The mandate of the United Nations is substantiated on the basis of maintaining international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international co-operation and be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations. After the atrocities of World War II, the world vowed to prevent a similar conflict.
During Geneva Peace Week, the United Nations and other international actors come together to reflect on lessons learned from working towards peace in various regions, current conflicts, and strategies to promote peace. The topic of Geneva Peace Week this year was, “Building Peace in a Turbulent World.” As the Resident Intern at the United Nations House Scotland, I had the unique opportunity to participate and learn from Geneva Peace Week from experts in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.
The range of topics discussed during the week were diverse. The focus during the week was on the grassroots organizations working towards peace, and on the lessons learned and the development of new strategies for peace by international actors. Many current and previous conflicts were addressed in the context of achieving peace, including Yemen, Libya, and Nigeria. One of the clearest lessons learned throughout the week is that maintaining peace is not a universal process, and that the context and working with the community is the most critical part of achieving peace. Three pertinent topics addressed throughout the week in relation to peacebuilding were nuclear disarmament, women’s empowerment, and youth empowerment.
In terms of nuclear disarmament, the debate centered around the feasibility of total disarmament, which was split between two opinions. There are who believe international cooperation and norms will eventually lead to disarmament, pointing to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Particularly seeing that ICAN won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work, they believe that focusing on the humanitarian implications of nuclear weapons will move the general opinion to disarmament. Others agree that while nuclear weapons are fatally dangerous, there must be a deterrent for “bad actors” on the international stage and the proliferation of nuclear weapons has prevented major international wars. For them, while they do not support the use of nuclear weapons, they believe “non-use” helps maintain international security and that nuclear weapons serve as a critical deterrent that would need to be replaced if the world moves towards denuclearization. The panelists addressed the inequity of limiting the possession of nuclear weapons to the P-5, and how changing political landscapes has made the proliferation of nuclear weapons a point of international concern. In particular, nuclear weapons states incite proliferation by prioritizing nuclear weapons in their security policy, as we saw in the Cold War.
On women’s empowerment, there were several panels showcasing the statistical evidence that including women in the peace negotiation process in conflicts makes it more likely to achieve a peace deal and makes peace more sustainable and long-lasting. During the annual meeting, there were several NGO’s highlighted that work in reconciliation and peace efforts in conflict zones. The Angie Brooks International Centre, for example, runs the Women’s Situations Room, which is an NGO that uses community organization and integration of at-risk youth and women to ensure free and fair elections in various countries in Africa. This is a prime example of practical implementation of the topics addressed at Geneva Peace Week: a grassroots organization led by the local community leaders that helps lower violence and instability around elections, which are often a point of conflict in the African continent, and that integrates at-risk youth and women into the peacebuilding process. In understanding first that women and youth are the most at-risk populations during conflict, there were several panels addressing how to include women in the conflict resolution process and how to protect women in conflict.
As a young person, it was heartening to see Geneva Peace Week give a voice to the youth on peacebuilding. There were several panels focused on youth re-integration and youth perspectives on peace. Two main topics caught my attention during the week: the re-integration of child soldiers and at-risk youth following conflict, and how to empower youth in conflict areas. In many civil wars and armed conflicts, children are kidnapped or sold into armies, with as many as 300,000 children estimated to be currently child soldiers. However, even for the children who manage to escape or are released, the stigma of being a former child soldier stifles their future opportunities and reintegration into society. For communities still recovering from violence and war, these returned children are often perceived as a danger, and the isolation from the community and in many cases, their families, lead the children back to the frontlines or cause them to be unable to reintegrate into society. Based on Article 38 of U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments must do everything they can to protect and care for children affected by war, but the efforts on this are difficult to implement due to the guerilla nature of most conflicts with child soldiers. Furthermore, empowering youth who live in conflict zones is also a pertinent topic. Youth are often affected by conflicts while not being represented in their governments, and the first step of empowering youth is to educate them on peace and creating opportunities for their voices to be heard. Several ways of doing this are creating recreational programs with sports and arts, creating peer-to-peer programs, and teaching youth advocacy.
Peacebuilding and maintaining peace are incredibly complex issues that are constantly at the forefront of a more turbulent world. The primary takeaways from Geneva Peace Week for me were that we must consolidate efforts of international actors and grassroots organizations to develop strategies for peace in conflict zones, women and children must be prioritized as participants in the peacebuilding and conflict resolution process, and that peace is an ongoing process that must be nurtured and carefully protected. While there is more conflict in the world, there are many more people committed to lasting international peace, and the annual Geneva Peace Week is a first step to developing strategies and solutions to ensure peace in the international stage.