When violent conflict erupts, young people are often among the most impacted. Indeed, globally, one in four youth are affected by conflict and violence. But their voices are frequently among the most marginalized in efforts to prevent or resolve conflict. Young men are regularly depicted as the perpetrators of violence and young women are portrayed as victims. This narrative severely discounts the important role young people play in building peace. Research shows that peace processes are more successful when they are inclusive and in many conflict-ridden societies youth account for a large percentage of the population, making their participation all the more vital. A new United Nations Security Council resolution passed in July aims to enshrine the critical role of youth in building peace.

USIP Generation Change Fellow Ekomo-Soignet, who co-wrote this article, addresses a Security Council meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security, with a focus on youth, April 23, 2018. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)
USIP Generation Change Fellow Ekomo-Soignet, who co-wrote this article, addresses a Security Council meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security, with a focus on youth, April 23, 2018. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

From the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to long-unresolved conflicts to climate change, young people often have the most at stake. “They [youth] are the ones who have to live with the consequences of our action or lack of our action,” said Francisco Cortorreal, the Dominican Republic’s representative at the U.N., during discussions on resolution 2535.

“Young people around the world are actively transforming conflict and building peace in their communities, many times putting themselves in danger while doing this work,” said Alison Milofsky, who oversees USIP’s youth portfolio. “However, their work often lacks recognition and support. The adoption of resolution 2535, like previous resolutions on youth, peace, and security, moves us further toward acknowledging and supporting the critical contributions made by young people.”

A Turning Point for Youth

United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2535 is the third resolution on youth, peace and security. Passed in 2015, resolution 2250 called for international recognition of the role that youth play in building peace at the local and national levels. Subsequently, 2018’s Resolution 2419 stressed the importance of protecting young people working for peace on the ground and, above all, ensuring their participation at the negotiating table. These are the building blocks upon which the new resolution was built. But this time the U.N. Security Council consulted with youth peacebuilders to provide input on the resolution, demonstrating a significant shift: from the recognition of youth’s important role in peacebuilding to including them as direct, active participants.

This represents a turning point for young people, whose voices are being heard at the highest levels of international diplomacy. Indeed, one of these authors (Ekomo-Soignet) and the organization she founded in the Central African Republic (CAR)—called URU—provided direct input on the resolution as part of the Global Coalition on Youth, Peace and Security (GCYPS). URU, which means “take off,” is a youth-led peacebuilding organization that champions the voices of young people in CAR and works to ensure their inclusion in peace processes. While its daily work focuses on promoting locally led approaches for youth to build peace, URU has brought the voice of CAR’s youth beyond its borders through its work on UNSCR 2535.

Prioritizing Youth Issues

GCYPS recommendations included in the resolution were the call for proactive inclusion of marginalized groups and regular reporting from the secretary-general on progress regarding implementation of the youth, peace, and security agenda. The reporting system enshrined in UNSCR 2535 ensures that youth issues are no longer seen as a cross-cutting issue within U.N. agencies and missions. The lack of a consistent focus on youth issues has often led to U.N. missions making young people a secondary priority or integrating them into other issues, such as countering violent extremism or the women, peace and security agenda. Young people have advocated for a more structured approach to youth engagement with U.N missions. As one example, a youth coordinator or focal point at each U.N. mission could ensure youth issues are properly prioritized in their own right. UNSCR 2535 also takes the significant step of stipulating that the Office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth should be responsible for promoting coordination and coherence of youth, peace and security activities across the U.N. system, and for tracking implementation of the resolutions 2250, 2419 and 2535.

Russia and China have previously opposed the inclusion of youth issues at UNSC deliberations. Resolution 2535, however, was passed with unanimous support, demonstrating that the international community is reaching a consensus on the vital role of youth. For too long, youth have been marginalized in international peace efforts, often used as props for photo ops. But resolution 2535 demonstrates that the international community increasingly realizes that youth’s meaningful participation is a necessary component of building lasting peace.

“Resolution 2535 represents a seminal achievement for youth peacebuilders and practitioners, and a crucial endorsement of the fact, backed by a growing body of evidence from across the world, that youth are critical to building and sustaining peace,” said Tyler Beckelman, director of international partnerships at the Institute.

UNSCR 2535 opens a new era for young peacebuilders—but there is still more work to be done. Young peacebuilders need enhanced capacity to conduct research and report on best practices for youth inclusion in conflict mitigation efforts. With three resolutions now passed, there is a need to push for the effective implementation at the country and local-government levels.

“The potential for humanity to create a peaceful, prosperous future will not be reached as long as inequities and discrimination against youth remain commonplace, and young people lack opportunities to have their voices heard,” said Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the president of the U.N. General Assembly. Resolution 2535 provides a framework to ensure youth voices are not just included in peace talks, but incorporated into the ways in which peace is built and sustained.

Rebecca Ebenezer-Abiola is a program officer for youth programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Kessy Martine Ekomo-Soignet is a USIP Generation Change fellow and founder of the youth peacebuilding organization URU.

Related Publications

COVID Menaces Venezuela, Medical Students Respond

COVID Menaces Venezuela, Medical Students Respond

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

By: Paula Porras; Maria Antonia Montes

For years, Venezuela’s political and economic collapse has been the Americas’ greatest single humanitarian crisis. Five million people have fled as refugees or migrants, and 59 percent of those who remain cannot afford the food their families need. Even before the COVID pandemic, the health care system mirrored this collapse. An estimated 80 percent of hospitals lack adequate medical staff and 60 percent are without running water or consistent electricity. Into this breach has stepped a courageous corps of young medical students who already had become first responders to those injured in the country’s widespread and often violent protests.

Type: Blog

Global Health; Youth

The Dalai Lama Mentors USIP Youth Leaders

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Each year, the U.S. Institute of Peace gathers 28 youth leaders from countries confronting violent conflict to meet with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, where he encourages them in their efforts to build peace in their homelands. This annual dialogue is a partnership between USIP and the Dalai Lama, a global voice for peace and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The project aims to strengthen the abilities of young people working to build peace in the world’s most violent regions.

Type: Fact Sheet

Youth; Religion

An African Activist Builds Peace with Youth—and Refugees

An African Activist Builds Peace with Youth—and Refugees

Thursday, June 11, 2020

By: James Rupert

Gatwal Gatkuoth was about 11 years old when war in Sudan forced him to flee hundreds of miles, alone, to Uganda as a refugee. Now he works to end wars. When COVID struck Uganda, the nation’s sudden shutdown caught Gatkuoth touring remote refugee camps, seeking ways to help Africa’s largest refugee population survive the pandemic. So when the U.N. Security Council called him weeks ago to ask his advice on improving efforts to build peace, Gatkuoth’s briefing over an unstable cellphone line came straight from a fragile front line of human need.

Type: Blog

Global Health; Youth

Tunisia’s Citizens and Security Forces Come Together to Combat Coronavirus

Tunisia’s Citizens and Security Forces Come Together to Combat Coronavirus

Thursday, April 23, 2020

By: Adam Gallagher

As COVID-19 began to sweep the globe, the Tunisian government implemented strict measures to stem the spread of the virus, knowing the country’s underprepared health system would be overwhelmed by a widespread outbreak. Beginning on March 17, authorities enforced a 12-hour curfew. Days later, 400 were arrested for breaking that curfew. “Anyone who breaks the security rules will be treated as a criminal because failing to respect rules within the context of the pandemic is a crime,” said Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi. Many Tunisians have bristled at what they see as an overly securitized response.

Type: Blog

Democracy & Governance; Global Health; Youth

View All Publications