Reconciliation and Coexistence: Role of Youth
30 Sep 2016 by Sanjana Mapatuna
Even though there is no universally accepted definition for Youth, according to United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Youth is identified as a ‘Period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood's independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community'. In simple terms, I consider youth essential for any aspect of development and possibly the main element for any country's future, although today's society has somewhat abandoned the real value of youth and its ability do wonders in the journey of making the world a better place. There was a time where the voice of youth wasn't being heard or respected and the youth wasn't considered an integral part in decision-making, but propitiously, not anymore. World leaders today have urged the youth to come forward, take part in decision-making and to be the ladder to achieve world peace.
Current global status quo is much more vicious than we ever imagined. Humanity has completely faded away in the face of power and domination. After seeing the recently released footage of the Syrian boy named ‘Omran' who was rescued from the destroyed building in Aleppo, Syria, I myself felt ashamed and guilty for the fact that we as human beings living in the 21st century we have once again literally failed humanity. Omran is one lucky child who survived the daily attacks while his friends sadly don't always turn up like him. Children are dying every day due to attacks while others starve to death without proper humanitarian assistance such as food and clean drinking water.
According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), a sum of 8.4 million children (more than 80 per cent of Syria's child population) are now affected by the conflict within and outside its territories. The reason why I recall the horrors faced by Syrian children is to remind you, as the youth in Sri Lanka, what do we really lack in life? Popularity in the social media? Gadgets and new clothes to make us look cooler than others? If so, we have certainly failed as human beings. We aren't too late to come back to our senses and act for world peace and against violence.
Violence and weapons are not the only solution to conflict resolution. Conflicts which are resolved through the means of war need to establish post-war reconciliation and coexistence in order to achieve transitional justice for a long lasting peace. The ‘Peacebuilding' theory by Johan Galtung emerged in 1970's and is a key concept that can be utilized to reconcile war-torn communities in identifying the root causes of conflicts across the globe such as relative deprivation, discrimination, and strong identity views. ‘Peacebuilding' is basically built upon 3 pillars such as behavior, attitude, and context. When analyzing the trends of modern conflicts and its causes, Reconciliation and Coexistence helps to create transparency to address the needs of war-torn communities in order to achieve long lasting peace.
The adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 (UNSCR2250) is an enormous step that has been taken by the world leaders, for Youth to be fundamental in achieving peace, development and conflict resolution. On 9th December 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted the historic resolution on Youth, Peace and Security that urges greater representation of young men and women in the prevention and resolution of conflict. As a young person who represents Sri Lankan youth, I felt very proud seeing Sri Lanka launch ‘UNSCR 2250', which will hopefully assist Sri Lankan youth to become the voice of justice.
We are fully aware of the horrendous episodes that our nation experienced in the brutal 30-year civil war. When we examine the underlying causes of these conflicts, there is one common feature which is more likely to appear frequently. Youth have been ignored, disrespected and deprived due to their voice not being heard and not being recognized by the political leaders at that time, and as a result Sri Lankan youth lost a great opportunity to actively engage in decision-making for the betterment of the nation.
Fortunately, that time has changed and the present background of the country has been set a solid platform to achieve transitional justice through reconciliation and coexistence. On 11th August 2016, the Parliament of Sri Lanka passed the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill which is one of the four specific mechanisms recommended by the adopted consensus resolution titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka' passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2015. On the day of passing the Bill, a few MPs disrupted the Parliamentary procedure by opposing the establishment of OMP by conveying that the bill will betray the military and create a negative impact on country's sovereignty. The protest hindered the opportunity of carrying out a valuable debate which could have comprised of significant information regarding the initiative. Innocent citizens who are not aware of what an ‘Office on Missing Persons (OMP)' really is, tend to believe and accept these misconceptions created by the politicians for their own benefit. It is our civic duty as youth to correct these delusions from the grassroots level, starting from our very own families. The reality is that ‘Office of Missing Persons (OMP)' is a truth-seeking mechanism which will enable families to find out what really made their loved ones disappear during the course of conflict.
1st September 2016, was yet another remarkable day for youth in Sri Lanka as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon met 100 youngsters from across the island who work towards peace and reconciliation in their own communities and I was lucky enough to be a participant for this event, organized by the UN Sri Lanka as a part of Secretary General's agenda in his official visit to Sri Lanka. I would like to take this opportunity to thank UN Sri Lanka for organizing such a valuable event to recognize and uplift the optimistic ideas of Youth in Sri Lanka. During his speech to the gathering, he said "You are your country's biggest asset. Sri Lanka's future depends on you". That statement itself signals the strength that we as the youth has and the level of impact that we can make in deciding our county's future.
Alongside this came the launch of a valuable UNSC resolution 2250 which will further strengthen the potential of youth to becoming an integral part of decision-making. Being in the post-war era, Sri Lankan Youth should not let this opportunity wither away because the current topic ‘Reconciliation and Coexistence: Role of Youth' is a crucial and vital tool to reunite the divided communities and build an indivisible nation that stands together against any despotic movement in the country.
Considering the opportunities that are lined in front of us, we as youth groups can organize village level awareness campaigns promoting the importance of achieving reconciliation and coexistence. Organizing of school level exchange programs in north and south of the country to annihilate cultural and language barriers is one of the major obstacles faced in the process of making a reconciled society.
Along the journey, we as youth will face immense challenges and we cannot get discouraged no matter the obstacles we face in achieving great things for the betterment of the country. I believe the younger generation in every community has an exceptional capability to attract people of any level and easily socialize with diversified groups. This capability will constitute liberal mindsets in the country and encourage communities to move forward with generosity.
I would like to end with a statement by a South African Social Rights Activist and retired Anglican Bishop, Desmond Tutu that describes the beauty of diversity and is a prompt message that we should all live by:
"Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another"