24 April 2018: The UN Security Council held its first open debate on youth, peace and security. Participants called for changing negative stereotypes on youth, underscoring the role of young people in preventing and resolving conflict.

The debate took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 23 April 2018, under the presidency of Peru. The debate convened in advance of a high-level meeting on peacebuilding and sustaining peace organized by the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) from 24-25 April.

The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, said youth “should be seen as an asset – not a problem” in her remarks. She urged governments to create conditions that allow for the meaningful participation of youth in civic, political and economic lives, noting that young people “need inclusive and safe spaces and enabling conditions” to lead and succeed. She identified three areas for action: supporting youth’s peace efforts; prioritizing youth’s political participation; and partnering with youth.

Young people’s work “naturally traverses the pillars of peace, development and human rights.”

The lead author of a progress study titled, ‘The missing peace: independent progress study on youth and peace and security,’ Graeme Simpson, said there is a “growing trust gap” between young people and their governments, multilateral organizations and civil society. He said stereotypes of young men with guns or young women as passive victims are pervasive, and called for a new culture and societal norms that do not patronize, romanticize or demonize youth. Simpson further emphasized that young people’s work “naturally traverses the pillars of peace, development and human rights,” and illustrates the inseparable nature of protection and prevention.

The study, which was completed in February 2018, is based on one of the most participatory processes ever undertaken with UN support. The report’s findings draw from the voices of 4,230 young people from around the world, including the participants from 281 focus groups in 44 countries. The report observes that young people are frustrated by a tendency of governments and international actors “to treat youth as a problem to be solved, instead of as partners for peace.” Within this context, the report argues that young people’s “loss of faith and trust” in their governments and the international community must be addressed. It proposes a framework for partnering with and investing in youth to prevent violence, promote their inclusion and “translate the demographic dividend into a peace dividend.”

During the open debate, several participants highlighted the role of young people in ensuring that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an effective tool for conflict prevention and mitigation. Kazakhstan and Mexico underscored the role of young people in building and sustaining peace and realizing the 2030 Agenda. Sweden said the Sustaining Peace agenda, 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change together represent an ambitious plan for advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies. She said protecting youth’s universal human rights and promoting youth political, social, cultural and economic empowerment are critical to harness youth’s leadership and ensure no one is left behind.

Monaco observed that the 2030 Agenda recognizes the role of sport in promoting health, education and social inclusion, emphasizing that athletics can reduce discrimination and bridge social, gender, ethnic and religious gaps, especially in refugee camps. Bahrain also recognized the role of sports in achieving the SDGs, and supported investing in youth’s role in implementing the SDGs.

Ireland urged Member States to avoid treating the youth, peace and security agenda as “a new silo,” noting synergies between this topic, the SDGs and the UN’s peacebuilding architecture. Luxembourg suggested a new Security Council resolution on youth, peace and security to break up silos and finalize a normative framework. He also suggested an annual implementation report from the UN Secretary-General and an annual Council debate on the topic.

UN Member State representatives and other high-level officials called for raising the visibility of the Council’s youth, peace and security agenda. Peru supported the consideration of youth, peace and security as a standing agenda item. Croatia said young people should be recognized as partners in building peace. Japan said psychosocial support for youth is imperative in peacebuilding and reconstruction. France said young people should be recognized as partners for peace and included around the negotiating table. The Netherlands encouraged other regions to follow the EU approach of developing an agenda on youth, peace and security. The UK proposed convening a ‘youth and economic development’ meeting in the UNGA or the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to complement the open debate.

Representatives also highlighted the importance of education and employment in countering terrorism and extremism. Brazil supported addressing cultural, socioeconomic and political factors that lead youth to violence. Jordan called for investments to address inequalities and boost opportunities for youth to counteract terrorism. Poland supported offering young people credible ways to contribute to their communities, including through employment and entrepreneurship activities. Switzerland expressed concern about refugees spending more time displaced and in exile than in school, and called for investing in quality education, especially in fragile contexts.

Peru announced that, with Sweden, his country will submit a draft resolution that acknowledges young people as a missing element in the pursuit of peace. [UN News Story] [UN Meeting Coverage] [The missing peace: independent progress study on youth and peace and security (S/2018/86)]