@JohnLoughton addresses issue of “Youth and Peace” at UN World Conference on Youth in Sri Lanka

Here is the speech from John Loughton ( @JohnLoughton Twitter) delivered on May 7th 2014 in Colombo Sri Lanka during the United Nation’s World Conference on Youth.

The completed communique – the Colombo Declaration – will go forward to the United Nations with recommendations guiding the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals and wider post-2015 development agenda.

Realising Peace, Reconciliation and Ending Violence.

John Loughton, Keynote Address to United Nations World Conference on Youth, 2014 – Colombo, Sri Lanka. May 7th.

Ayu Bowan. Vannakam. Good afternoon. Maggi nama John. Mama UK. My name is John from the UK. It is a pleasure to return to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka and to address the issues of realizing peace, reconciliation and ending violence.

Now compared to many in this room, I am no direct expert on this subject, however I do think we need vigorous and ambitious youth involvement in realizing a state of global peace and reconciliation.

Every conflict demands some fundamental choices.

War or Peace.
Conflict or harmony.
Violence or tolerance.
Ignorance or acceptance.
Division or unity.

Yesterday President Rajapaska of Sri Lanka spoke about this countries’ long civil struggle and shared how he “had defeated terrorism and brought peace and reconciliation.” I found that a very interesting position ahead of todays deliberations.

And it made me REALLY think what does that mean? It is one thing to end violence, war and halt the bombs and bullets. Surely it is quite another thing completely to address the causes and motives of violence and WHY the bullets were ever fired at all. It is ONLY in addressing the root causes of “why” that we can sustainably realise peace and set to true reconciliation.

My three arguments today are clear :

– Conflict and violence hit women and youth harder than any other group
– Policy must focus on conflict prevention, not merely responsive measures to ceased conflict or post-war states
– Young people must be at the heart of any genuinely global sustainable approach to halting the systematic causes and driver of violence, subjugation and post-conflict recovery

We all know it obvious that violence and conflict is a scourge on humanity and social justice by its very nature, however we must understand some of the DNA, the core characteristics of modern conflict, in order to address it.

Firstly, without exception, any form of extreme conflict, is extremely preventable. Confllict – be that social unrest, political upheaval or indeed declared violence and war, has a huge gender and generational in-balance and women and children suffer the most. These groups, making up the vast majority of the world, and most often the most socially powerless, politically voiceless and far more dependent on state provisions such as health care systems, welfare support, education and security services to live safe and free.

Conflict significantly increases inequality, generates poverty and creates and embeds exclusion. Conflict in any form is an additional challenge to economic growth (evidence suggesting on average GDP 2 percentage points per annum.) It almost always ruins our natural environment and is a direct attack to our wildlife and planet. And in some form, conflict always is rooted in some form of greed, corruption, extremism, terrorism, racial and religious tensions and also in itself caused by poverty, political exclusion, fear and a sense of hopelessness.

In short conflict and violence is the enemy of broader sustainable development – be that education, environmental, economic or gender – and makes realizes the Millennium Development Goals in their final hour almost impossible to realise. Surely a peaceful existence is the core foundation, the humanitarian bedrock on which everything else must rest. We know most conflict is not new. On average, conflicts in Asia for example span over four decades, most repeat and are cyclical and increasingly the World War model of two or more states engaging in a country to country battle is being replaces with internal-state and non-geo warfare.

This all means we must redefine the paradigms of peace. We must hold governments to account to ferociously – seeing them both as a remedy of conflict but also recognizing governments and states as often the primary culprits of violence. When a government faces violence and evil, that regime MUST be held to a higher moral standard than whatever militant or political group it aims to combat. We need progressive political weapons, not simply response state-sponsored terrorism and death.

An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. A bullet for a bullet leaves everyone dead. And I say this also to the USA, UK, Russia and other leading powers too who too often undermine their own values at aid of hurridly attempting to impose peace at gunpoint.

Any genuine solution must realise and respect the spirit and expectations of youth. If we look at Libya, Egypt, Turkey, even here in Sri Lanka, its often the oppression of a demand for change and some form of authoritarianism and exclusion that allows an escalation to serious violence. Again preventable should the right early intervention steps be taken through tolerance and good governance. National, regional and global Policy needs to look at long term behavioural and attitudinal change to end violence. Prevention is better than cure. This means peace-building and ending violence, actually occurs most in times of peace by ensuring open government, promotion of inclusive values, good education and economic opportunity. Simply having reactive conflict policy, through reconciliation, negotiated agreement, military response is a costly sole strategy. Lets stop sending the fire engines to the flames, and get into the business of smoke alarms and fire safety if you like.

And just think of the real real real impact violence has on children. On young people. It is not ok that we bare the sharpest end of the failure of adults to cohabit. Internal and cross border displacement of kids is widespread. Imagine being born with no birth certificate, no safe birth, basic medical access or the complete wipeout of your family. Imagine a daily climate of fear, deep social and political exclusion, a suspension of a justice or security system, military recruitment and children soldier exploitation. And the extensive practice of rape, abuse, abduction leading to the life-long mental and emotional wounds.
This is not ok. Violence and conflict is a fundamental failure to tomorrow’s generation.

And I say to the young people in my generation in this room right now who I know suffer daily in war zones and conflict – Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan and elsewhere – we are afforded one advantage as youth. The ability to realise our memories are in the future. Our grudges and ideologies and scars are not as stubborn and inflexible as our parents. Through generational solidarity, we can help one another make the choice to endeavor to see a tomorrow brighter than the darkness of yesterday.
For hope to defeat fear.
For freedom to defeat control.

I truly believe youth and women as the primary victims of war, can become the chief architects of Global Peace. And not because it is a tasty soundbite, but because it stands to reason.

To unlock sustainable peacebuilders across generations. This generation, my generation, our generation.

We CAN unite across old boundaries.
We CAN eradicate borders.
We CAN dream full colour, and not simply look in black and white.
We are not mindless sheep following the tracks of our fathers, rather showing we are idealistic without ideology.

President Rajapaska also said yesterday and I quote “Youth’s minds are extremely sensitive to influence.”
Well yes correct. So governments, stop failing in the nurturing of young minds and allowing the allure of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism to control the aspirations of too many. This is what happens when you don’t invest in education systems, when youth cant sit as diplomatic partners in decision making, when we don’t feel the fruits of economic growth, when so many youth still face poverty, when governments refuse to become transparent, provide employment or invest in the future. It is no wonder youth feel isolated, and too often turn to alternative forms of expression. This requires genuine inter-generational dialogue.

For example, every time I see one of thousands of children soldiers existing around the world, be that the middle East, Africa or elsewhere, I see not a perpetrator, but a victim. An impressionable and powerless child failed by society.

In closing,
As the global community through the United Nations looks to the inception of the Sustainable Development Goals, Peace and tolerance and cohesion really is the bedrock on which any other Aim must sit.

While reconciliation and conflict responses will always have a crucial role, lets invert our energies and focus on prevention.

And engaging youth effectively across society not only helps prevent conflict and unrest, but their very involvement and empowerment will help generate more successful solutions long term.

With equal stakehold in this world, youth WILL choose
– Peace over conflict
– Hope over fear
– Freedom over control
– Transparency over deceit
– The future over the past

And it is us in the room, the leaders of today, the youth of the world, to make the rest of society meet the demands of our vision.

Thank You.

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