Mr. Chair and Vice-Chairs, I'm really appreciative to the Foreign Affairs and International Development committee for this opportunity to speak to you. In some way, I feel it's imperative by way of report-back because we were very indebted to Canada for its support of the progress study on youth, peace and security, along with that of Sweden, Norway, Ireland and others. Given your contribution to this study, I hope you will see behind this a real affirmation of some of the principles that I know you stand for.
By way of background, the progress study was called for when Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security was passed in December 2015. That came on the back of a fairly lengthy period of time in which youth-led organizations globally were lobbying extremely hard to draw the attention of the international community and the multilateral system to the fact that young people experienced that they are largely marginalized and voiceless.
Championed by Jordan—a small country on the Security Council—in the years leading up to 2015, the resolution eventually passed. I think it took a lot of people by surprise. In the passing of the resolution, we see at the council quite odd bedfellows with a common interest in addressing the deficits in young people's participation and inclusion. Some felt this was a matter of principle and that the world needed to have the sort of innovation, creativity, resourcefulness and resilience of young people accessed and brought into the system. Others saw a real risk and a threat of violence and extremism if young people were marginalized and excluded. They passed Resolution 2250 with fairly different motivations in some senses.
What was really unusual—and this is something for which I am particularly grateful—was the mandate of the resolution to conduct a study, which became known as a progress study on youth, peace and security. The reality is that because it was a new resolution, this wasn't so much a progress study as the development of a strategy for the implementation of this resolution globally. In that capacity, I was appointed as the lead author by the Secretary-General to undertake the study.
I want to emphasize that I was appointed as an independent lead author. This gave me unusual room to really say what I needed to and address the issues that I thought young people were raising. The other mandate of the study was—unusually—to focus on the positive contribution of young people to peace.
Finally, I think that implicit in this was a recognition that the Security Council was attempting to address an enduring problem of exclusion and a growing problem—which became very evident in the early phases of the study—of young people's mistrust of their governments and of the multilateral system, and often a deep mistrust even of international civil society organizations. We found that 1.8 billion young people felt voiceless, and one-quarter of those at least—and that's a conservative estimate—were living in situations of ongoing exposure to violence.
It became very clear that we couldn't address the problem of exclusion by reproducing the problem in our methodology, so I want to dwell briefly on the methods of the study. As was announced by the Secretary-General's representative when the study was released to the General Assembly in September last year, this study was one of the most participation-inclusive studies that the UN had ever undertaken.
Through Canada's help, we went beyond just the usual regional consultations with young people who could all speak English, had the language skills, had passports and were familiar with the UN. We insisted that we needed to access young people who were hard to reach and who would not normally have a voice in this. I can't do justice to the study here, but in the 10 minutes I will refer to this. I really encourage you to look at the study itself. It reflects a vibrant, extraordinary voice of young people.
In the end, beyond the regional consultations—and we did seven of those—we did five national consultations, one of which was in Canada.
Through a partnership of civil society organizations who had trust-based access to young people on the ground, we were eventually able to access young migrant women in the foothills of Guatemala, young combatants in the Philippines, second-generation migrants in the neighbourhoods of Stockholm, African-American youth in the neighbourhoods on the south side of Chicago, young combatants or refugees in South Sudan, etc.
Some 280 focus groups in 44 countries around the world, 35 thematic and country-specific studies and a survey of youth-led peace-building organizations provided unparalleled access to young peoples' voices. It's on that basis that I want to share with you some of the key findings. Then I'll be open to your questions.
The first issue that became very clear was that young people were very mindful of the extent to which they were the victims of stereotypes, particularly in relation to youth, peace and security. As soon as we spoke about peace and security, the predominant image, a very gendered image, was of a young man with a gun posing a threat and a young women consigned to the passive status of victimhood. Young people have said that both of these definitions completely deny their agency, their contributions and their resilience as contributors to peace.
What these stereotypes also did was produce what we called “policy panic”, a series of policy assumptions and myths that were not, on the basis of our explorations, based on significant evidence.
The first was an assumption that “youth bulges”—growing proportions of young people within a population—would automatically result in high levels of violence.
The second was that young people were the major threat presented by the migration waves, that there were young migrant men who are threatening infiltration and terrorism.
The third was the assumption that all young people were at risk of joining violent armed groups.
The truth is that evidence suggested quite the contrary on many of these instances. It is only a tiny sliver of young people who are engaging on the wrong side of this divide. What we had as a mandate for our study was to discover and to articulate the alternative path for investment in young people, the majority of whom were either just getting on with their lives—I don't think we should romanticize them any more than we should demonize them—while a huge number were actively contributing to peace.
The core message of the study, through the voice of young people, was that until we address the “violence of exclusion”—that's their language, not mine—we will never prevent the violence of extremism. In young peoples' own voices, this was about both political inclusion and rebuilding their trust in economic systems that were inclusive. It was about recognizing the space they needed for their operations and for their freedom of movement and assembly. It was also about their opportunities for dissent, and often peaceful protests which were seen as threatening. We argued they were actually a very important contribution to change and to peace.
Very importantly, they experienced the distinct experiences of young women as opposed to young men, and the gendered character of exclusion and marginalization, which sees the youth, peace and security agenda and the women's peace and security agenda as fundamentally joined at the hip. This was in particular about the unique experience of young women. One of the other things that we discovered, really importantly, was about the importance of providing and addressing alternatives to toxic masculinity. The issue of masculinity as a driver of violence and conflict was very important. An integrated approach to gender is at the heart of this.
The young people also expressed concern around exclusion in the education system, in criminal justice and security sector reform, and in reintegration of former combatants. It was very powerful for us to hear young people talking about how the majority of young people being reintegrated as former combatants in conflict-affected societies were young, yet they were often being reintegrated into elder-led communities, which left them feeling re-marginalized. Young people were asking us to imagine what it would look like if the receiving communities were youth organizations and were youth-led.
If the first message was that we have to address all of these areas of exclusion if we are to address extremism, the second message was that there is an extraordinary alternative avenue for investment: Not in young people as a problem to be solved, not in young people as a risk, but in the resilience and resourcefulness of youth as an attribute for peace.
Young people really demonstrated this. You'll see that the second part of the study is a description of all of the things that we found young people were doing against all the odds. They were operating across different phases of conflict, early intervention models and prevention best approaches with younger children right through to post-conflict involvement in informal peace processes. They were engaged at every level, from the most local and intimate peace-building processes, people-to-people at the local level, through to global coalitions and partnerships. They were engaged across different typologies of violence, from gender-based violence to terrorist violence to political and criminal violence, and they recognized the interface and interlinkages between these things.
They were engaged in unique partnerships where they couldn't access their governments. Very often, they were working with local mayors, local actors and different stakeholders. They were saying to us, “Don't ghettoize young people. We aren't just in one place. We are in youth organizations, but we are also in women's organizations, in human rights organizations, in civil society organizations. We are in governments. We are on both sides of the police-community divide.”
They said to us, “Every SDG is a youth SDG. Please don't treat us as just concerned with issues of education or issues of sport and recreation. We want a stake in the entire development of our societies and in the policy around this.”
Young people also demonstrated the most extraordinary, new and innovative methodologies, whether it was about sport and culture and arts, or most importantly, the progressive, creative occupation of cyberspace and social media as a tool for building peace and developing new peace technologies.
What they were doing was crying out to us for the conclusion of the study: that if we want to take advantage of this demographic dividend, especially the high proportion of young people in conflict-affected societies—but not exclusively—then we need to invest in young people as a peace dividend. This demands some seismic shifts in the way that governments and the international system are addressing this, from largely remedial and hard security-based approaches to prevention approaches that invest not in risk, but in the resilience of young people.
It involves investment in the partnerships that young people are driving in our societies with governments and with civil society, and particularly an investment in youth-led organizations. It also involves the development of new norms in our society to socialize Resolution 2250 as a meaningful domestic tool.
The study produces three categories of recommendations. I won't go into them in detail; I don't have time.
In the first category, we motivate very strongly for an investment in the resilience of young people, in their agency, in their leadership and in their organizations through funding, through supporting peace networks in the youth sector, through organizational capacities and by filling the data gaps. It's unbelievable how difficult it is to find gender- and age-disaggregated data on young people.
The second category is about addressing all those areas of exclusion in the polity, in economics, in development policy, in the educational arena and in terms of gender with regard to young people in society.
The third is to invest in the partnerships that young people forge, whether that's at the UN or whether that's in the establishment of youth delegates within the agencies of the UN and through governments representative to the UN. It's about the consultative spaces that we need to create for young people and the integration of young people fully into the 2030 agenda for development; the Resolution 1325 agenda—the women, peace and security agenda—and the annual reporting of the Secretary-General to the Security Council. In all these arenas, we've made a series of recommendations to address these problems of exclusion.
With that, I will leave you, but I'll say one last thing. I was really struck when I examined the feminist international assistance policy of Canada to see the language “human dignity”, “growth that works for everyone”, “environment and climate action”, “inclusive governance”, and “peace and security”. These are all the platforms that the youth, peace and security agenda addresses. I think we see a very powerful resonance between Canada's international concerns and those of the youth, peace and security agenda. I'd go one step further. I would encourage you to recognize that we discovered that young people exist everywhere in society. This is also an essential issue for Canada to think about as a domestic issue as much as an international one.
This is an extraordinary question, and I thank you for it.
Let me begin by saying that, although Resolution 2250 defines young people as 18 to 29, what became very clear to us is that youth is much more a socio-cultural phenomenon than it is a chronological age, and one of the phenomena that we identified was how, in fact, young people are often trapped in youthhood—one author refers to this as “waithood”—because the fact is that the rites of passage that dictate progress into adulthood are denied many young people.
This is very gendered, and in fact, it's not consistent. Young men who can't afford to marry, can't get jobs, can't acquire houses and can't acquire the formal status of adulthood are trapped in the status of youthhood despite their age. Often young women who are married off, often forcibly, and bear children at a much younger age acquire the formal status of adult women much younger than they ought to.
This is illustrative, because what it shows is that often young people are outside of a category that formally acquires protections under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, so they're not protected in the same way children are, but because of this waithood, they often don't acquire the trappings of adulthood that should come with all these rights.
We talk about a rights realization gap. I raise this because it is about distinct things. On the one hand, what we definitely found, particularly in conflict-affected societies where the space for civil society is closing down very often, is that the rights of assembly, participation and political engagement are often denied young people. Age bars young people's ability to run for office. Also, the repressive space often means young people are victimized. On the one hand, we are looking at that set of protections that is really critical.
But we would be misstepping, I think, if we didn't recognize that sometimes it's the gap between formal rights, which exist in the legislation, and substantive rights to which young people do not have access in reality because of generational and gender-based issues. That includes socio-economic rights, access to land, etc., and the rights to operate as youth-led organizations.
I would draw your attention to those two distinct arenas, some of which are formal, some of which are about protections that should be there and aren't, and others that are about a rights realization gap where young people are uniquely excluded and marginalized politically, economically and socially.
It means we have to act and we have to enrich the exercise and processes of inclusion and participation and do more to accredit the systems. I think you're right. First, we need to disaggregate what we mean by political participation. We had a submission by the department of political affairs, DPA, as it was at that point in the UN, which was very helpful because, in looking at their own practice, they were asking how they disaggregate young people's political participation.
On the one hand, they were attentive to the formal political process, electoral processes and formal governance issues. However, they were also talking about national dialogue processes, the participation of young people and responsiveness to young people's demand that they have a voice in policy arenas that affect their lives but in which they have very little stake.
I'll give you two examples. It's very striking to us that young people often describe two—among many—very prolific places where they said, if you're thinking about the state-society relationship through the youth lens, what are the places where young people intersect most directly with their states? They were saying it's in relation to the criminal justice system and in relation to education. They are aware of criminal justice reform processes and juvenile justice processes, etc., but they have no stake and no voice in that policy sphere. Similarly, they are the primary targets of an education system in which they have very little voice in the policy world that defines educational priorities, curricula, etc.
There's a very tactile method that falls below the formal levels of political participation. I think young people are very astute in saying, when they think about what they mean by expanding participation and process, these are the arenas in which they are most affected and where they should have a voice, and don't.
For DPA, it was very interesting because this extended to reconciliation processes in the wake of conflict, to constitution-making and reform processes, to a spectrum of political engagements, rather than just in the formal process of electoral politics. I think that is enriching because it also expands the spaces in which we can rebuild young people's trust and sense of belonging and confidence.
There's particular concern around young people being excluded, because of their age, from running for office and saying we need to have more young people in office. It's not about whether they can vote; it's whether they can run and in some societies the bar on that. There's a real honesty and recognition by young people that inclusion is not unconditional—in many societies, a concern that participation in political processes often subjected them to manipulation, to party political control, to a series of manipulative and corrupt intents. Young people are saying they don't want to participate in systems that appear to be corrupt or servicing elites, etc.
This is not all young people. These are very important voices, because they nuance the way in which we think about this.
In answer to your last question, yes, I do think this is a trust issue. In some senses, I think there was a growing message of young peoples' loss of confidence in formal representative politics. Part of what I've said is that there are other ways of engaging in what participation means, which are not just about narrow approaches to representation.
We need to recognize that young people were saying this isn't just about being invited to the table, already set, but recognizing the table they have set for themselves. There are the innovative, creative spaces in which young people are creating places of direct action, of participatory democracy through social media and cyberspace. Yes, these things present their own risks if they aren't moderated, and they can be grabbed and controlled by others, by those of nefarious purpose. But there are very important participatory technologies that young people have to teach us about ways of expanding our democracy and creating participatory approaches to democracy.
We can't be naive about the digital divide, which is also very gendered, by the way. These are important issues to engage in.
I hope I've answered your question without posing more questions than I've answered.
Yes, there are. Finland has gone down the path of establishing a national action plan. There are one or two others as well. I'm not sure exactly how far down the path they are.
We considered this very seriously. We were strongly advised by stakeholders in the women, peace and security agenda, who were both very positive and extremely wary of our reproducing the national action plan endeavour.
In countries where this was achievable, it was achievable very quickly and was a powerful tool. It signalled the right kind of commitment and created mechanisms of accountability for government against a plan, etc.
In societies where this was taxing limited capacity, actually the action plan itself became the object of the exercise and there were a lot of women's organizations that felt that the key issues got mired in the bureaucracy of an action plan that actually was dysfunctional and inefficient, and in some ways became an exclusively government-held endeavour rather than a participant-inclusive one.
Again, I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all.
I also have to say that I think in some countries, a comprehensive engagement with youth, peace and security, or the youth empowerment, youth inclusion issues is readily available and possible.
I think in other societies it's going to be more tactically important to think about the entry point issue, whether it's education or employment or political participation, and try to connect them, but not necessarily develop a national action plan that is about all things youth, because that may actually make it less operable.
What we've emphasized less than the action plan as a blueprint is the establishment of national coalitions. It's the partnership endeavour that we think we need to emphasize for governments to invest in. The partnerships between government, civil society stakeholders, and the diverse range of stakeholders in the partnerships for building a youth, peace and security agenda is much more important as an entry point approach than a national action plan as a blueprint, which doesn't exclude it as a possibility, but doesn't presume it as the right fit for all systems or societies.
It's a great question, and I wish I could do justice to the complexity of the feedback we got from young people on this.
On the one hand, I think you're right. We need to see the innovative and diverse space that education offers. Young people always talk about primary, secondary and tertiary education; they were always talking about formal and informal education, societies learning about their past, museums and the range of factors, education not just as a formal curriculum in the schools and tertiary institutions, but informal education as well.
We were struck by the number of organizations out there, both civil society organizations and youth-led organizations, that were doing innovative and creative work on educational issues from early intervention models, for example, in the focus on masculinity and the fact that young people are saying we have to address this issue of masculinity.
I remember talking to a young gangster from Honduras who was saying to me, “You're talking to me about masculine identity as a destructive force. I'm 20 years old; you're about 15 years too late.” He was saying that early childhood intervention models, when we're starting to deal with values-based approaches, issues like masculinity and trying to address the negative forms of masculinity or embed more positive, non-violent discourses about masculinity that are not necessarily shaped around power over or access to young women, need to start much earlier.
UNICEF, although their concern is under-18-year-olds, recognize that, as part of a contribution to the youth, peace and security strategy, early intervention models in schools-based education at the primary and secondary level is critical; the early period of adolescence is absolutely critical.
On the other hand, it was interesting to us that young people—and it may have been about the selections of the young people we spoke to, although I think we accessed a wide range—were telling us to be careful, don't trap this just in vocational education. They don't want to be seen as economic automatons who are being designed for places in the economy, jobs in the community. Education is much richer than that.
It doesn't mean that vocational education is unimportant to young people, but they were telling us not to just focus on this as a vocational issue, an educational issue, for the purposes of employment not least because, in some societies, young people were saying the gap between the educational qualifications that they can acquire and the opportunities to use them in creative, inclusive spaces in society produces real frustration. If we don't recognize that education has to be utilizable to young people, we make a grave mistake, but that doesn't mean we can consign it just to the area of vocational education.
So yes, in all of these arenas, I think young people were seeing education as critical, but I will say this: It was very powerful for us, the way in which they described the triangular relationship between education, employment and civic engagement. Young people were saying they didn't want education that gave them no pathway, but peace education was very important to them. They were saying they didn't want jobs that just made them street sweepers; they wanted jobs that had meaning and that reflected a contribution to society. I think this is a very powerful voice in the way we understand the relationship between education, jobs and peace for young people.
First of all, good morning. Thank you very much for your kind invitation to try to give you an update about what's going on in Venezuela.
Five years ago, I faced this committee with a lot of witnesses, political leaders from Venezuela, trying to make a file about the dramatic tragedy that we live in Venezuela. Five years later, the situation has gotten worse. We live in an emergency. We live in the worst humanitarian situation that has ever happened in my country or in any Latin American country in history.
When you talk about seeing 8,000 people executed in Venezuela, when you see 30,000 persecutions, when you have about 3.5 children in every 10 born in Venezuela just die, when you have 300,000 people who have died in Venezuela in the last 20 years for criminality without justice—94% of impunity—these are embarrassing statistics that come from a regime.
It doesn't just devastate the economy in the country. It doesn't just devastate our stability. It's a social devastation. It's a humanitarian devastation. It's a political devastation. In the end, it's a devastation of the concept of a state.
We have no institution; we have no separation of power. Now we have no energy; we have no power; we have no light. We have no food; we have no medicine; we have no water.
Each time that I've had the opportunity to repeat this amount, I repeat it because it's important to understand the magnitude of the devastation in Venezuela. In 20 years, Venezuela has received $1.4 trillion, which is $1.4 million millions. If you take into consideration that the whole city of Dubai has a cost of just $250 billion, one-fifth of $1.4 trillion, then the devastation in Venezuela for corruption and malpractice is immense. It is some kind of record as well.
Recently, the chief of staff of the interim President Juan Guaidó was arrested. This is not a simple prisoner. He's the chief of staff of the interim president recognized by Canada and by the most important democracies in the world. That is the situation. It is a fact of the state. The international community has to take into consideration some kind of reflection about what this situation means for international public order.
We have more painful statistics. I'm not talking today as an ambassador. I'm talking today from the heart, from my people. You see Venezuelan children drinking water from a toxic river. On Saturday, I just saw a 23-year-old girl deliver a child in the streets. I saw an old friend of my family die in the hospital on Sunday because they have no power to keep the breathing machines working.
This is not a single situation in the middle of the 21st century. When you see what was going on in Rwanda in 1994, when you see what was going on in Somalia and when you see what was going on in many devastated countries before a genocide happened, think about that. In Venezuela, we are just on the cliff of a possible civil confrontation. Again, there is no water, no medicine, no food, no lights, no power and no justice. It's impossible to live like this.
I want to share with you one last reflection. When I came to Canada the first time, I was 17 years old. I came at the invitation of my father-in-law just to see the country. I was fascinated not just with the immensity of the country. I was fascinated at the age of 17 with just one concept: justice. You breathe justice in Canada. Justice for modern people means freedom. Freedom means happiness; happiness means love. That's why I love Canada: you have justice, you have happiness, you have freedom and you have love.
In Venezuela we lost justice, we lost freedom, we lost happiness and we lost the possibility just to have a dignified life. We need the help of the international community, but we need something else from Canada and from the international community: a huge reflection about this situation. With respect, it's not just about condemning the situation. It's not about more declarations and statements. It's about moving forward and thinking how to create a coalition to save our country and to create justice, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Thank you very much.