Realising youth inclusion in peace processes: Lessons from Myanmar

May 15th, 2018

Written by Irena Grizelj

In the last two decades, over 900 peace agreements have been signed globally, across multiple countries and peace processes. While inclusive peace negotiations are slowly replacing the traditional elite-dominated peace talks, and new research shows that broader participation can influence the success of a peace process (Paffenholz, 2015; Nilsson, 2012), no practical frameworks target the specific and meaningful inclusion of youth in a peace process and political dialogue; nor have studies examined the impact of youth-inclusive peace processes.

Young people have rarely participated in political processes as youth specific delegations, though they often play a key role in the pre-negotiation and implementation phases of peace agreements. Data on peace agreements and peace processes have not been assessed from a youth participation perspective, presenting an opportunity to build on research and draw evidence to evaluate the impact of youth-inclusive peace processes.

Myanmar stands at a critical juncture as it progresses from a military regime towards a civilian government and federal state. The formal peace process known as the Union Peace Conference-21 Century Panglong is currently stalling. Ongoing peace negotiations between ethnic armed organizations, the government, military, and political parties are seeking to end over six decades of civil war. The ambitious and highly structured self-mediated peace process has lagged into an exclusive process that has left many stakeholders, especially ethnic armed groups and civil society, losing trust and gaining frustration in the process. The process is further compounded with sub-national conflicts that impede prospects for peace and development.

Without a formal avenue for inclusion, young people in Myanmar have taken initiatives that seek to build peace through informal track two and three mechanisms at the community, state, and national levels – laying important foundations to sustain a peace momentum. Yet youth in Myanmar have not been recognized nor harnessed for their peace and mediation capabilities. Without a heavy burden of the past, young people have immense potential to support creative mechanisms in moving the peace process forward and building genuine peace. As the formal negotiations draw out, more focus and investment must be placed in the informal structures that can sustain peace in the country.

With UN Security Council resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security calling for the representation of youth at all levels of political decision-making, what do we make of peace processes that traditionally exclude youth? Myanmar’s peace process is structured into complex decision-making levels, from national to sub-national and community levels. Several existing entry points can be leveraged to build inclusion of youth into Myanmar’s political decision-making and peace process:

  1. Young people can participate in the peace processes as part of formal political parties. However, there is a structural barrier for youth participation in parliament. In preparation for future political debates, the Government and political parties should lower age thresholds for political candidacy from 30 years old to 18 years old to immediately encourage young women and men to engage in decisions about their future. Myanmar’s peace agreement will be ultimately ratified by parliament.
  2. Youth groups and networks can mobilize to form coalitions and input into the peace process. One of Myanmar’s key decision making structures is the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC). The UPDJC has the responsibility to submit policy papers to the national Union Peace Conference-21 Century Panglong, which hosts over 700 representatives from across the conflict lines. The conference is a key decision-making entity for the political dialogue process. While there are no provisions for young people to participate or be represented through the UPC, policy submissions from youth stakeholders can be considered. Notwithstanding the diversity of young people in Myanmar, youth coalitions – including existing youth organizations and networks – can be technically supported to advocate policy submissions to the UPDJC on youth-specific concerns and aspirations. This could influence the shape of the peace accord.
  3. Leaders in the peace process should engage diverse youth in decision-making on key policy issues through establishing technical sub-committees, sub-national youth advisory groups, and wider participatory forums across all states and regions of Myanmar – tapping into youth’s contribution to everyday peacebuilding.

With conflict dynamics becoming increasingly complex in Myanmar, there may be hesitation to deal with youth inclusion. Yet, now is the time to see youth as an asset, rather than a burden for the peace process, to foster sustainable peace. The UNSCR 2250 lays out a roadmap to support this reality.

UNOY Peacebuilders

We are a global network strengthening sustainable youth-driven peacebuilding. We connect 70 youth peace organizations across 45 countries.

Our goal is to create a world where young people have the opportunity and skills to contribute to peace. We work to strengthen youth-led peacebuilding initiatives, facilitate a safe space for dialogue and conflict transformation, develop the organizational capacities of our members and to bring the voices of young people to policy makers on a regional and global level.