and responsive to the specific needs of youth organizations. Additionally, youth-led organisations expressed the need for recognition as key actors in the peace and security field, on an equal footing with other practitioners working on peace and security and in the broader development and humanitarian assistance fields.

Advocating with practice based evidence

Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS) advocated for and supported the adoption of the UNSCR 2250. Following its adoption the Platform has successfully advocated for a distinct commitment on Youth, Peace and Security as part of commitments made in the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS) Stockholm Declaration onAddressing Fragility and Building Peace in a Changing World.

Operationalizing commitments on Youth Peace and Security effectively requires applying several key principles including: consideration of Youth as actors of peace and agents for change, adopting a youth-focused approach and applying a multi-tiered approach. Moreover, consistently ensuring the meaningful participation of youth, youth representatives, youth led institutions and young political and business leaders involved in the implementation of UNSCR 2250, SDG 5, 10 & 16. That means ensuring youth expertise is available for the design and implementation of peacebuilding activities at country, regional and global levels.

In this context the CSPPS study on the Role of Young People in Preventing Violent Extremism in the Lake Chad Basin documents the role of youth-led and youth-focused conflict and extremism prevention approaches that are dynamic and promote peacebuilding. The study informs policy makers and the international community of key policy and programming considerations for supporting youth-led and youth-focused initiatives aimed at preventing violent extremism in the Lake Chad Basin region. It concludes that to counter the narratives of violent extremist groups and change perceptions of the youth population in the Lake Chad Basin towards a culture of peace, it is important that a peacebuilding approach is embarked upon that seeks to address root political and socioeconomic causes of extremism.

Building Peace with Youth: Challenges & Way Forward

Empowered young men and women can play a critical role in preventing conflicts and ensuring sustainable peace. The call made in the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind and to reach the furthest behind first, as well as its affirmation to be people-centred, ensure that youth are included in all aspects of the Agenda proves that all youth must be engaged and empowered to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. Youth engagement cannot be made possible without wide civic and political space at local, national, regional and global levels. However, this is far from becoming a reality. Politicization and religious communities and the patriarchal system hinder youth (and especially women) empowerment in fragile settings. Economic challenges are also obstacles to youth empowerment often resulting in illiteracy, unemployment and underemployment, blocking youth from successfully being part of decision-making process in fragile settings. In conflict and post-conflict processes, young people should be considered a key partner next to donors and governments. Youth are to be given the opportunity to substantively contribute to the discussions on peace and security issues in their communities, and should operate on a levelled playing ground with other stakeholders.

Two years after the adoption of the first ever resolution on Youth, Peace and Security the journey continues. Three suggested ways forward:

  • Ensure the implementation of UNSCR 2250 in national and local policies & practices. Create structures for coordination within national governments and other partners to enable young people to participate in developing strategies for improving peace and security at all levels. These can include specific youth committees or youth delegations, but should also enable meaningful youth participation in existing as well as new mechanisms for peace and security that are not youth-specific. Develop support measures such as data collection, indicators for measuring progress, and national legislations and action plans that include specific and direct measures to implement UNSCR 2250.

  • Earmark funding specifically for youth-led organisations working in peacebuilding to reflect the range and impact of their actions, and to bolster their innovative approaches.  It is time to translate the political support to UNSCR 2250 into actual financial commitment to the Youth, Peace and Security agenda. The UN Peacebuilding Fund’s Youth Promotion Initiative and the reference to youth engagement in the European Union’s 2016 Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace are steps in the right direction but not enough, as it is very challenging for grassroots youth-led organisations to access these funds. Funding needs to be flexible and designed with the specific needs of youth organisations in mind. It must go beyond small funding or seed grants and enable the build-up of organisational capacity as well as long-term sustainable action.

  • Foster regional collaboration and commitments to strengthen the role of young people in peacebuilding. Regional inter-governmental bodies are uniquely placed to play an important role in the implementation of UNSCR 2250. There is a need to broaden and deepen the space for meaningful youth participation in regional governance and dialogue on peace and security issues.

Further Informations:

Gizem Kilinç, Leading Coordinator United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY Peacebuilders)

Peter van Sluijs, Coordinator Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS) / Senior Strategist, Cordaid

Links and Literature:

Translating Youth, Peace & Security Policy into Practice: Guide to kick-starting UNSCR 2250 Locally and Nationally
UNOY Peacebuilders & Search for Common Ground | November 2016

Global Survey of Youth-Led Organisations Working on Peace and Security. Role of Young People in Preventing Violent Extremism in the Lake Chad Basin
CSPPS | October 2017

Mapping a Sector: Bridging the Evidence Gap on Youth-Driven Peacebuilding
UNOY Peacebuilders & Search for Common Ground