Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Youth, Peace, and Security

Ambassador Kelley Currie
U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
April 23, 2018


Thank you, Mr President. Thank you Jayathama, Sophia, and Kessi, for your briefings here today. These amazing young women inspire and humble us all with their poise, power, and energy.

It is such a relief to be here today. Where we usually spend our time discussing some of the most challenging and dispiriting events in the world, but instead today we get to discuss a topic that is positive, motivating and encouraging for all of us; Youth, peace, and security.

The United States supported resolution 2250, because we believe it is imperative for the Council to encourage youth to contribute to peace and security. We strongly welcome the Secretary General’s progress study, which shows very clearly just how crucial and overdue this conversation is and we thank Mr. Simpson for his work on this report.

When we say youth, it is important to put the numbers into perspective. The progress study notes there are 1.8 billion young people in the world. This is a huge number but this is only young people between the ages of 10-24, the former UN definition before resolution 2250. Within the United States, we often define youth more broadly as being anyone under age 35. If you use that definition, we are talking about more than 4.5 billion people or 60 percent of the world’s population.

This is both an incredible opportunity and a huge challenge. If empowered with meaningful opportunities and treated in a fair, just, and inclusive manner, global youth can be a catalyst for economic growth and lasting peace the world over – but if ignored, marginalized, or disempowered – if treated in an unjust or unfair manner – they risk becoming vulnerable to the forces of instability and conflict. So, the stakes could not be higher for all of us. We cannot afford to marginalize or ignore 4.5 billion people, especially when we have the ability to influence their choices in a positive way. As evidenced by our incredible speakers today many young people have the drive, tenacity, and ability necessary to help bring sustainable peace and stability to countries around the world and we should waste no time in tapping into that talent.

Youth today demand a seat at the table–and we should not hesitate to make room for them. The United States has long recognized that young people have the ability to help drive their communities, economies, and countries forward and we proudly invest in exchanges and programs aimed at empowering youth to achieve greater peace and prosperity.

Next week on May 2nd, we will hold the 3rd Emerging Young Leaders Awards and Exchange Program in Washington, DC, where we will recognize 10 outstanding global youth leaders who have made real impact as global peace builders. One of those outstanding leaders is …24 year old Tanzil Ferdous of Bangladesh, who promotes youth and community development and women’s rights in Bangladesh. As the President of “Volunteer for Bangladesh, Chittagong in 2015”—the largest platform for youth volunteerism in Bangladesh—Tanzil organized numerous successful events for community development, engaged hundreds of youth in volunteerism simply because she believes that if youth are engaged and motivated to do community service, they will be deterred from violent extremist activities. She is now working with the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, helping to support a safe space for 500 children in the Rohingya camps.

We will also recognize Omar Dahman, Executive Director of the Hebron Youth Development Resource Center in the West Bank. He has created a unique safe space for over 2,000 Palestinian youth to learn, interact, and lead including using youth-to-youth entrepreneurship, peace-building trainings and civic engagement.

Knowing that young people are the primary targets for potential recruitment by extremist organizations this should propel us to build upon our current efforts to engage this generation by supporting their voices, ideas and youth-led local solutions.

Push factors, such as poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, discrimination, boredom and marginalization, can lead people down paths of violent extremism. Pull factors, such as ideology, a sense of belonging, the prospects of fame or glory, and other benefits, can draw people towards violent extremist groups. We are in a race against terrorists and violent extremists. We must do more to address the push and pull factors driving young people to violent extremism and provide better alternatives.

We can start by providing greater educational opportunities to youth across the globe, to both young men and women. Education is also a critical preventive tool that can help deter youth from the enticement of global extremists or global criminal networks.

We can also address some of the underlying feelings regarding a lack of fairness and justice that many youth feel when rule of law issues are ignored. Important factors such as equal treatment under the law, protection of freedom of expression, public avenues to voice discontent, and access to political and economic opportunity, help to stem the attraction to violent extremist ideologies.

The United States is committed to developing programs that promote leadership and prosperity. One example of a program we do that aims to prevent violent extremism is the “Peer 2 Peer Challenging Extremism” program which is a public/private partnership with over 40 universities world-wide in which university students compete to develop the best anti-terrorist narratives.

In Tunisia, we support young leaders through the Sharekna Project working with their communities to strengthen resilience to economic, political and social stresses. Young leaders are mapping their communities and facilitating community dialogues to identify issues, then working with stakeholders to respond to these challenges.

The Secretary General’s progress study showed that in 2016, there were more than 408 million young people residing in settings affected by armed conflict or organized violence. How can we empower them to define their futures and overcome life’s obstacles? First of all, by protecting them. In FY 2017, the United States provided more than $8 billion in emergency humanitarian assistance worldwide and we will continue to provide lifesaving protection for the world’s most vulnerable populations. The United States through our 300+ Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions all over the world, maintain strong partnerships with host governments, NGOs, and youth-focused organizations on the ground. We strongly support programs that address drivers of conflict and violence by engaging youth as partners and key actors in fostering social cohesion and tolerance.

We must focus on these and other efforts aimed at ensuring youth are engaged on issues of conflict and security. That they are empowered to take action to prevent and mitigate violence affecting their communities, and that their voices are elevated above the fray of conflicting geopolitical interests.

We have come a long way and made strides in firmly establishing youth as partners for peace. But we need to continue building upon Resolution 2250 and turn the ink into action. More than half of the global population will be affected by the commitments of the Security Council today, so we urge Council members to redouble this work to amplify young peacebuilders and youth leaders in the fight against violent extremism and its drivers. To address the push and pull factors that open the door to violent extremism for so many disenfranchised youth; to allow space for young leaders to bring forward political solutions to some of today’s most intractable problems. To provide more positive alternative pathways for our young people and to continue to find creative ways to strengthen partnerships between governments and youth. Because these youth here with us today are not just our future, they are also our present, right now, today. Thank you.