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25th June, 2020

Ten Youth Champions for the United Nations Disarmament Training Programme Announced 

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, with generous financial support from the Government of Germany called  on young people between the ages of 18 and 24 across the globe to apply for an innovative learning programme aimed at empowering them to work for disarmament in their communities.  
The Office for Disarmament Affairs sought youth who are motivated to use their talents to help raise awareness and promote change for a more peaceful and secure world. Out of 6,515 applicants from 157 countries around the world, the Office is pleased to announce an eclectic and geographically diverse group of ten youth advocates who were selected for this important disarmament initiative.

Joe Aitkin (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is an undergraduate Politics and International Relations student at the University of York. His main interests lie with the militarisation of AI, particularly with reference to nuclear weaponry, a topic he covered in his most recent article for the Political Studies Association. When he is not researching, he enjoys producing and presenting his student radio show.

Christelle Barakat (Lebanon) is an incoming Lebanese Fulbright graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro pursuing an M.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies with a concentration on International Peace Development. She holds a B.A. in Political Sciences and International Affairs with high distinction from the Lebanese American University where she was also part of the honors program, with 3 minors in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Gender Studies, and Legal Studies.

Isa J. Begemann (Germany) is a student of International Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She has ventured abroad from a young age and would like to see young people from all over the world included and engaged in questions of international security.

Naomi Ekpoki (Nigeria) founded The Senema Love Foundation (SLF), a youth led organization in Nigeria. SLF focuses on peace building, quality education, skills training in Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) for financially challenged children and youths, especially surviving victims of violence in Northern Nigeria. She is a Mastercard Foundation Scholar at the University of Edinburgh school of Engineering UK (M.A.) and holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Covenant University Nigeria.

Waleed Helmy (Egypt) is an electrical engineer graduate who is currently working as a business associate/project management at Vodafone International Services. He is an alumnus of the African presidential leadership program and a trained volunteer of the African Union youth volunteer corps. Moreover, he is passionate about youth empowerment in peacebuilding and entrepreneurship in the Arab and African regions.

Patrick Karekezi (born of Rwanda, raised in Uganda) is passionate about global youth engagements and the creation of just and peaceful societies. He is a second year student at the African Leadership University pursing an undergraduate degree in Global Challenges in governance and policy.

Dilan Ezgi Koç (Turkey) is an International Relations graduate student and musician from Ankara, Turkey. She is going to continue her master’s studies at Yale University Jackson Institute for Global Affairs on a Fulbright scholarship. Her research interests include nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and nuclear security networks, and she has also worked and published on the Syrian conflict and alliance politics. She has also been volunteering and holding leadership positions at non-profit organizations, organizing events and fundraising concerts to advocate for human rights and gender equality

Kirsten Mosey’s (Canada) passion for disarmament was sparked after volunteering in refugee camps across Greece in 2016. Since then, she has had the opportunity to learn from peacebuilders and political scientists at the University of Waterloo, actively seeking peace and justice in all areas of life. 

Palesa Mogorosi (South Africa) identifies herself as a passionate young woman who is grounded in compassion, and who aspires to be a practitioner for human welfare.

Linh Trang Phung (Vietnam) is a sophomore majoring in International Economics at Foreign Trade University (FTU), Viet Nam. She worked for Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam during Vietnam’s 2020 ASEAN Chairmanship, played a leading role at AIESEC in Viet Nam as well as an inspiring representative of Miss FTU Beauty and Charm. She is determined to apply her knowledge and skills to make impacts on her society and on the mission of empowering youth participation in solving social issues to make a more peaceful and better world.

The 10 selected youth champions will receive training in general principles of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control through online courses and a two-week in-person study tour in Vienna, Geneva, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  They will exchange ideas with disarmament experts from think tanks, civil society organizations and the diplomatic field, and develop a plan to engage their communities on issues related to disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.  The Office for Disarmament Affairs will provide support, including mentoring and guidance, throughout the programme.

How can action on conventional weapons help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?

26 August 2020

After watching a UN ceremony commemorating the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, the UN Youth Champions for Disarmament had a valuable opportunity to learn from two UNODA staff members about the 21st-century challenges and implications of conventional weapons, including their relationship with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

To start the discussion, Ms. Katherine Prizeman of UNODA’s Conventional Arms Branch talked about the use and risks of explosive weapons in populated areas. She also explained how the UN is responding to this issue under the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament.

The part of the Disarmament Agenda that deals with conventional weapons, “Disarmament that Saves Lives”, has two goals, Ms. Prizeman said. Its first aim is to protect civilians and non-combatants as much as possible from indiscriminate weapons now that conflicts are increasingly being fought in cities instead of traditional battlefields. Its second elementdeals with the excessive accumulation and illicit trade of conventional weapons, including how they can go astray and become vulnerable to non-State actors looking to carry out terrorist acts.

Ms. Prizeman explained that conventional and explosive weapons are not inherently illegal, and nearly every country on earth has a national defence policy it implements with help from a standing army and conventional weapons arsenal.When these countries fight in populated areas, however, they sometimes use heavy conventional weapons that are too destructive for distinctions between civilians and combatants. In urban settings, these weapons not only take civilian lives,but also destroy civilian infrastructure needed for necessities like food, water, and health care. Therefore, to help protect civilians, the UN Secretary-General has called on parties involved in the conflict both to adapt their weapons and tactics and to comply with international humanitarian law.The Youth Champions also heard from Ms. Milena Berks, another member of the UNODAConventional Arms Branch, who stressed the benefits of conventional weapon-focused disarmamentefforts in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Ms. Berks noted that even though every Government has agreed to pursue SDG Target 16.1, “Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere”, many people still die in armed conflict each day and global homicides are only dropping slowly. Tackling this problem, she said, will involve collecting data and sharing military policies and practices on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

Ms. Berks added that the SDGs specifically address small arms and light weapons under Target 16.4, “By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime.” There are good reasons for this special attention: the widespread availability of small arms,light weapons and their ammunition is a key enabler of armed violence and conflict, and such weapons are regularlyimplicated in acts of gender-based and sexual violence. This issue has been addressed from the perspectives of peace and security, gender and equality, transnational crime, humanitarian action, counter-terrorism and trade regulation.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, the Youth Champions expressed concern about the urgency, impact and effectiveness of disarmament efforts for conventional weapons, and they asked how the link between disarmament and the SDGs could be further strengthened after 2030. The youth participants also spoke with Ms. Prizeman and Ms. Berks about emerging weapon technologies related to artificial intelligence, outer space and 3D printing, as well as the role of disarmament in areas like border control.

This discussion reminded us that we, as youth, can use our voice to raise awareness about the importance of disarmament to achieving the SDGs. We also felt affirmed by the two UNODA staff members, who encouraged us to apply ourselves towards building a more peaceful world. We would like to give a big thanks to UNODA for this invaluable opportunity,and we look forward to the next one!

Youth Champions Discuss Weapons of Mass Destruction with UN staff

25 August 2020

The UN Youth Champions for Disarmament recently had an opportunity to learn from two members of UNODA’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Branch. They reminded us that we can reshape the world if we work together to free it from nuclear, biological and chemical arms.

“Nuclear disarmament has been a top priority for the United Nations,” said Mr. Rene Holbach, who works in the WMD Branch. He added that building trust and confidence among States that possess nuclear arms is one focus of the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, “Securing Our Common Future”.

Mr. Holbach went on to explain how countries have worked together to reduce and eliminate nuclear threats through agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and the New START Treaty. Though there are now fewer nuclear weapons in the world than during the Cold War, the danger has actually increased because more countries have acquired nuclear arsenals and relationships between many governments have deteriorated. The bombs dropped 75 years ago on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were small by today’s standards, but their effects still persist. The need to press for the elimination of all nuclear weapons is as urgent as ever. 

To conclude, Mr. Holbach said COVID-19 has shown that unexpected crises can demand human-centred security and a united world response. It is our job, he said, to think about what this means in the disarmament realm. 

Ms. Claudia Garcia of UNODA then walked us through the history of chemical weapons since the First World War. In 1980, countries began negotiations that eventually led to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which established a new chemical weapons disarmament regime headed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

All except four countries have now joined the Convention, and 98% of the world’s declared chemical weapons had been destroyed as of June 2020, Ms. Garcia said. She added, though, that chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian Arab Republic, Malaysia and the United Kingdom in recent years.

Ms. Garcia finished by stressing the need to restore the norm against chemical weapons and strengthen the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is an important part of international disarmament and non-proliferation architecture. She also invited the Youth Champions to challenge assumptions that further incidents of chemical-weapon use are inevitable. Young people, she said, have the power to make a meaningful contribution by raising awareness and advocating for change.

As Youth Champions, we are deeply grateful to Mr. Holbach and Ms. Garcia for leading us in a great discussion. We now feel even more inspired and driven to contribute to the field of disarmament and promote change for a more peaceful and secure world.

ICAN, you can, we can – abolish nuclear weapons! UN Youth Champions Participate in the Webinar “Path Forward for Nuclear Disarmament” by the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy 2020

24 August 2020

On August 6, 2020, the world commemorated the 75th Hiroshima Day, remembering the victims of the atomic bombing of the city on August 6, 1945. To recognize the 75th anniversary, Hiroshima-ICAN Academy hosted the live webinar, “Path Forward for Nuclear Disarmament”. While open to all interested, UN Youth Champions for Disarmament included, the webinar was originally designed for participants of the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy on Nuclear Weapons and Global Security 2020. The Academy, held jointly by Hiroshima Prefecture and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), aims to train to young people to “make peaceful contributions to the world” – something that we Youth Champions equally strive to achieve!

Eager to hear from ICAN and the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy students, we tuned in from around the world – our North American participant even waking up at 6am – to hear unique perspectives on disarmament and how youth can best honour the Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors). ICAN’s success in bringing about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) adopted by the United Nations in July 2017 speaks to their phenomenal record, as does winning the Nobel Peace Prize later in 2017 for their relentless efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons! 

Against the backdrop of the city of Hiroshima, with the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome displayed prominently, the webinar began with a lively discussion on how government and civil society can work together for complete nuclear disarmament. Governor of Hiroshima Yuzaki Hidehiko shared the importance of resourcing expertise from civil society to aid the government, while Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, discussed the necessity of empowering young people to make change in their own communities. Fihn’s approach, which combines bottom-up organization, building relationships, and detailed coordination, is key to engaging local governments in global issues.

Building on Fihn’s notions of government engagement, Austrian diplomat Alexander Kmentt, detailed the importance of human-focused disarmament efforts. According to Kmentt, Austria, a Non-Nuclear Weapons State (NNWS), was forced to get creative with finding new ways to engage on the issue of disarmament without relying on Nuclear Weapons States (NWS). This frustration with the status quo led to unique approaches, such as coalitions of NNWS rallying together to create a world free of nuclear weapons. 

Common among all the experts present was a sense of collective responsibility to the Hibakusha and the next generation to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Rather than relying on traditional networks, old ideas, and outdated policies, all in attendance agreed that there is a need for an influx of new ideas. Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs focused her suggestions on how to overcome the disarmament impasse on methods of collaboration and innovation. Relying on the TPNW, conversations between the public, civil society, and governments, and approaching the work with a resiliency and hope that we will never see another Hiroshima and Nagasaki is vital. As Fihn so eloquently shared, “Do we know that exactly this thing is going to work? No, we don’t…. We do know that we all have to keep pushing to do everything we can to make our contribution.” 

The final moments of the webinar focused on reorienting the conversation of disarmament to focus on a humanitarian lens. While each speaker highlighted this necessary lens, the closing remarks from Hibakusha Koko Kondo best captured the sentiment, “For the sake of this planet, I depend on you.” 

Challenged and inspired by the speakers and the historic commemoration of 75 years since Hiroshima Day, we Youth Champions were reinvigorated for the cause of disarmament. A world free of the threat of nuclear weapons is a world that both honours the lives lost 75 years ago and values the futures of upcoming generations. 

To those who are fighting the good fight, we thank you.

UN Youth Champions for Disarmament experience at The Tenth NPT Review Conference: Youth and the NPT 

16 July 2020

Today, we served as strong witnesses of the amazing work UNODA is doing to engage more youth in disarmament activities. We were really honoured to have been specially recognised and mentioned as the first group of 10 UN Youth Champions for Disarmament by the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu as she commenced her opening speech at the high level event “The Tenth NPT Review Conference: Youth and the NPT”. This gesture was definitely very encouraging for the entire group to receive such a special welcome at this prestigious event, it also shows that youth are making headway in being part of global decision making with regards to disarmament; this for us is an achievement for the youthful population. 

It has been 75 years since the first and only use of atomic weapons, hence today’s meeting was a very significant event for youth around the world which are referred to as future custodians of disarmament. Mr. Sebastian Brixey-Williams, Co-director of BASIC served as the moderator and the 4 panelists at this event were: 

  1. Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General/ High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
  2. H.E. Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen, President-Designate of the 10th NPT Review Conference,
  3. H.E. Ambassador Cho Hyun, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations
  4. Ms. Bianca Carpinelli, Coordinator, NPT Next Gen Network, Latin America and the Caribbean 

Throughout the event, Ms Nakamitsu emphasized the power of youth as leaders of global change. She drew on the need to empower them through diverse networks, platforms, and comprehensive practical learning methods. She also stressed the older generations’ duty to help the youth and to listen to them making mention of the UN Secretary General’s agenda on disarmament “Securing Our Common Future”, where he recognized that young people can act as a tremendous force for change. Ms. Nakamitsu underlined the fact that we are going through a transitional and transformative period marked by movements with young people being at the core of these, working to transform societal structures. As an international organization, she believes that the UN has the role of enabling young people to access knowledge and to build their skills. She believes that nuclear weapon free zones can be further utilized to advance the non-use of these weapons. Moreover, she stressed the need for cross-regional learning. She stated that as the world is currently battling through COVID-19, a window of opportunity has opened up, drawing attention to excessive military expenditures. Ms. Nakamitsu concluded by reiterating that humans are at the center of security, further highlighting the importance of going back to diplomacy, dialogue, and negotiation. Lastly, and in regards to the future, one of the most important next milestone is to focus on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and on ensuring its entry into force.

For his part, H.E. Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen declared that one of the world’s most important issues which we have inherited is that of armaments. Speaking on the NPT, he mentioned how it is regarded as a cornerstone of non-proliferation and a pillar of peace and security, further describing it as one of the most enduring and lasting multilateral treaties in the world. Furthermore, he stated that the treaty today is as necessary as ever due to the expanding dangers of arms, the increasing tensions, and the growing reliance on weapons. Reflecting upon the youth and the need to integrate them in discussions and dialogues, he stressed youth’s need to fight for a place on delegations, to make their voices heard, and to create their own space. He also suggested having a forum dedicated to the “NPT and the next generation” on the margins of the NPT review conference in order to make governments realize the importance of youth inclusion. 

When the time came for H.E. Ambassador Cho’s intervention, the South Korean diplomat stressed the efforts of his country’s youth in simulating the NPT Conference. He talked with great joy about the efforts made by the participants to reflect on the interest of each represented State party. He also relayed how they succeeded in adopting outcome documents and how passionate they were in reaching an agreement all whilst thinking through numerous considerations, review mechanisms, and suggesting nuclear disarmament summits. Moreover, Ambassador Cho stressed the importance of this event in building momentum for the success of the 10th NPT review next year. He also emphasized how nuclear weapons are not enhancing security and are not protecting people from pandemics and other risks., He called for common efforts, increased youth engagement and civil society participation and stressed on the diversity that youth can bring to the disarmament discussion and on their role in reaching a better, non-nuclear world. Lastly, he stated that young people should strive to see issues from a global perspective and go beyond national borders; they should uphold the NPT and work to make it move forward.

Speaking last among the panelists, Ms. Bianca Carpinelli drew on her own experience in bringing together youth, professionals, academics, and students from Latin America to have meaningful dialogues and activities around disarmament. She firmly stated that we cannot and must not fail in addressing the complex issues of the new future. That said, she sees that the best way to ensure present and future success is by having youth immersed in these topics and in learning more about them so that they can take meaningful action when they become policymakers and decision makers. Moving forward, Ms. Carpinelli provided insight into her work of empowering youth through designing workshops focused on the next 25 years of the treaty and the outcome documents resulting from it, which contained suggested actions for impact. She spoke about the keys to sustainability: engaging varied actors from different areas and sectors. Last but not least, she emphasized the importance of dialogue, particularly intergenerational dialogue, in order to incorporate new ideas of global solidarity, inclusiveness, and environmental sustainability, as well as to prepare youth for future roles. 

The floor was opened for questions, and it was really nice to hear our Youth Champions ask questions and get qualitative answers from the panelists. On Tuesday this week, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2535 (2020) on youth, peace and security. On this point, Ms. Nakamitsu rounded up by advising the youths to engage in negotiation tables and make sure our voices are heard in decision making bodies with governments and international organisations. This for us was really inspiring and enlightening; we were really energised to take up more tasks to improve the disarmament agenda through more youth participation.

Nukes, Trumpets, and the “Ultimate Goal” – UN Youth Champions Fireside Chat with Dr. Randy Rydell

14 July 2020

It is not every day that one gets to talk to a retired Senior Political Affairs Officer at the UN who is also the main trumpet in the UN Symphony Orchestra! Therefore, we youth champions were looking forward to the fireside chat with Dr. Randy Rydell. Having spent his professional life engaged in disarmament affairs in academia, think tanks, and government institutions, he was able to provide diverse perspectives and introduce us to some terminological pitfalls young people could find in the field of disarmament. For instance, disarmament, meaning the elimination of agreed classes of weapons, is not the same as arms control, which denotes the regulation of armament in terms of numbers, range, lethality etc.

Equally, Dr. Rydell pointed out interesting trends that made us hopeful: for instance, while predictions from the 1970s supposed that there could one day be dozens of States possessing nuclear weapons, today only nine are thought to have them. Treaties and international agreements on disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control have made the world a safer and more secure place.  Through the education that we Youth Champions receive, thanks to UNODA and the support from the Government of Germany, we hope to contribute to global peace and security in the future, too. 

After all, Dr. Rydell really drove the point home that the risks of entering into disarmament treaties such as (cheating, economic cost of implementation, inadequate verification, and break-out countries violating agreements) must be weighed against the unpredictability of a world with no disarmament regime, where indefinite increases in military spending, unlimited testing and development of new weaponry, an expanding of the global proliferation of WMD, the further postponement of needed social and economic development and infrastructure development, regional and global arms races to acquire WMD and their delivery systems, expanded risks of accidental war and growing humanitarian consequences of such wars, regional arms races and accidents in the transport and handling of nuclear weapons could be the norm. According to Dr. Rydell, we must see disarmament not as a constraint on national interests – but as an invaluable tool for peace!

With an estimated number of 1.8 billion youths (ages 10-24) globally, Dr. Rydell placed emphasis on the fact that the world currently has the largest youth population ever recorded in history. In his own words, the youths represent a constituency for disarmament with tremendous potential for progress in achieving this goal. Dr. Rydell encouraged the group of Youth Champions for Disarmament to continue in our efforts to achieve disarmament across the world and also engage other youths in the process. We definitely had a very inspiring and enlightening fireside chat with Dr. Rydell. Ms. Soo Hyun Kim of UNODA did well to provide us with extra time to take all of our questions; this helped increase our understanding of some of the concepts he had earlier spoken of. Our horizon has been broadened after such an informative session and we look forward to the next one with enthusiasm!

This time, we took our group photo with creative symbols to represent disarmament for peace.

Youth Champions blog

29 June 2020

Today the ten 2020 Youth Champions for Disarmament began their journey! 
Meeting virtually for the first time, the group tackled subjects ranging from new technologies and nuclear threat, to the urbanisation of conflict and the engagement of young people,  highlighted under “A New Era of Conflict and Violence”as part of the ongoing UN75 effort. The Youth Champions brought with them their diverse backgrounds and perspectives and raised a number of fresh ideas in their discussion. Several champions stressed the importance of dialogue and education as means to finding solutions to the serious problems facing the world, and the group highlighted routes of interest they will follow over their time engaging with learning activities under the #Youth4Disarmament initiative. Today they have taken their first steps on their road to developing their own plans on how to engage in their communities on issues related to disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control. We can’t wait to see what’s next!