Youth in Conflict

26 October 2016   ·   Polis180

On 6 October 2016, Polis180 organized a workshop bringing together 35 students and young professionals from different countries to discuss the role of youth in conflict and to develop recommendations for the German governments new guidelines on crisis prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding.

Why is it important to think about „youth in conflict“?

Young people are affected by armed conflict and instability in several ways. First, they are victims of violence. They are the ones that have to live with the consequences of war for the longest time, they are the ones who will suffer most when conflicts lead to a lack of education and jobs. Second, youth can be the perpetrators of violence. They are at a particular risk to be radicalized and join armed or terrorist groups. But – as was highlighted again and again during the workshop – youth should be seen as much more than either victims or perpetrators of violence. As part of a society, they can be change agents who influence social-political processes and have to be included into approaches to conflict-resolution. Here, they can be the societal group that makes a positive difference in their communities, outlines and pursues a vision for peace and brings in new ideas.

A new international policy framework: Resolution 2250

Recognizing this potential role of young people in transforming conflicts, youth organizations across the world have advocated for a stronger inclusion of youth in peace and security decision-making over the past years. In December 2015, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed resolution 2550 – setting a new international framework for the role of youth in conflict. The key provisions of the resolution call for an increased participation of youth in decision-making on peace and security, a greater protection of young people in conflict, the need to facilitate enabling environments for the prevention of youth’s engagement in violence, creating opportunities for young people to disengage with violence and about creating partnerships to support the work with young peacebuilders by governments as well as international and regional organizations.  

Participants of the workshop discussed two key lessons for the future implementation of resolution 2250 that could be learned from another key thematic resolution passed by the Security Council: Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. First, youth organizations should push for a quick move towards implementation. Second, make sure that international advocacy and implementation do not focus exclusively on the element of protection. As one expert highlighted during the workshop, resolution 1325 has become primarily about protecting women in armed conflict, which is important, but has come at the expense of strengthening the question of participation of women in peace processes. For the implementation of resolution 2550, participation should be front and center, he argued.

Recommendations for Germany

Based on the conviction that the participation of young people as change agents is crucial for the success of international peacebuilding efforts, participants of the workshop concluded recommendations for the German government to support youth in conflict.

Increase German support to youth in diplomacy & project support

1. Increase German diplomatic backing for youth initiatives and the integration of youth. The German government, as an actor with agenda-setting power in international institutions, should raise awareness for the potential for youth to be change agents for peace in UN, EU and bilateral negotiations. Participants highlighted that most political decision-makers do not understand why it is important to include youth in peace processes. Germany could develop a profile for this issue and advocate for this internationally, using resolution 2550. That would include, for example, to

  • Make the implementation of resolution 2550 a prominent theme of the next German membership on the UNSC. This could also mean establishing a Group of Friends on Youth, Peace and Security, pushing for a UN-wide Action Plan and urging the Secretary General to report on how UN organizations, including the peacekeeping system and the Peacebuilding Fund, integrate and strengthen the role of youth.
  • Advocate for an EU directive that would outline how to implement resolution 2550 at the European level and EU institutions and for all UN member states to develop action plans for the national implementation of resolution 2550.
  • Strengthen research support and dialogue on the role that the internet and social media can play in crisis prevention and the promotion of peace, in particular for youth.

2. Increase support to youth initiatives in German development funding. This would not only mean increasing funds for projects that include and support youth, but also change the way projects are currently run. All such projects should not only be supported during a conflict but most importantly, youth (and civil society in general) should be strongly supported before a conflict escalates.

  • Create more spaces for youth to develop culturally and economically. Supporting youth projects should not just be about money, but about creating safe spaces for pursing art, learning and exchange.
  • Expand peace education projects for young people to strengthen the role of youth as change agents.
  • Expand projects on a very local level – going far beyond project support to big, known and professional NGOs.
  • Encourage and support German political foundations to increase their work with youth, in particular on training young people to participate in policy processes (to organize in political parties, working with and as parliamentarians) and increase dialogue and exchange between youth in any particular country and across countries.
  • Include a question into project funding guidelines across the German government how a particular project is integrating and considering the perspectives and role of youth – similar to an existing question on gender aspects in government project assignments.

Increase youth participation both in Germany and abroad

3. Create seats for youth on the table in Germany. Expanding youth participation starts at home. Germany should set an example by expanding youth participation in policymaking in Germany.

  • Work with and expand the National Youth Council of Germany. Encourage the National Youth Council to start a working group on foreign and security policy.
  • Include youth representation in the Beirat Zivile Krisenprävention to ensure that the voice of youth is also represented in the group of civil society representatives that advise the German government on crisis prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding.

4. Systematically advocate for the inclusion of youth in peace processes.

  • Youth participation should not only happen on track 3/civil society level but also on track 1, the formal peace process. Germany should advocate for youth participation on all tracks. Where formal access is restricted, Germany should work towards channeling youth perspectives from lower levels to the negotiating table and link tracks from different levels.
  • Move beyond the numbers: Youth participation does not per se lead to ‘better’ outcomes. They need to have the opportunity to assert meaningful influence on the peace process. This means being aware of cooption and paying attention to process design.
  • When selecting youth representatives for participation in peace processes, ensure credibility of representatives. This means that these representatives have to be genuine leaders of the community and represent diverse backgrounds, including in terms of gender, age, and social economic class.

5. Establish a “Youth-UN” similar to “UN Women”.

  • Push for a UN institution that gives the “youth” theme an institutional home for knowledge production and management, advocacy work and furthering mainstreaming of youth throughout the UN system.
  • Short of that: advocate for more side-events at UN summits – while being careful that those concentrate on furthering content question and are not just box-ticking exercises.

Increase knowledge on role of youth in conflict in Germany & engage more with German youth

6. Increase funding for German educational foundations and associations that enable young Germans to engage in foreign policy. One of the prerequisites for more German engagement in foreign and security policy is a stronger public knowledge and support about foreign policy issues. Youth-to-youth exchanges can foster such knowledge and at the same time empower young people in Germany and in partner countries to participate in policy making.

  • Encourage the “Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung” (BPB) and the “Landeszentralen”, the German political foundations, the German UN Association (DGVN) and other relevant associations to increase their engagement and funding for education on foreign and security policy in general and crisis prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding in particular.
  • Increase research funding for the topic of “youth, peace and security”. A huge research gap on the issue exists. For example, we know very little about the factors pushing young people into certain roles in conflict contexts or on how to meaningfully include youth in peace processes. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and German Foundation for Peace Research (DSF) should support projects on the issue that establishes a wider knowledge base and ensures knowledge transfer.

7. Create more opportunities for youth exchanges.

  • Use a strong civil society to support other civil societies by having an exchange within youth groups. Engage in people-to-people exchange in local grass-root communities.
  • Promote school exchanges not only within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) world but also with and across post-conflict areas.
  • Increase support to exchanges that are not focused on elite, academic youth exchanges.

8.  Increase knowledge on the role of youth in conflict by integrating the subject into trainings.

  • Integrate the thematic area of “youth” and specific methods of increasing youth participation in diplomatic training.
  • Integrate “youth” into training programs of the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF).
  • The German Foreign Office should support enhanced training of youth mediators. If youth is about to be included in peace mediation processes, mediators need to include young people in their teams as well. Youth mediators can be important role models.