The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sri Lanka marked International Day of Peace with the launch of the key findings of a study on ‘The Potential Role of Young Leaders and Volunteers in Preventing Violent Extremism in Sri Lanka’ and the launch of the ‘Youth Peace Panel’. UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer spoke at the event held at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre on 17.09.2019.
Excerpts of the speech are below:
The study presented today (Tuesday 17 September) is an important contribution to understanding the diversity and complexity of young people’s engagement in preventing violent extremism and contributing to positive social cohesion here in Sri Lanka.
In my years as a humanitarian and development worker I have encountered extremism in many forms and in many contexts – in Syria, in Burundi I have seen how seeds of mistrust and exclusion can grow into permeating fears that become fertile ground for hatred, polarization, radicalization, violence and terror.
The threat of violent extremism is not limited to any one religion, nationality or ethnic group. Extremists have warped the peaceful values of religions and brutally murdered thousands of innocents around the world.
The UN has been working on countering and preventing violent extremism in countries across the world, in coordination with national governments. Central to this effort is prevention, which is why studies like the one presented today are important. Studies of this nature focus on understanding and addressing the root causes of extremism in order to ensure that the most vulnerable groups are not targeted by those seeking to cause havoc and tear apart the social fabric.
As noted by the Secretary-General there is no single pathway to violent extremism. But we know that extremism flourishes when human rights are violated, political space is shrunk, aspirations for inclusion are ignored, and too many people – especially young people – lack prospects and meaning in their lives.
The UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security stressed the importance of reaching out to young people and recognizing their potential as peacebuilders. The resolution calls on governments to include young people in their institutions and mechanisms to prevent violent conflict and to support the work already being performed by youth in peace and security.
Here in Sri Lanka there are 4.4 million young people and each and every one of them has the potential to be a voice for peace, for tolerance, for celebrating diversity. Last week in this very auditorium I spoke to a room of young people who were so enthusiastic, so passionate and so full of ideas. We need to harness those ideas and that passion to inform policies, to create societies that are inclusive and to understand how we can fight the forces that seek to divide us.
I strongly believe that if we are to prevent violent extremism, we need to encourage communication between people and groups who don’t share the same worldviews or life experiences. These conversations open the door to understanding and embracing the complexity of other communities, instead of seeing the world through simplistic narratives. Young people by interacting with their peers come to understand the underlying causes of exclusion and address these by finding common ground on which they can build trust.
We need to engage them as partners in building resilience, as positive change-makers, because young women and girls, young men and boys, are central to creating a safer, more inclusive and prosperous world.
The Youth Peace Panel which brings together young people from across Sri Lanka endeavours to build this engagement – to give young people a voice in the conversation on peacebuilding policy making and to listen and engage with them through their peers.
The Youth Peace Panel being launched today aims to:
Connect young people at the grassroots level with key decision-making processes and platforms related to policies and plans that contribute towards peacebuilding efforts in Sri Lanka;
Empower youth to actively and meaningfully participate in the country’s development and peacebuilding processes as equal partners;
And represent the interests of youth regardless of their ethnicity, religion, geographic location, gender, physical ability, and advocate for their participation in key decision-making processes related to peacebuilding and development in Sri Lanka
I hope that it will be a platform for young peacebuilders to begin conversations that will build trust and understanding between communities and influence policy making to create a more inclusive society.
Addressing the Youth Peace Panel:
I wish you all the best and you can count on the support of the UN family as you move forward to create the Sri Lanka you envision. Always remember, diversity is a strengthen and never a threat – you as young people from across this beautifully diverse country are the best champions of this message.