Wise Words from the Youth: UN Security Council Open Debate on Youth, Peace and SecurityYoung Adult
This week, on 27th April 2020, under the presidency of the Dominican Republic, the United Nations Security Council held an open video conference on Youth, Peace and Security. The debate builds on the landmark resolution 2250, which was passed almost 5 years ago. There were 4 briefers at the debate: UN Secretary General H.E. Antonio Guterres, UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake and two young peacebuilders, part of the UNOY network: Olla Al Sakkaf from Youth Without Borders Organisation for Development in Taiz, Yemen and Gatwal Gatkuoth from Young-Adult Empowerment Initiative from South Sudan/Uganda.
What did Olla and Gatwal share with the world?
Olla Al-Sakkaf, Youth Without Borders Organisation for Development
(Watch Olla’s brief here!)
Excellencies, distinguished delegates, and fellow young people, I hope you are doing well during these difficult times. Thank you, Mr President, for your kind invitation to present before you and the UN Security Council members.
My name is Olla Al Sakkaf. I am a 25-year-old peacebuilder. I was born and I grew up in difficult circumstances in my country, Yemen.
I am here today as a representative of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, a global network working to end the violence of youth exclusion, transforming power structures to enable meaningful youth participation, and offering a platform for youth to act together on decisions that affect them.
The world is scared because of the outbreak of Corona Virus. All day, you are following the news about the increasing number of victims. You are afraid of losing people you love or even losing your own life. Your children cannot go to school. You do not trust the health system any more.
In Yemen, there are few recorded cases of the Corona Virus. However, my fellow citizens and I understand what the world is going through. We feel you and we pray for you. What you are experiencing has been our reality since the beginning of the war in 2015. People are asked to stay at home, but have you thought about millions of displaced people around the world, who don’t have houses to take shelter in?
I live in Taiz, which is a city under the siege since 2016. People are forced to travel for 5 to 6 hours from one part of a city to another, when it used to take us 10 minutes. I have attended the funerals of my friends more than attending their weddings. I wake up every morning staring at the sun, not knowing if I am going to see it again or if this is going to be my last day. When I meet my friends I cannot enjoy my time with them, because I am afraid it will be the last time I will see them. I walk in the streets feeling scared to be killed by a landmine, airstrike or stray bullets. We face death everywhere and at every moment.
The situation in Yemen is at its worst. Five years of ongoing armed conflict have exhausted not only the infrastructure and systems of health, education, economy, etc. but also the people. For the second time, Yemen is the home of the worst humanitarian crisis around the world with 3.65 million IDPs, a massive cholera outbreak, recent floodings, and widespread hunger.
In all this darkness, there is a glimmer of hope. Although we lack support, opportunities and recognition, young people in Yemen are doing our best to survive and build a better future for our children. Across Yemen, we are cleaning public places, informing people how they can protect themselves against Covid-19, and risking our lives to save victims from the floods in Aden and Sanaa. Youth organizations are working with their communities and authorities to enhance the capacities of the health care system by restoring health facilities, provide them with sanitizers, and train medical staff.
Our efforts are not only in response to the Corona Virus, but also to build peace and re-normalize the public life. Youth-led organizations are playing an important role in bridging humanitarian work and the peacebuilding process, as reported by the Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace, and Security.
Youth Without Borders Organization for Development is an example of such a youth organization, which I am a part of. It believes in the energy and power of young men and women to build and sustain peace. Youth Without Borders is working to rebuild the social fabric, peaceful coexistence, and security in our communities through capacity building, awareness raising, advocacy and research. We do not only target young men and women, but also other community members, state institutions, local authorities, community initiatives, private sector.
We, young people, can’t bring peace and prosperity to Yemen alone. We need the international community to support, invest in, and strengthen our work:
- Promote and enable youth participation and inclusion in all phases and tracks of the peace talks on Yemen, and all other UN-supported peace processes;
- Believe in young people. Trust us. Invest in our peacebuilding work, through increased resources for the implementation of the Youth, Peace and Security agenda, including accessible funding for youth organisations;
- Ensure that Youth, Peace, and Security remains on the agenda of the UN Security Council, beyond today’s debate through regular reporting and inviting youth briefers to country-specific and thematic discussions;
- UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths briefed your council on 16 April and concluded that “Yemen cannot face two fronts at the same time: a war and a pandemic.” We call upon this council to support the call for a truly upheld ceasefire in Yemen and beyond.
Mr President, as young people, we stand ready to support all actors in pursuing and upholding the Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire, in order to focus on the response to the current pandemic. When under a global threat, the time to act on peace is now.
Gatwal Gatkuoth, Young-Adult Empowerment Initiative
(Watch Gatwal’s brief here!)
My name is Gatwal Gatkuoth. I come from South Sudan – the world’s youngest nation.
Your excellency Mr. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, your excellency Mr. President of the Security Council, distinguished representatives of Member States, dear colleagues and fellow young people, I would like to start by expressing my sincere appreciation to the Presidency of the Security Council, for inviting me.
My father was born during the first Sudanese civil war in a small village in Southern Sudan. My father cannot write and read. He spent most of his youthful life doing two things: hiding for safety and herding his cattle in relative peacetime. The second Sudanese civil war forced me out of my parents’ care as early as 11, in 2002. Eight years later, in 2010, I returned to South Sudan to be reunited with my parents.
Even though the experience for me was so traumatic, I could not possibly imagine the pain it had caused them. I was lucky to end up in a refugee camp in Uganda where I found education that changed my life positively.
For me, peacebuilding has become a necessity. I want to break the cycle of conflict experienced by my father and myself, and contribute to a peaceful future where my own children don’t have to experience violence.
To serve the purpose, I founded the Young-adult Empowerment Initiative in 2015, to strengthen the operational capabilities of young men and women in South Sudan to create a peaceful society and drive social development in their local communities.
From the first through the second Sudanese civil war; to South Sudan’s post-independence political unrest, young people have always been at the heart of peace and security, as recognised by UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security.
Distinguished member states,
Young people in South Sudan shaped the peace process through their participation in the High Level Revitalization Forum and alliance-building with women groups, which resulted in the inclusion of young refugees in the negotiations and increased youth participation in broader governance structures.
Youth outside the negotiation room were also key in monitoring the peace talks and putting pressure on the conflict parties, for example through a social media campaign called #SouthSudanIsWatching, which was launched by the South Sudan Civil Society Forum (SSCF).
In Uganda’s refugee settlements, refugee-led youth initiatives including my own organization are unlearning violence and negative stereotypes through peacebuilding. We are identifying our concerns and aspirations jointly as South Sudanese youth; not as members of 64 different tribes.
Recent developments include the creation of a coalition of youth-led civil society organisations in Juba, the appointment of the first national minister in charge of youth affairs in the Unity Government, bringing young people’s concerns an inch closer to the decision-making circle.
Despite these significant achievements, young people continue to face structural barriers to political, social and economic processes, as mentioned by the Secretary General in his report. I will now highlight three challenges felt by my peers in South Sudan:
- Even with relative peace today in South Sudan, inter-clan revenge killing, cattle raiding, and child abduction remain our key peace and security issues, with violence intensifying due to small arms and light weapons being readily available. We need to Silence the Guns, as called for by the African Union.
- In a patriarchal society like South Sudan, young women face exclusion from peace efforts and political participation because of their age and gender. We must build on 20 years of the Women, Peace and Security agenda to overcome exclusionary processes and transform harmful masculinities.
- Already restricted civic spaces for youth participation are even more shrinking with the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with lack of access to technology for young peacebuilders.
What must be done to make the youth demographic dividend, a peace dividend for South Sudan? Mr. President,
Here are four ways in which the international community can support young people’s contributions to peace and security in South Sudan and beyond:
- The UN Security Council and stakeholders should support the South Sudan Unity Government to enable meaningful youth participation in decision-making including political processes, and democratic practices.
- Member States, international organizations and human rights actors must respect, protect and uphold young people’s universal rights of freedom of organization, peaceful assembly, expression, and participation in public affairs and civic space, ensuring that young peacebuilders do not face reprisals for their work.
- International organizations should partner with youth-led organizations to design and implement responsive Disengagement, Disarmament and Reintegration programs, and establish youth-led ceasefire monitoring networks, in consultation with young combatants as appropriate.
- Member states of the African Union need to strengthen their support to young people’s efforts to silence the guns, transform conflict, and build peace across the African continent.
South Sudanese youth are not asking for more policy documents and resolutions. We are asking for proactive involvement of youth in all levels of decision-making. We are asking for full operationalization of resolutions 2250 and 2419 on youth, peace and security.
Thank you, excellencies, for your diligent attention. [END]
*Take into consideration: 1. Refugee youth | 2. Internally displaced youth in UNMISS’ PoC | 3. Rural youth in cattle camps | 4. Youth in armed factions and child soldiers