The UN Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament sets out that the young generation is “the ultimate force for change.” Alongside the three pillars—disarmament to save humanity, disarmament to save lives, and disarmament for future generations—, the agenda highlights youth engagement as key for successful disarmament initiatives. Earlier this year, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) thus launched the “Youth4Disarmament” initiative, to provide young people with knowledge and skills and empower them to make their own contributions.
Peace Boat collaborated with UNODA as part of this initiative to co-organize on 11 October a day of youth-focused programming, “Youth Champions for Securing our Common Future.” In view of next year’s 75th anniversary of the UN, 75 young people were invited to spend the day learning with UNODA officials, diplomats, and representatives of civil society networks such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the International Action Network on Small Arms and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.
The strength of youth lies in their openness to different views. The morning session at UN headquarters attending the First Committee general debate exposed youth champions to various approaches to disarmament issues. At the subsequent side event “Building Empathy through learning from Atomic Bomb Survivors,” they were reminded of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons through testimony by Hiroshima atomic-bomb survivor Toshiki Fujimori and a screening of the film “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard” with director Bryan Reichhardt.
The ultimate aim of the event was to encourage youth to be changemakers themselves. In the afternoon, youth champions boarded Peace Boat, docked in Manhattan as part of its global voyage for peace. There, disarmament experts from UNODA, member states, and civil society engaged in lively exchange with the youth champions: on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), a participant asked how nuclear-armed states can be incentivized to be part of the treaty; on the issue of the small arms trade, another participant underlined the need for youth from underrepresented regions to be more systematically included in relevant discussions; and on the Lethal Autonomous Weapons System (LAWS), the critical role of the business sector was discussed. The ensuing brainstorming on action plans led to proposals including an online platform for information related to disarmament issues, a campus-wide advocacy campaign on arms trade, engaging the public health sector, and an arts and music competition for awareness raising.
A full report of the event is also available on the UNODA website here.