A small room with 60 people, many standing, was the setting of the first-ever youth-led panel in the history of the European Development Days took place. ‘The Role of Young People in Peace Processes’ sought to highlight why and how young people impact peace processes, and brought forward youth voices from across the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. It was also the first time that a panel created space for the Young Leaders Programme of the EDDs to bring their views on how young people are contributing to building resilient, conflict-preventing and, peaceful societies.
Leonardo Párraga, Youth Ambassador of the Peace Palace and the Executive Director of the BogotArt Foundation from Colombia, moderated the session. He emphasized that youth have limited spaces to influence formal decision-making processes that impact their current and future opportunities for peace. He gave the example of local youth-led public campaigns, such as ‘Letters for Reconciliation’, which played a crucial role in bringing together ex-combatants and citizens through dialogue, to reduce prejudices and promote understanding between these groups. Such processes are critical to start to perceive youth as partners in peace.
The panelists brought to the table three different perspectives: Irena Grizelj provided an international outlook, Yasmine focused at the regional and European level, and RJ Barrete made his points based on the local context in the Philippines.
Irena Grizelj, independent expert and co-author of the first global policy paper on youth participation in peace processes, 'We are Here: An integrated approach to youth-inclusive peace processes', and representing Search for Common Ground, was the first to present. Irena highlighted that, globally, we have come a long way in recent years in changing the negative narratives and approach towards engaging young people in decision-making. The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS), unanimously adopted in 2015, was a key milestone in supporting young people, as the first-ever SC resolution calling for youth participation in peacebuilding and the prevention of violence. The UNSCR 2419 (2018) supports 2250, and further emphasizes the inclusive representation of young women and men in negotiating and implementing peace agreements.
As part of the 2250 implementation, a global progress study was mandated by the Secretary General office to understand the current state of YPS, titled ‘The Missing Peace’ (2018). The global policy paper (We Are Here) builds on the progress study as the first paper to highlight where and how young people have influenced and participated in peace negotiations. Irena highlighted that is important to look at the reality of how young people participate in peace processes and where they see and define their own participation, rather than come in with pre-set international frameworks. Based on case study evidence and interviews, young people participate in multiple spaces within peace negotiations.
Yasmine Ouhriane, awarded as the Young European of the Year, stated how there are several narratives impeding that young people fully exercise their roles in peacebuilding. At a European level, the coming together of several youth movements allowed for the European Commission to start to recognize youth as key partners in building peace. And while at this moment, one would not associate Europe with war, Yasmine mentioned that many groups are suffering from violence on a regular basis: Young people, women, and immigrants. While these struggles are not recognized and properly addressed, it would be hard to walk the talk in terms of what needs to be done at a policy level.
RJ Barrete, 2016 EDD Young Leader and a development practitioner whose work in the civil society space focused mainly on peace, gender, and human rights, shared the Philippines experience on peace and development. In his discussion, he raised the importance to look at the peace process, not as a stand-alone mechanism in attaining reconciliation and agreements among the parties involved, but to examine the other external environment facets and parallel actions to complement peace processes. This includes economic and social conditions and cultural dynamics that would critically influence the success of the negotiations; and significantly gather support from communities and its constituents. Moreover, the current status quo on foreign aid and international community assistance on peace-building and peace processes have been prevalent in geographically conflict-affected areas. Recognizing the impact and relevance of the work and effort invested, there needs to be improvements on areas of sustainability and hand-holding of funding and implementing agencies to grassroots organizations working on peace and conflict transformation. In this context, hence, support from different stakeholders are present, there must also be appropriate integration programs for children whose parents were former rebels and/or terrorists. There are young people who have been engaged in wars and their reintegration process needs to be seriously addressed. In addition, he emphasized how, even if young people are perceived as only victims, a new narrative of young people as peacebuilders should be emphasized yet cautious of any form of romanticization.
In moving forward, the panelists shared opportunities to improve the impact and best practice in youth, peace, and security, emphasizing these points:
The YPS agenda does not seek to compete with other inclusion agendas; we need to recognize the value and unique importance of young people, and collectively combat exclusionary and elitist processes
We must take a conflict-sensitive approach, not to include young people as a tickbox alone; young people may not want to be part of illegitimate and tokenistic processes.
We must find where youth are and support them in that space, and listen to young people: having a better understanding of young people’s efforts in the informal space is key to realizing their potential contribution to formal peace processes.
There must be greater research, monitoring and documentation to increase the evidence and understanding of the impact of young people on peace and security. This must be coupled with training and awareness on why youth matter and entry points for meaningful engagement to non-youth stakeholders.
To close, the main message left by the panelist at the end of the session was that young people need to be partners in peacebuilding and that implies decision-making positions, investment in youth projects and co-creation of public policies.