Reality Check: Role of Youth in Advocating Against Weapons of ‘Widespread Destruction’

June 28th, 2024

During the Fourth Review Conference of the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (RevCon4), the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and its UN Youth Disarmament Programme organized a side event with prominent youth advocates for disarmament. The meeting, which took place on 20 June in Conference Room B at UN headquarters, centred on the youth engagement in efforts related to small arms and light weapons (SALW) disarmament and non-proliferation.

Youth involvement is a crucial point in finding solutions against SALW misuse, as the younger generation is globally and deeply affected by the proliferation of conventional arms on several dimensions. It is estimated that one young person out of four lives in a conflict situation, with over 600 million directly affected by SALW. In many situations, young women suffer the most from the consequences.

High Representative Izumi Nakamitsu, H.E. Maritza Chan Valverde, and Ambassador Thomas Zahneisen

As part of RevCon4, the meeting featured remarks from H.E. Maritza Chan Valverde, RevCon4 President Ambassador, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and Ambassador Thomas Zahneisen, Deputy Permanent Representative Mission of Germany to the United Nations. The three officials started the meeting with opening remarks that focused on the need for young people to be prominent voices of disarmament. Acknowledging the complexity of the issue pertaining to economic and social dimensions, the UN provided the opportunity for participants to share their experiences in SALW disarmament and hear their voices.

Ms. Monalisa Hazarika and Ms. Trushaa Castelino, two distinguished young professionals, comprised the meeting’s panel and expressed their views on the delicate subject of SALW disarmament. Building on her background, Ms. Hazarika, one of the UN Youth Champions for Disarmament, presented a series of activities she carried out in North-Eastern India, a heavily militarized area where she conducted a five-week educational programme aimed at youth to raise disarmament consciousness. Ms. Trushaa Castelino, besides bringing her experiences, wanted to reiterate the need for greater openness on the part of society toward young people, since too often youth face exclusion and frustration. A next generation of experts must be empowered, according to the UNDP guide on Youth, Peace and Security: Fostering Youth-Inclusive Political Processes.

Ms. Monalisa Hazarika and Ms. Trushaa Castelino

After the panel shared its opinions, participants from the meeting posed open questions and interventions to help discuss aspects of meaningful youth engagement. A notable discussion point resolved around what involvement should look like and what should some countries do to achieve greater youth participation. On this, President Maritza Chan and Ambassador Thomas Zahneisen stated that youth engagement and advocacy must come from individuals and societies, and that the UN cannot represent the entirety of the youth initiatives. For this reason, it is crucial that the silent majority steps up and speaks up.

Ms. Trusha Castelino pointed to what has been done so far to prevent harm, by returning to the example of the UN SALIENT Initiative, which is active in eight countries and works at the ground level with prosecutors to improve law enforcement aspects. This is clearly a success example, whereby intervention is diversified. Members of the panel and in the room agreed on the fact that in order to tackle SALW, the issue must be considered both from a demand and supply point of view, as well as its financial and humanitarian level.

Ms. Roberta Bojang, a Youth Champion for Disarmament, delivered closing remarks, expressing her gratitude in hearing such projects solidify and take concrete steps. Furthermore, following the points raised by the panel, Ms. Bojang pointed to the multiple dimensions reflected in the discussions.

At the end of the event, Mr. Deepayan Basu Ray, Director of the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific, summarized the points raised in the meeting regarding the need for intergenerational change. As the UN must break out from a compartmentalized way of thinking, he appreciated the skills and the high level of knowledge brought at the table by the young participants, which has encouraged them to step up and assert their role as relevant figures for their respective countries. Regarding this matter, he gave the example of youth from Asia and the Pacific region, which launched a campaign to take the issue of climate change and human rights to the International Court of Justice.

Mr. Deepayan Basu Ray, Director of UNPR