‘Youth represent promise – not peril,’ Ban tells Council debate on countering extremism
“The role of youth lies at the heart of international peace and security,” affirmed the Secretary-General as he addressed the 15-member Council. “We have to encourage young people to take up the causes of peace, diversity, and mutual respect. Youth represent promise – not peril.”
The challenge, Mr. Ban added, is to now realize “the enormous potential” of the world’s young people who form the largest generation of youth in history – a challenge which, however, may be increasingly daunting amid a surge in youth unemployment and increasing economic distress.
Just last year, in fact, the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) acknowledged in a 120-page Global Employment Trends report that global youth unemployment rates would remain on an upward trend through to 2017, according to projections.
Young people, the agency said, continued to be particularly affected by a weak and uneven recovery with some 74.5 million youths – between the ages of 15-24 – unemployed in 2013 – the last year for which data was available. In addition, as the recovery remained weak, the average length of unemployment spells increased considerably.
Addressing the Council in his country’s capacity as President for the month of April, and at 20 years old, the youngest person to ever chair a meeting in the chamber, Crown Prince Al Hussein Bin Abdullah II of Jordan echoed those troubling findings, warning that poverty, unemployment, ignorance and “weak familial ties” help create “fertile ground for extremist thought and dismal ideas.”
He added that young people in search of opportunities seek to “invest their potential” but are often faced by dead-ends in their immediate environments, transforming their ambitions into “frustration that groups use to fuel their own agendas.”
“Swift measures should be taken to stop feeding the fires of terrorism with the blood of our youth, who are the primary target of recruitment, both voluntary and forced, by armies and extremist and terrorist groups,” he continued.
“We have to fill this vacuum that is being exploited by enemies of humanity by building on the potential of the youth and empowering them to achieve their ambitions. This can be achieved by making young people immune and equipped with quality education, proper job opportunities and a decent living.”
Meanwhile, as the lack of economic opportunities and persistent social disaffection experienced by many youths appeared to push them into the arms of radicals and their recruiters, many young people were also bearing the brunt of violent extremism, according to the Secretary-General.
Mr. Ban reminded the Council of the girls in Chibok, Nigeria, abducted over a year ago by Boko Haram militants, as well as the more recent attacks by extremists in Garissa, Kenya, and Peshawar, Pakistan – all which targeted young people and students.
“Violent extremists deliberately target youth for exercising their human rights,” he told Council members while adding that many of those who commit violence are “victimized by depraved adults who abuse youthful innocence.”
Nevertheless, in his remarks, the Secretary-General also voiced praise for the “countless” young heroes and heroines that, he said, wanted to “wage peace, not war” and urged Member States to welcome young people at the negotiating table.
“Youth suffer on the frontlines of war – but they are rarely in the backrooms where peace talks are held,” Mr. Ban affirmed. “They pay a price for the fighting – and they deserve to help structure the healing.”
He explained that youth organizations could play a powerful role in peacebuilding around the world but only if the international community helped to “scale up their activities and invest in their ideas.”
Education, he said, remained critical but so did access to funding. With more resources, the young could finally mature into a force for “peace, reconciliation and democratic governance.”
“Too often, the speeches in this Council focus on problems in the search for solutions,” the Secretary-General concluded. “Today, let us see young people as the solution to our most vexing problems.”